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April 8, 2016

"Rated M" Month: Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (Part 1)

One of the most violent franchises of all time delves into one of the most racially insensitive plots possible. What can go wrong? A lot can go wrong. Although maybe it won’t be so bad…

Everyone here should have at least heard of Grand Theft Auto. Maybe not everyone has played it, but here goes: GTA and all of its sequels are Wide Open Sandbox games, which means that you have the freedom to do just about anything you want to do (in the limits of the game’s program, obviously). There IS a Story Mode but you’re not forced to play through it, although some parts of it explain certain mechanics present in the game at large. There are dozens of side-quests, as well as many things to discover around the sandbox world known as Liberty City. You can be the biggest criminal ever, or you can look for ways to get yourself killed. You can steal cars, do crazy stunts, swim from the main land to the island, meet dealers, and earn a nice sum of money… Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

As you can guess, it’s also a game series that has a lot of detractors, like the concerned parents who didn’t know the ESRB’s M meant “for Mature audiences” and bought this game for their little dearie child who’s far too innocent and perfect to even want to participate in a bloody shooting, however virtual it may be. Then there’s those famous words that describe games like this one as a murder simulator, which puh-lease, if you want to see an actual murder simulator, it’ll have to be a lot more detailed than this.

Taking stuff from bins, stealing cars. Just a normal day
in the City of Crime.
Even more impressive is how Rockstar got to fit such a big game in a small DS cartridge. Quite the achievement, considering you can spend days and days looking for every single little element you may have missed to get to 100% completion. Now, the title specifically states “Chinatown Wars”, so you can guess that this will not be the most racially sensitive game around. Most of the action involves the Asian-led crime rings. Not that anyone else has it much easier anyway; after all, in GTA, every main character is a criminal, and even the policemen are terrible people. Random passersby respawn after they’re brought to the hospital. The cops are so nervous, they’ll chase you down like you’re Adolf Hitler about to start a new Reich even if you got a single Wanted star for jaywalking. Since you go from a car to the other, you never need to fill the tank, so gas stations are used to create Molotov cocktails. Weapon salesmen are all united under the same Ammu-Nation brand and will gladly bring to your door every weapon you order from their online website, accessible from your PDA, no questions asked, because obviously this is the way of the future and there is no reason to be afraid that their clients turn out to be sociopathic criminals about to go on a mad killing spree across town… wait a second…

It was a mad world, before Mad World was a thing. …The Wii game, not the song. Alright, I could spend many parts discussing only the Wide Open Sandbox aspects of this game, but I like to tell a game’s story. And even though the plot here is split between multiple mission givers, we can still follow much of what’s happening, as well as the clash between the personalities of the different crime leaders. Alright, let’s start this slow descent towards complete and utter criminality.

Ah yes, I love arriving in a new country and having to survive
a potentially lethal scenario upon arrival!
Huang Lee’s father has been killed in Hong Kong; as a result, Huang is given the mission to bring a so-called sacred family weapon, a beautiful sword (won at poker), to his uncle Kenny who lives in Liberty City. I believe he lives at the corner of Dead Cop Str. and Prostitute Junction. So Huang Lee lands at the airport, where he and his team are attacked by a rival squad. Huang gets shot at the side of the head, but is only knocked out. The squad steals the sword, takes him in their car, and decide to dispose of his body by throwing the car in the water. Huang survives by breaking the glass, and swims back to the land, where he finds his way to Uncle Wu “Kenny” Lee. Huang explains his situation and thus gets hired by Uncle Kenny as a henchman.

Which means: I will find and deal with these rkillers.
And thus, I will have to become a killer

You see, these days Liberty City is right in the middle of a gang war of sorts among the Triads. The grand leader of Liberty City’s crime ring, Hsin Jaoming, is about to select a successor, and all the minor gang leaders are trying to get in his good graces… and you can expect that nobody is gonna play fair! What, are you expecting a world of nice, loyal competitors? Fuck off, this is Liberty City. You want fair competition? Go play some shitty Mario Kart rip-off. As a result, Kenny offers Huang a free apartment. Yay for that, I guess. I hope he doesn’t mind this apartment getting used to fuck some prostitutes…

…Oh right, the “prostitutes” mechanic of the previous GTA games has been removed. Say whatever you want about the staggering amount of criminal activity in the setting, there’s not a single prostitute in sight. Not that this really helps anyway. After all, the crime bosses we meet throughout the game are all complaining about hooking up with Trans prostitutes. …Yeah… I did say this was one of the more offensive games out there. Don’t come in expecting any kind of respect from those crime bosses. Respect? What’s that? You’re in Liberty City, pal. Wherever you came from, you left your respect at the airport.

