Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

So let’s cover it one more time… one last time. Just in case I haven’t made myself clear.

I hated Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars.

I found it offensive, reprehensible, and an affront to the idea of gaming that I identify with. Despite being initially delighted by the scope of the game on offer – a massive open world propping up an adult plot – I was soon crestfallen. “Mature” seemed to be a synonym for “caustic swearing”. Gameplay seemed to be stricken with a severe case of DIAS Syndrome. Storylines became cheap excuses to have cardboard characters express themselves through profanity; success in side-missions relied heavily on luck, rather than skill.

Mature? Maybe a thirteen-year-old boy’s impression of maturity, but certainly not one I grok. If this is what constitutes the epitome of post-adolescent gaming, then I can happily live without it; I’d rather have Suda51’s over-the-top hallucinatory ejaculations, tongue planted firmly in cheek, than this gritty “realism”.

Great gameplay? I’d like to think that, at the start of any task, I’ve got the opportunity to successfully complete my objective; GTA: CW thinks otherwise, essentially deciding whether you can complete the task with the roll of a dice. And that, my friends, is not “great gameplay”.

Sure, it’s a technical masterpiece: Rockstar Leeds have managed to squeeze an entire city into a 128MB DS cartridge (cliché would have encouraged me to write “a living, breathing city”, but the anonymous nature of its inhabitants makes that statement very disingenuous). It’s just a massive shame they decided to make it a city that I didn’t want to visit, watching a bunch of arseholes be… ummm… arseholic. And I’ve got The Real World for that sort of thing, thankyouverymuch – except people are generally much nicer (with a wider vocabulary and rational sensibilities) out here.

This was my first venture into the Grand Theft Auto franchise – and will be my last. After 100.00% completing the story, Gold Medalling every side mission (85 Gold, 0 Silver, 0 Bronze), acquiring over 1000 packets of every type of drug, and banking over a million dollars, I’m putting this away for ever. Good riddance.

Pain in Chinatown

Brief, and to the point: 100.00% complete, 80 Gold, 4 Silver, and 1 Bronze… and a numb left thumb-tip. Just awaiting the Gods of Chance to award me four more Gold Medals, then a spot of skill to upgrade that Bronze, and then I’ll be rid of this game forever.

There’s a more substantive post in the pipeline, focussed (or not, as the mood takes me) on the cost of gaming. But… 80 Gold Medals got in the way ;)


After having a wussy little whine at my lack of skill with PAC-MAN Championship Edition last week, I had a breakthrough win mere minutes after posting, beating Challenge Mode 1 after the squillionth attempt. Surprisingly, Challenge Mode 2 fell shortly thereafter; pushing me well above the MGC averages and making me substantially happier.

Even more surprisingly, I managed to rattle off the remaining Achievements with barely a repeat attempt, closing the book on PAC-MAN CE in quick-fire fashion. And, in case I’ve not mentioned it before, it’s a lovely game: a thoroughly enjoyable re-imagining of a bona-fide gaming classic. And, thankfully, a testament to the adage “practise makes perfect.” If only that applied to Geometry Wars, too.

With PAC-MAN CE out of the way, and not feeling compelled to return to Brütal Legend just yet, my thoughts turned to the next game to tackle (conveniently forgetting all the other ongoing games I’ve got lined up on the coffee table). I thought about the recently discovered 360 games; sure, I could leap into Feeding Frenzy, reputed to be an easy – if grind-irific – 200 GS, but that would just make me obsess about nothing more than fish for a couple of days, and I could kinda do without that. Boom Boom Rocket? Nup, I’m really not in the mood to start learning a rhythm game. Hell, I even considered Luxor 2 for awhile, Zuma traits be damned. But in the end, my eyes drifted from my 360 to the little black box charging quietly next to it: my DSi. And GTA: Chinatown Wars.

