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April 15, 2016

"Rated M" Month: Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (Part 3)

Part 2 was pretty hectic, what with all those missions we had to complete from no less than 7 different guys. Go read Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven’t. There is a lot to take in, this game’s a soap opera about criminals.

Our latest mission comes from Hsin himself. He’s pretty pissed that we’ve been attacking the Massina family under Rudy D’Avanzo’s orders. Huang explains that there’s a tape revealing the Mole, but Hsin replies that Huang has likely been played by D’Avanzo to do his bidding… Hsin then orders Huang to kill D’Avanzo. Well, that’s alright, I felt he was too much like a second Chan Jaoming, always getting ambushed and whatnot. Hm, maybe I shouldn’t be saying that in front of Chan’s dad. Fuck, I should really watch my mouth. Well, Hsin is the big boss, and when the big boss gives you orders, whether it’s to jump, to go kill someone or to shove a zucchini up your ass, all you can do is ask how high, who, and which size.

Ah, what a motherfucker. Yup, there's no better word.
So we head out to look for Rudy in either location we met him in before. Huang finds Rudy’s car and enters the place, and hears Rudy speaking to someone else. Guess what? D’Avanzo had arranged the whole thing, putting Huang into situations that would oppose him to the Massina family – whom the Triads, Huang’s original gang, are friends with – to stir up some shit among the Triads Ah, the motherfucker! Huang comes out to confront them… and finds D’Avanzo in woman’s clothing. Wait a second, D’Avanzo, you’re a closet crossdresser? Ha! Ha ha ha! Bwa ha ha wa ha ha ha ha ha! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to kill you for reasons completely unrelated to your little crossdressing secret. I’m killing you because you played me, fucker! Boom, there goes the car you were escaping in! I'd tell you to rest in pieces, but the joke's been done.... to death!

Pictured: Not hacking skills.
Anyway, not very good hacking skills.
We get a message from Wade Heston; he says that the real mole is discussed somewhere in the files of the federal police, and that in order to find the culprit, Huang has to break into the wi-fi signals and gather the data. This means standing precisely between any two wi-fi stations that belong to the cops, something easier said than done since the cops quickly become aware of Huang weakly hacking skills and start chasing him down. Hey, leave me alone! After that’s done – and you get rid of the three-start Wanted signal you get from doing it – you go back to Wade Heston, who explains that there were two informants… Chan, and Zhou, who kept giving information to the federal police about the other’s whereabouts! Well, I didn't see that coming! Heston doesn’t want to deal with those two and spark another gang war, so he bails out, leaving behind his dreams of becoming a hero in Liberty City and having a movie about him. Hum hum, if you ask me, it wouldn’t be a movie, it would be a Netflix series, and the “hero”, however nominally heroic he is, would be Huang. So farewell cop, let’s never see each other again.

Ah, I just love to be in situations where everybody
wants me dead!
In the meantime, Hsin has decided that Huang was the Mole, and sent out his men to kill him. Now I really wish I had kept my criminal activities in this game to drug dealing… We meet up with Uncle Kenny at the museum, and with the file in hand, he and Huang drive towards Hsin’s house, which is difficult as all of Hsin’s men get in the way to stop the perceived traitors. When we get to Hsin’s house, he had to see the evidence: both Chan and Zhou, in trying to upstage the other, became traitors to the Triads. Therefore, Hsin decides to get the fuck out of this mess, retires, and declares Wu “Uncle Kenny” Lee the new chief of the Triads. Uncle Kenny decides that Zhou and Chan are better off dead, too, so he tasks Huang with killing them and whatever followers they still have. First is Chan. We gun down his men, then we go for the fat moron. I dunno for you guys, but I like the “Game of Thrones”-esque twist the situation has taken. We enter a warehouse, kill Chan’s followers, go out and chase after Chan, and destroy him in his car. Ha, yet another one down!