Why, thank you, beautiful. I'd lose a hundred swords
if that meant getting into your.... good graces.
Kenny starts to assign missions to Huang. The first one is to head out to a studio where Uncle Kenny’s crew is filming an “artistic” movie (And you know that if it’s artistic, then it has to have tits in there). Huang heads there and picks up Ling Shan, a very pretty woman with excellent wits and a sharp tongue. The cops come in at that moment and you’re taught how to escape the cops; finding a place to hide is a solution, but it’s also possible to go fully violent and destroy a couple of police cars (by crashing into them or crashing them into other cars or scenery elements) to take down the star rating. Policemen in this city will run over citizens and ram into other cars, sometimes into buildings, if that means stopping you. It would be pretty long to do that, but thankfully you’ll rarely have to deal with anything bigger than a two-star rating. Unless you get yourself in that kind of trouble to see what happens, of course. The quick way to get rid of your star rating is to hide in the nearest apartment you own, save, and then come out again; this erases your star rating. It also helped in figuring out who were the dumbest real-life criminals: Those who grew up with this game series and who believed that going back to your house stopped the cops from chasing you. Yes, there are people this dumb in our world. Life isn’t a video game, that’s why in a game you’re allowed to be as crazy as a Grand Theft Auto protagonist.

Uncle Kenny tells Huang that he needs to get better with weapons, and sends him to learn some fighting tricks… from Ling Shan, of all people. Well, this is gonna be interesting… We learn the basic fighting moves (punching, kicking, etc), and then we learn how to equip and use a firearm. Kenny learns that little crooks are attacking one of his restaurants, so he sends Huang and Ling to kill them. On the way, they search in a trash bin to look for guns (apparently there are guns and many other things hidden in trash bins).

Noooo! Ling, no....
(I would make a joke saying that I didn't even get to
cop a feel, but.... I just can't...)
Then they head out to fight the little mobsters. They quickly reach the restaurant and head towards the fight… and Ling gets shot and bathes in a pool of her own blood. Please, she can’t die, citizens respawn all the time! She’ll survive… she’ll survive… oh, she won’t survive? No, she dies. Well, fuck. She was the only female character so far and was probably one of the rare few women characters in the game, period, so this game is doomed to remain a sausage party. How fun. Sorry Huang, unless you’re into necrophilia, you’re not gonna score with this lady. Well, we save the restaurant’s owner, who looks a bit too much like Donald Trump for my tastes, and thus ends another mission.

On his next mission, Uncle Kenny states that the restaurant’s owner has been “dissatisfied” with the quality of the service Huang gave and ordered every last one of those little street mobsters killed. Guess who’s gonna go out on a killing spree? Everyone’s favorite Huang, of course. So we go there, chase down one mobster that takes us to the whole gang, and after a standoff and a car chase, they’re all dead. Yay for that, I guess?

Only a tiny portion of the map.

I should probably explain the whole PDA thing right away. See, you have many tools in your personal assistant. The main one is a GPS map that you can use to get anywhere; just assign a spot on the map with two quick taps of the stylus, and it’ll tell you the quickest route there. You can set some of your favorite destinations, and you can also keep tabs on all the important places; tattoo parlors, Pay’n’Sprays (to repair your car), scratch card shops, all the houses and apartments you come to own as you progress through the game, and of course all the drug dealers you find, since those are the major money-makers. The bottom screen also indicates which weapon is equipped at the moment (and whether it’s a firearm or a melee weapon), and whichever additional weapons you have (such as Molotov cocktails, the fire hose if you’re driving the firetruck, or grenades as an example). There’s a Briefing section that keeps track of the recent things you’ve done. There’s an e-mail system through which you can receive deals from Ammu-Nation, news from dealers who either want to sell a drug at a very low price or buy a drug at a very high price, and of course you can also receive plot-relevant e-mails from crime family chiefs who want you to do their bidding. What, you thought only Uncle Kenny would give you missions? Oh Hell no, you’ll become everyone’s servile little bitch-er, I mean, associate. Yes, I totally meant associate. There’s also a Stats section that keeps track of all sorts of data about your playing session so far. I’ll go back on the many, many sidequests in a later part; all you need to know is that there are MANY side-quests, and they range from helping random people to raiding warehouses to destroying all security cameras...

Now with 98% less "Enlarge Your Penis" spam!
The PDA contains other elements of interest, like a Multiplayer option (now unavailable), a Sound Test (that plays music from the different radio stations you can tune in to when you steal a car), an Ammu-Nation app that lets you buy weapons and have them delivered to your nearest safe house, and another interesting app, Traffic Info. Yep. Drug dealing: There’s an app for that. With that app, you can check your current inventory, which dealers have stocks at low prices and which ones are buying at high prices. You can check the map detailing the different territories of the various criminal groups in Liberty City. You can see graphs showing the amount of money you’ve made buying and selling antidepressants, hallucinogenic drugs and other powders, as well as which percentage each of these three types occupy in your daily affairs. Really useful stuff. Okay, now back to the plot.

On the next mission, Kenny explains that he has a rival hoping to be Hsin Jaoming’s successor, and it's none other than Hsin's own son, Chan Jaoming: A hotheaded moron who prefers to do drugs and participate in street races than lead. And yet he seriously believes he has a chance. So much so that he invited Uncle Kenny to work for him. Kenny refused, of course, but decided to send Huang to do Chan’s business instead. So you bring three race cars to Chan’s garage.

