In perhaps the most startling illustration yet of the gulf between Nintendo’s core consumers and those of Sony and Microsoft, the original Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars has shifted 700,000 copies worldwide since launch. According to thumbnail calculations, that means rather less than 1% of DS owners have picked up a copy – excluding an (in all likelihood) sizeable proportion of pirate players, anyway. Quite the misfire, I’m sure you’ll agree, for a franchise whose fourth home format iteration had film-makers fearing for the prospects of major Hollywood blockbusters.
While it’s tempting to read the move to Sony’s handheld as an awkward tactical withdrawal, a PSP port was, I suspect, inevitable given Rockstar’s prior successes on the platform. It’s also thoroughly deserved: Chinatown Wars is a fantastic game, and if the new version feels a little staid without that masterfully considered touch control system, the additional content, refreshed visuals and crisper audio are ample compensation.
Firing up the game, you’re confronted by the same hybrid of fully rotatable 3D camera and classic GTA top-down view, but the colours are more nuanced, the edges sharper and the special effects more abundant: smouldering bloom on pools of blood, fires flickering over upended trucks. Leading man Huang Lee is still a simple 2D sprite, but Liberty City itself has definitely benefited from the bump in horsepower.