I don't think it can get more epic than that.
I’m starting to like this! Next is Zhou. The fight takes place on an abandoned construction site, and it’s Huang versus Zhou…’s helicopter. Yes, man versus flying machine, an epic battle as we approach the end of the game! This sounds like final boss material! And it’s a very tough fight, too, as it’s split in three turns, during which you must kill all of Zhou’s new load of mooks armed with very strong and dangerous weapons, then climb up to the roof of a nearby building and shoot Zhou’s helicopter twice with rockets. It takes six hits to bring Zhou down, and when he crashes it’s most satisfying.

However, immediately afterwards we get a message from Wade Heston. Dammit, I thought I'd never hear from you ever again! He says… Chan and Zhou were not the moles, the file they got was a fake that incriminated them. Oh shit. Oh shit oh shit oh shit, fuck, fucking shit, holy shit fuck. Câlisse de tabarnak. Saint sacrament de torrieu de calvaire d'ostie de viarge. We just killed two innocent men- Ha! Okay, no, sorry, I can’t say that with a straight face, that’s just bullshit. They weren’t innocent, but they weren’t killed for a good reason. Huang and Heston head to the salt factory, where the IAD is meeting the Mole. When they get there, they see that the real Mole has been, all this time… Uncle Kenny??

Holy shit, you fucking monster! You are going down! Oh yeah, by the way, that’s when the IAD and the FBI show up, likely to arrest Heston and Huang, and Huang has to chase after his uncle who’s running away through the factory. Huang makes his way through the mooks in the way, then has to kill a guy equipped with a fucking rocket launcher, then chase after Kenny on a boat and killing all the cops, villains and helicopters who are approaching… and by that point, the Wanted star rating reaches 4, which means every cop in town is chasing after you.

I'll kill you! You're not my uncle anymore! Wait,
yes, you still are. But you will be nobody's uncle
ever again! ...Wait... Dammit, I get my badass creeds all wrong!
Kenny moors his boat and flees in a car, and we chase him down to Hsin’s residence, where it’s revealed that Uncle Kenny was supposed to bring Yu Jian, the sword, to Hsin… but didn’t do so because Chan would still have become leader in Hsin’s place, and Kenny wanted Chan dead to instantly gain access to the “throne” of the Triads, so to speak. Kenny attacks Hsin with Yu Jian, and Huang simply shoots down his uncle in what has to be a very anticlimactic fight. Seriously though, there WAS a pretty awesome – and difficult – chase to get there, but Kenny goes down quickly. Let’s see you come back from THAT, you motherfucking son of a bitch! So, let’s do a head count. Chan, Zhou, D’Avanzo, Kenny = dead. Hsin = Wounded. Heston = now acclaimed hero. Lester = who gives a fuck about Lester. Huang = Is basically the only guy who can be Hsin’s successor now, every other criminal is dead, so chances are that he’s the new leader of the Triads.

That’s when the IAD and the FBI show up to arrest everyone. Hsin, who’s been pretty badly wounded but not dead yet, is taken by the cops. Heston decides to get all the credit, and lets Huang go scot-free. Well, this was the Story Mode. Now, we can roll the credits. I hope you enjoyed this long re-telling of this story. I tried to make it as interesting as possible, and not too long either, because there was a LOT to discuss…

…and in fact, it’s not over. The Story Mode itself only constitutes about 50% of the game. Less than that, even. Everything else is made up of the dozens of side-quests. There are so many, in fact, that I’m gonna need a lot of words to discuss them all. It’s crazy. Let’s start by the basic thing: Drug dealing. Yeah, yeah, I’ve been talking about it, but now I can explain it in more detail.

Drug dealing is the quick way to make money in this game. Shortly after starting the game, you get e-mails from dealers all over the city. These dealers will either offer to sell a type of drug to you at an extremely low price, or they’ll offer to buy from you a type of drug at an extremely high price. The only problem is the limit: At any moment, you can only go around with a maximum of 50 units. Granted, dealers will rarely have 50 or more units of drugs, all combined, to sell when you meet them, but if you spend the money in this game to rack up, say, 100 of each type, and getting ready to sell it back when a dealer offers a high price, you can see your profits skyrocket. It’s the best get-rich-quick method. And yes, this only applies to this game, don’t try it in real life, like, seriously, man, if you try that in real life because a game taught you how to, my God, what’s wrong with you. In fact, the dangers of doing it in real life are represented here by the random cop descents that can happen when you complete a deal. The drugs themselves are split in three categories: Depressants (Weed and Downers), the cheapest ones, and the most common in the neighborhood where you start; Hallucinogens, Acid and Ecstasy, which are more expensive and a little harder to come by; and Powders, Coke and Heroin, which are very expensive, thankfully if you buy them from a dealer at a very low price, and sell them to another at a very high price, you can make a lot of CASH. And there’s no shortage of dealers, either, with 80 of them scattered around the map.