This GTA has proven to be as problematic a purchase as, say, Gears of War or Metroid Prime 2. They’re all games that are critically – and widely – lauded, but somehow manage to leave me stone cold. Prime 2 shares thin (but classy) company as being one of the few games that have ever been banished from The Moobaarn (I gave it to a friend gratis and, now that he’s got a week off, I reckon it’s high time he finished it – right, DJ?) But GTA: CW holds pride-of-place in the aforementioned bunch, because it feels utterly loathsome, distinctly player-unfriendly. Spiteful, even.

Now, I’m all for games of skill; nothing thrills me more when, as with PAC-MAN CE above, a bit of practise yields progress. But GTA: CW seems to be completely against that idea, awarding Gold Medals to the recipients of chance. Metal for lucky breaks.

And that really, really annoys me.

A Gold Medal run on a Time Trial side mission could be thwarted at any stage by a random car drifting onto the road, obscuring your path. Normally, one would expect to be able to compensate for happenstance by using their skill, but GTA: CW‘s tolerances are so tight that any slight deviation will cost you the Medal. Rampages fare no better, with the ability to clock up big scores restricted by the random spawning of bad guys; if your killing spree chain gets broken, then you ain’t getting that Medal.

Thus, GTA: CW seems intent on making you repeat the same side missions over and over and over and over again, on the off chance that this time you’ll be smiled upon by the binary gods, this time you won’t make a trivial mistake… this time the stars will align. And that’d be fine… if the game was actually any fun to play.

But it’s not.

Not for me, anyway. I know there’s people out there who love their Rampage modes, and would happily play it ’til the sun comes up; but I’m not one of them. GTA is not my game; it’s just something that I want finished soon, so I can spring the little cartridge out of the DSi, pop it into its box, and bury it in the cupboard.

And maybe, for a minute or so, I’ll feel a happy glow from having conquered that piece of shit game.

But, even with my record currently at 90.69%, 36 Gold, 3 Silver, and 12 Bronze, there’s no happy glow now – just the promise of more painful repetition. Grrrrr.


I started this gaming week by forcing myself through some of GTA: Chinatown Wars – there’s plenty of side-missions yet to be done (I’m currently only 82% complete), and tons of Gold Medals to be acquired. Despite the fact that I can avoid the stupefying storyline, I still feel as though IQ points are shed for every moment that I play this game.

Which could explain why I’m so amazingly crap at PAC-MAN Championship Edition. It’s the only game that I’ve played where my accumulated gamerscore is less than the average of all registered players; I view this as an abject failure, but nothing I attempt helps me play any better. Disappointing!

But the big news of the week was, of course, the release of Brütal Legend. As a fan of eighties metal and Tim Schafer, I was looking forward to this with great interest; and, thanks to a handy tip from Aussie site The Economical Gamer, I was holding my copy in my hot expectant hands within hours of the release date being broken. And so, on Tuesday night, I settled down for a good, solid dose of metal and gaming.

And it was goooood.

I’d avoided playing the demo released on Xbox Live, wanting to come into the game fresh; and the opening titles & menu screen were every bit as awesome as others had raved. The first level was great, a decent bit of hack-and-slash, with some wonderfully expressive character models on display. A few hand-holding tutorials, a bit of decent driving, a few enjoyable boss battles, and evidence of some massive OCD collection side-quests, and I’m hooked, lauding Brütal Legend‘s praises to all who’ll listen.

It wasn’t until the following evening that I happened upon the first RTS section of the game. And, ummmmm, I wasn’t really sure that I liked it. The second one was a little better, but something didn’t feel quite right. Now, I’m no fan of RTS games in general – only having tinkered with a couple vicariously – but I wasn’t sure whether I was enjoying myself during those sections… at all.

Now, I know that Schafer himself has said that it’s not an RTS game, and I suspect that the problem here is all mine; after all, I’m the type of guy who’ll tip-toe through an FPS with health constantly at maximum and all guns fully loaded. I hate the death of any of my avatars, which is why I’m probably having a tough time enjoying myself with those aspects of Brütal Legend. And that’s a massive shame, because there’s so much there to love: the music selection (all 107 songs) is phenomenal (except, maybe, for Def Leppard’s poppy Rock of Ages, which feels woefully out of place), the storytelling is Schafer-sublime, and the voice-cast is superb – OK, so maybe Lemmy is a little too laid-back, but Ozzy is perfect. Lovely little touches – the cymbal bushes, the post-game interactions, the multiple Double Fine intros – are there in abundance… but I can’t shake the memory that Psychonauts managed to deliver phenomenal production, a fabulous story, and a great game.

