GTA Chinatown Wars Hands On

Last Wednesday we had a few hours to kill before our flights took off, so on Tuesday night Rockstar invited us to stop by the office the next day. Due to the number of us there, we split into two groups. Adam, Jev, Psy, and Chris went first since their flights were earlier and morning here is like afternoon in UK time.

G-WizZ, Kodo, Zidane and I got to sleep in late (and lounge in the hotel lobby scaring tourists), then around lunch time we piled into a cab and headed over to the office. Having only seen the place from the outside during our last visit, it was great to finally make it past security and the legendary zombie-proof door. Had we just been there to hang out, this would have been cool enough by itself. But, no, the Rockstar guys had something even better in mind..

Chinatown Wars ScreenshotMmmmm, polygons.

After arriving and chatting for a bit outside, the UK group went out for lunch while us Americans were led into Rockstar's inner sanctum, and up to a conference room decorated with framed prints of various San Andreas artwork. It was there that we saw the giant Nintendo DS Rockstar built from a dev-kit. Upon which we were given a demo of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars.

Previously I had only seen a handful of screens, so going in I was pretty much expecting a classic "2.5D" game with a blocky map and a lot of fancy sprite work to simulate 3D. Being a big fan of the old school GTAs, this would have been more than good enough for me. Once again, however, Rockstar had something better in mind; namely wowing us with a fully 3D game. Obviously the tiny DS can't render every little pothole/doorknob/finger/etc.. in 3D like GTA IV, but all the buildings, cars, peds, on down to street rubbish and signs, are made of polygons.

Naturally, the peds and cars are somewhat simple since they're so small, but on a triangle for triangle basis, the level of detail in the map is roughly comparable to GTA III. Given the size of the screen and the limitations of the hardware, this is truly impressive. On top of just being detailed, the map is huge. While they've tweaked and moved things around a bit so the scale would better match the action, the map is essentially the same Liberty City (minus Alderney) found in GTA IV. As such, the world should feel instantly familiar to anyone who has played IV, yet totally fresh at the same time, thanks in part to the slick cartoon shader. Oh, yea, and everything casts real-time shadows which move as the time of day changes.

Chinatown Wars ScreenshotClassic chaos.

But enough about the technical artsy stuff, how does it play? Well, after picking up our jaws off the floor following the demo on the giant DS, we all gathered around the table in the conference room to try it out for ourselves.

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