The most epic vehicle in the entire game.
Talking about that cash, once you’re rich, what can you buy that is noteworthy? Cars. The BAOBA shop will let you buy one of many different types of cars. You want one particular type? If you can shill out the money, you can buy it here. That includes the epic TANK. Then there’s Safe houses and Apartments: There are 21 of those around, and most of those cost between 5000 and 15000$. You get a few of those as you play through the Story Mode, and there’s also at least one that you can only win through the scratch cards. The best reason to collect all of the Safe houses is in case you get stuck into a giant fight against the police forces, that way you always have a house nearby to hide in. Trust me, it’s useful. It’s also useful as, since you can only carry a maximum of 50 units, during drug dealing you can be contacted by any dealer around town, and it would be sad if you had to go way back to refill your stock. I mean, I enjoy long rides around town like everyone else, the invigorating smell of gasoline, smoke and blood, but I hate having to drive for too long to do business. Not that it’s very expensive in gas anyway, I grand theft auto all the time.

Here, I am living proof that when playing this game, you start getting the gangster mentality. It’s incredible. Thankfully I’m not stupid enough to believe that I’ll stop being Wanted by just entering my house and taking a nap on the couch, no matter the gravity of my crimes.

Now, there are more side-quests. Outside of the quest to find all dealers, there are many things to look for around town, which means you really gain from exploring every corner.
See this security camera?
-Finding and destroying all 100 security cameras around the map. This requires Molotov cocktails to achieve, and the cameras are spread all over the city, so you have to look everywhere.
-Rampage!: These are special points in certain places. Those are missions where you must kill as many opponents as possible in the allotted time, and try to rack up enough points to get a Gold medal. These special missions will usually force you to use one particular weapon for the rampage. The rampage stops when the time limit runs out, when you get taken by the cops – unlikely – or when you get killed. Which, in GTA, is bound to happen frequently to the main character yet he never dies. Even though his only female ally in the game dies in the third mission, and other important characters die and never come back…
-Unique Stunt Jump: One of the coolest features in GTA: Chinatown Wars is how you can go at full speed on a ramp and have your car jump for a distance of several feet. Unique stump jumps are special moves that you can accomplish in a car, which you send flying off a ramp and into a billboard, destroying it. There are 30 of those. The hard part is that some of those require cars that go extremely fast, or else they’ll fall back to the ground before hitting the billboard, so choose wisely for your next car if you want to do this side-quest.

There are some side-quests that require getting certain types of cars, and if you know where to look, you can go on to play those side-quests and aim for the Bronze, Silver or Gold medal.
-Paramedic: Steal an ambulance! Surely that will merely be an annoyance to those citizens who are currently in any kind of deadly pain at this exact moment, right? Well, despite the cynical world of this game, you can play Hero by saving people’s lives, taking them in and bringing them to the hospital in record time.
You hate them as enemies,
but the police car is one of the best
cars to steal.
-Vigilante: Similarly, you can steal a cop car and go on quests where you can stop criminals in the middle of their awful activities around the city. Be careful, even when you’re at the wheel of one of their cars, the cops are too neurotic not to chase you down if you accidentally hit them.
-Firefighter: More heroics please! There are 10 firefighting missions. Gee, good thing a Story mission had you use a firetruck to save Chan! Yeah, and see how that turned out.
-Taxi Driver: You have to find clients and bring them to their destination in record time. This is probably the easiest mission to find, since there are taxis everywhere and, unlike police cars, you can take one without getting in trouble. However, it’s a difficult mission in which the GPS may sometimes prove untrustworthy…
Gotta love pointless decorations
on vehicles.
-Noodle Run: Near the first apartment in the game, there’s a Noodle shop with a delivery car that has a cool dragon on top. You can steal it and deliver orders to people’s doors. Sounds simple? It is, until rival food delivery companies decide to get in and attack you as you wait for clients to come take their order. Because this is Liberty City, and violence is the only solution.