Still, I’ll soldier on with Brütal Legend – I’ve only 100%-ed Gentle at this stage – and, hopefully, I’ll discover some love for the RTS-ish bits.

Flu? HTFU!

Not much gaming to be had this week: a fun (but short) Halo 3 multiplayer Achievement Whoring session, the completion of the Xin missions in GTA: Chinatown Wars (during a trip to my parents place celebrating my Dad’s 80th birthday), and a painful first exposure to Scribblenauts via my nephew. Maybe it was his tinnitus-inducing “help”, but I don’t think I’ll be buying Scribblenauts anytime soon ever.

I spent most of the week sleeping, a happy escape from the ravages of the flu. But something caught my eye during my occasional visits to my computer: a video from the makers of Eve Online, CCP.

There’s sooooo much about that video that I love that I don’t know where to start… Glorious Production Values seems as good a place as any. Great instrumentation and lyrics. The perfect mix of people who’re taking their place in the video seriously, people who aren’t serious enough, and people who don’t have the faintest idea what’s going on. A Techno Viking reference. And, best of all, a company that isn’t afraid to tell it’s own customers to harden the fuck up.

Now, I don’t give a rat’s arse about Eve Online; the very premise of the game fills me with an uncomfortable mix of boredom and OCD dread. But this video makes me want to give money to CCP, because this is a company that I want to support; they make me feel like they know where their shit is at, and I love that.

And, if there’s any overseeing Internet deity, the phrase “WOOP WOOP it’s the sound of the Space Police” will replace all those fucking cat memes.

A Mixed Bag

Being Australian, there are times where I don’t want to fuck around with words. Hence the title of this post, because this week’s gaming has been a real mixed bag.

Having wrapped up Master Quest last week, I needed a new project; and, being mindful of my New Year’s Gaming Resolutions, I figure I’d best start work on the Playstation side of things. To that end, I started N2O.

N2O is an interesting one; I bought it, of course, because of its links with my 8-bit past. Written by Tony Crowther (responsible for the first Monty Mole game, and the Loco / Suicide Express / Black Thunder trio of near-identical games, amongst others), it’s very much a love-child of Tempest and one of Crowther’s earlier games, Phobia. Fly along the rim of undulating tunnels, shoot bugs. Easy.

But, as a shooter, it’s got a bit of depth. There’s a great speed-up mechanic (the more you shoot, the faster you travel), and there’s a certain puzzle-solving element to it, too. But it’s blackened somewhat by (seemingly) random weapon drops and a tendency to obscure your view with too many twists in the tunnel. Still, I’m having a fair bit of fun with it at the moment; I’ve clocked it on Easy, and am about a quarter of the way through Normal. Whether or not I require Hard for Completion is yet to be decided.

But the problem with N2O (and a lot of other twitchy shooters) is that I can’t concentrate on them for long stretches; so off into the vaults I went, checking out a few other games for the Next Project. I fired up Bujingai – again – and got nowhere on the boss I’m stuck on – again. I pootled around in the wacky world of Katamari Damacy, looked at all the items I need to collect to satisfy my OCD, and quickly moved on to Frequency – Harmonix’s original rhythm action game. Unfortunately, the use of the word “rhythm” there makes me completely unable to play it.

Hoping for a cheap win, I dug out my Nuon and threw the unknown Ballistic on. Oh shit – it’s Zuma. I fucking hate Zuma. Nine of the twenty-five levels was all I could bear; the Completion Requirement for that one will be All Levels On Easy, I think. And that’s kinda fair enough, given the harder skill levels just increase the speed.