Just wait the next edition, it includes meth and bath salts!
On the next mission, Uncle Kenny introduces Huang to the drug dealing mechanic, giving him a few samples of LSD to sell back to a particular dealer doing his "job" nearby. This is where you learn that you can have as many units of drug as you want in your safe at home, but you can only carry a maximum of 50 units with you. The pro: If you get arrested, you won't lose all your drugs, the con: if you have more than 50 units of a drug that a dealer really wants, you'll have to go back and forth between your apartment and the dealer. Your mission here is to sell this LSD to a buyer, then go see another dealer that will sell you an expensive drug at a low price… except after that second transaction, the cops come in, forcing Huang to run back to his apartment and hide his new stock. This is also where we learn about the security cameras. See, Liberty City may be smaller than in most GTA games, but it’s still pretty damn big. And among the things hidden here, there are 100 security cameras spread around the map. If you want your drug dealings to go without a hitch, your task is to get rid of those cameras; you cannot shoot them, thus you need to use a good amount of Molotov cocktails to destroy them. This is gonna become my favorite cocktail, I can already tell that.

When that’s done, Huang gets an e-mail from Chan Jaoming, inviting him to come help him on his quest to earn Hsin’s good graces. Chan says Kenny is out of the race, and says the big competitors are himself and another called Zhou. Well, time to go help a fat, stupid, drug-addicted crime “leader”, I guess. Starting now, you can do missions from both Kenny and Chan. The next mission from Uncle Kenny is to make Molotov cocktails and use them to burn a restaurant belonging to a competitor. After which he orders Huang to pick up potential recruits for his gang. You can’t get to the top of the chain without lackeys to follow your every command, can you?

Off to ruin a car!
Now we can play Chan’s missions. Chan has no idea what makes a good leader, so he believes he’ll earn his father Hsin’s respect by winning the big street race – ah yes, I totally see how this will help him lead a crime empire. However, the champion is a little too good for Chan, so he tells you to ruin the champion’s car; that means stealing it, bringing it to Chan’s garage, break parts of the motor, and then bring it back. That last step is really difficult since the car is so broken it spirals out of control every few seconds. Once that’s done, you get in Chan’s good graces. As you can guess, most of his missions will emphasize how much of a self-titled moron he is. In fact, he still thinks he can’t win the race, so he hires you to come in during the race and ruin the chances of all the other competitors as well. Because obviously that’s the most important thing you have to do when you're a crime lord!

I hope saving Chan's ass won't become a recurring thing.

One star: We're still good.
Two stars: Kinda getting tense...
Three stars: What have you done?
Four stars: 
Once that’s done, you get an e-mail from Zhou Ming, another one hoping to get in Hsin’s good graces, who also has missions for you. I’ll try to keep the description of each mission at a minimum since there’s over 50, but I’ll still explain each new character when he gets added to your list of people who want you to act like a brown-nose to them. Zhou believes Chan is too much of a dumbass to succeed and says the chances are on his side. Well, for now I believe you, Zhou. So we help him steal merchandise off a truck in movement, and then we get Zhou as a regular mission giver. Unlike Chan, Zhou is an asshole – no wait, scratch that, your bosses are all assholes in this game. But Zhou deserves special mention, as the second mission you do for him has you stealing an ambulance containing a badly wounded criminal and taking it back to Zhou just so Zhou can kill him himself. Holy shit, man. I could have killed him, ya know. There’s a reason guns are so widespread around Liberty City. So many nameless citizens, so many lowly criminals, so many bullets to discharge…

This car better have some nice treats.
After saving Chan from a kidnapping attempt by a rival gang, we help Zhou steal the stock owned by drug dealers who lack respect for Hsin. After which, we bring 5000$ (easy to get through dealing) to Uncle Kenny, who buys a second house for Huang in another sector of town; he says that the sword, affectionately named Yu Jian, might be in the possession of an antiquarian, and our new job is to steal that guy’s truck and bring it back to the new safe house. Yay, that’s gonna be fun… Yo ho, yo ho, a thugger’s life for me! Plundering, pillaging, burning, dealing… yo ho, yo ho, a thugger’s life for me!

Since the documents found inside the antiquarian’s truck mention the Spanish Lords, Kenny tells Huang to deal with them; and as luck would have it, a bunch of Spanish Lords are headed towards one of Kenny’s properties to burn it to the ground, so Huang has to stop them. Which he does. Wow, you can turn Huang into a one-man army in this game. Just a few explosives and boom go the Spanish Lords’ vans! I swear Officer, I didn’t start the fire, these guys did! I just replied with even MORE fire!

I wouldn't start touring the Hollywood studios to
pitch your movie about the criminal world just yet.
Talking about officers, after you help Chan once more, you are accosted by an infiltrated agent called Wade Heston. He is also looking for those guys who stole the sword; ha, joke’s on you Officer, ever since I started doing my little things around here I’ve done much worse than that- ooooooh right, I am talking to a cop. Um… yes? You need my help to retrieve those who have stolen Yu Jian?

Holy fucking Christ, first Kenny, then Chan, then Zhou, and now a cop. What the Hell am I getting myself into… Actually, you know what, this has been long enough. I’ll take a break until Monday. There’s only so much criminality I can take in a day… Phew!