Want more side-quests? Here's more!
-HoboTron: Shooting homeless people like they’re zombies! That’s all you really need to know about this one. This mission which is only accessible on the small graveyard island, offers six levels with hordes that get tougher each time.
-As you drive around, sometimes you’ll see a person logo on the GPS. Stop by that person and you’ll be given a mission. It ranges from putting a tracker on a person’s car to giving a woman the time of her life (Not that way, sadly; but by driving dangerously and doing stunts to amaze her).
-Odd Jobs: Some particular spots on the map will offer special jobs for you to accomplish. They range from doing package deliveries around town to tattooing people. Stealing from warehouses also counts as an odd job. Some are their own mini-game, like the race across the graveyard in the hearse. Explaining them all would be pretty long, because there are many, but it’s only by going around town – and attempting to steal special cars – that you’ll find them all.
-Liberty City Gun Club: There is a Gun Club in Liberty City in which you can practice shooting with all the weapons. Those also have medals attached to them, so you should try them all.

Last but not least, when Story Mode is completed, you receive an e-mail about two statues called the Lions of Fo. They’re hidden at two spots on the map, and you have to find them. They’re hidden in two of 20 different places; those places on the map, prior to finishing Story Mode (and after finishing it, in the case of the 18 empty places) are represented by swirling dots. That’s a final mission, but a mission nonetheless.

Now, take most of those side-quests as well as the 58 story missions in the game… and try to get a Gold Medal on each. To get 100% completion, that’s what you have to do. In order to replay a story mission, you just need to go to a board in any safe house you own and select a mission to replay it.

Well, there you have it: Everything that can be found in this game, and a re-telling of the whole plot, as I always do. What do I think of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars?

Well, I think it’s awesome. Simply an excellent game. Now, let me be clear, I rarely play wide open sandbox games. I don’t have the consoles to play through other GTA games, so I can’t compare. But if that’s the standard quality of a GTA game, I’m impressed. Because Chinatown Wars is, and remains, one of my favorite Nintendo DS games, not only for its story and characters (which you’ll remember; my first playthrough of the Story Mode was years ago and I still knew about all the bosses Huang accumulates through the game; yes, even Lester), but especially for its near-infinite replayability. When I don’t know what to play, I’ll gladly pick up that game and possibly discover things I hadn’t seen before in it. There is so much to do during the story, and so much to do outside of it, that you can’t help but enjoy it.

There’s no pretending that our hero is only called such because he’s the protagonist; the game doesn’t hide the fact that Huang is an asshole in a world of even bigger assholes, a world where even the better cop serving as the protagonist’s ally has some serious fucking issues. Rockstar Games knows that we’re not here for altruism, and gives exactly what the gamers want from this series; a chance to do as much crime as possible, with the only real dangers are getting caught by the police, or death – but for that last one, it doesn’t matter because Huang always survives. You’ll enjoy Huang’s snarky take on everything – with a side-order of vulgarity, pretty please – just as much as you’ll enjoy his seven different bosses, to different levels. Lester is pretty gross, but he has most motorcyce missions, which some players like. You get a begrudging respect for Wade Heston as he helps the player retrieving the sword and unmasking the Mole. Rudy D’Avanzo is notable mostly for his final scene, Hsin is imposing, Chan is the moronic son of a rich who takes nothing seriously enough, and Zhou is ruthless and cruel. Uncle Kenny, the secret villain of the whole story, will quickly get on your nerves with all his speeches of honor and family and whatnot. For all intents and purposes, he was a figure of authority that Huang had to respect. Even by the end there were little to no hints that he was the culprit behind all this (kinda helps that the Mole subplot appears only halfway through the game, and it’s never explained how Kenny tampered with federal documents to incriminate his rivals in the race to become chief of the Triads). My only sadness with the story’s characters is that Ling gets killed very early on, the old “Woman Dies For Drama” trope in full effect – though you can say her death doesn’t actually have much of an impact since she dies three missions in. It sucks, it really sucks, but hey, the place is called Liberty City, not Love City.