Then there was a little bit of Wind Waker, but I turned that off after an hour or two… I’m wary of burning out on Zelda, as I did when I first encountered the games (when I played through Ocarina and Wind Waker, back-to-back, in a two week holiday of gaming where I rarely left the house). I fired up the 360 for the first time in two months, grabbed all the Burnout Paradise and Halo 3 add-ons that had been released in my absence, and then scored a couple of easy skull-finding Achievements in Halo 3.

Finally, I pulled my finger out and finished GTA: Chinatown Wars. There’s still oodles left to do in-game – I only finished with 81.15% – but it’s still the annoying experience that I remembered. It reminds me somewhat of Heroes or Dexter on TV; fantastic openings that convince you that they’re groundbreakers, before extended exposure reveals a tepid unsatisfying grind. Sigh.

Je Retourne! (Part 3)

Four weeks since my last post. Four weeks, three of those spent at a construction camp an hour out of Karratha, tethered to the Interwebs – and hence, my sanity – by a satellite connection that was lucky to hold 5KB/s for a solid minute. And so, with the exception of this weekend (grinningly punctuated by my annual dose of Eurovision kitsch and bloc favouritism), my gaming has been sporadic – and mostly handheld based.

And by “handheld,” of course, I mean “DS.” The PSP has only tempted me with Patapon, Loco Roco, and (more importantly) the potential for a powerful emulation platform. Prior to the DS, my only other handhelds were also Nintendo in nature: old style Game & Watches (Helmet & Donkey Kong). But I digress, distracted by history and Sweden’s off-key Eurovision entry.

Just before my last painful journey to site, I picked up my first-ever entry into the Grand Theft Auto franchise: GTA: Chinatown Wars. And early impressions were fantastic – I loved the open world, the presentation, the scope. After 13 hours (56% complete), however, the lustre has most certainly been lost: where I initially thought the writing was mature, it now feels hopelessly juvenile; where I once savoured the morsel-sized missions, it now feels like an annoying grind. If this is the franchise that defines modern gaming, then I’m not really sure I want in; an especially ironic comment, given my undying love of Crackdown, which owes so much to GTA‘s heritage. But where Crackdown is wonderfully refined and constrained in its maturity, GTA: CW feels like it’s trying too hard to be Adult. Technically impressive and fun in small doses, sure – and it most definitely deserves to sell more than its reported numbers. But it’s hardly the most compelling thing on the DS.

Compare and contrast with another recent DS acquisition – Soul Bubbles. Seemingly victim to an unsupportive import policy (it was available in Australia for all of two weeks, I reckon), I had to get a UK mate to snaffle this for me (Amazon UK had it for a paltry 6 quid). And it’s a cracking game – utterly unique control mechanism, fun without frustration, a perfect little package. It’s shameful that this has gone so unnoticed.

Other site-based gaming has been limited to more Sight Training (which has proven to be quite enjoyable in a minigame-ish way) and Rub Rabbits (which leads me to believe that practice may, indeed, may – eventually – make perfect). The last couple of days has presented opportunities to get back into my Zelda Master Questing, with a couple of today’s dungeons surprising with their re-jigged ease; both Dodongo’s Cavern and the much-feared Jabu-Jabu’s Belly felt much easier in their Master Quest renditions.

To be honest, though, my mind has been more focussed on a game that’s still some months off: Bayonetta. Ever since I first laid eyes on the initial teaser trailer, I’ve been gagging for more goodies from Platinum – and they’ve delivered some delicious tidbits on the complexities of modelling Bayonetta’s arse. Now, I’m a bit of a fan of a bit of female protagonist posterior, and Bayonetta backs that up with some nutball looking action – I can’t wait.

The near future, however, is (annoyingly) still dictated by work – do I have more lovely Zelda in my future, or am I going to be grinding more GTA: CW in airplanes? It’s pretty much a day-by-day proposition at the moment, but hopefully there’s only another four-to-six weeks of this flux left. I want a chance to feel at home again, bed myself back into my old gaming habits; I haven’t turned on my 360 since March!