The story evolves at a steady rhythm, all the missions introduce the player to a new mechanic that is used once in-story and can then be encountered in side-quests. Flashing red e-mail icons indicate which Story Missions are important at any moment, and sometimes you have “down times” with smaller, non-plot-related missions. The missions range from easy to very difficult, and many of them are a lot easier when Huang is protected with a bulletproof vest and if he has an arsenal of weapons with him already. Both of which you can order from Ammu-Nation, given you have the money. Said money can be collected easily through drug dealing, which is also great once you get the hang of it. You’ll enjoy the twists and turns that the plot takes, with some twists that you genuinely wouldn’t see coming on a first playthrough – shame that I revealed them all, huh?

And some chracters are just walking jokes.
Comedy is omnipresent, probably to counterbalance the gravity of the crimes you can commit. Many jokes are downright racist, some are homophobic, and others are misogynist, though this is all explained by the characters being, well, grade-A jerks. Yes, the tone of the whole thing is offensive to a fault, but that was the point. Besides, some comedy will be more than welcome between the more horrible acts Huang partakes in. I mean, this is GTA, if you’re expecting something politically correct, then you need to take the cartridge back to the store. I’d say I had to repress my own PC side to enjoy this game. It’s wrong, it’s decadent… and it’s fun until the end.

The difficulty level raises as the story progresses; the last missions are hard mostly because the mooks show up equipped with automatic weapons and if you’re not equipped appropriately, it can get very difficult. The side-quests range from moderately difficult to near-impossible, at least when it comes to getting the Gold medal; sometimes, you also need to be lucky. Getting Gold medals in every mission and side-quest and discovering every little secret in Liberty City is what you need for 100% completion, so you can play for a very, very long time and still be a long way towards completion. A time comes where side-quests only award 1/10th of a percentage.

The gameplay is great, from the gimmicks some missions and side-quests add to it, to how it’s like to simply drive around town for fun. Driving is not always simple, as some streets are rather narrow. Huang can run, but not for very long, and his walking speed is pretty bad, hence the need to steal cars to get from Point A to Point B. Well, granted, this IS called “Grand Theft Auto”... You can’t enter most buildings (and you rarely get to walk around inside the ones you enter in Story Mode), but then again the world outside is massive enough that it’s not a big loss. (If you go and say “Well, other GTA maps are larger and you can go inside the buildings”, keep in mind that this is the only GTA game I’ve ever played, and to me it’s still pretty damn impressive.) You can not only visit every corner of the land, you can visit every corner of the sea. Preferably on a boat. Although it’s far less interesting…

The PDA contains a myriad of options, some which are extremely useful, others that are less useful, but you’ll discover most of them as you play. The physics of the game are very good, with the vehicles behaving just like in real life; the medium-speed vehicles that turn just right, the fast cars that turn quickly, the longer or heavier cars are slower and need more space to turn. In a shootout situation, you can press R to aim for your opponent to take him down quickly. The controls are awesome, the music is alright (not all that particular, there are some radio stations that you can tune in while in a car, but not enough to offer much diversity), the game is very stylized (especially the cutscenes) and just looks fantastic.

Now, some might be bored by the bird’s view style of the game, or may say it’s a little too easy with the targeting mechanic. And if you’ve played other GTA games, you might think this one is not quite as good, and I can’t blame you for that. But this is my first GTA game, and I’m completely satisfied.

Although the month is not over, which means I can still slip one M-rated game before the end of April. Hm… I know just the one. And if you thought GTA is a murder simulator, man, you haven’t seen shit.

Next week… If you pictured Huang as a good guy, first off, you’re wrong. Second, when it comes to protagonists who barely count as good guys, there’s far worse out there, as many games show. In fact, you could say that in some game worlds, there are no good guys to speak of. You can practically call it a world where there are No. More. Heroes…