GTA: Chinatown Wars

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown WarsThis might seem like a strange thing to say, but playing GTA: Chinatown Wars on the DS has allowed me to understand where people are coming from when they talk about how bad for kids the likes of Pokémon are. After all, it’s essentially drug dealing.

Let’s say you’re at a convention where Nintendo is unlocking Mew for players – you’ll have to excuse the outdated example since I haven’t properly played a Pokémon game since about 2002. Your Mew is near worthless in a trade there because everyone has them, but if you take it back to the school playground – this is 2002, remember; I don’t still hang around playgrounds with Pokémon to trade – it becomes invaluable.

In Chinatown Wars, you can, say, pick up some cheap weed where the Jamaican gangs are prevalent and sell it at a premium to college students. Or you might get an email from someone looking to offload some heroin cheaply, so you can take up the offer and stash it at your safehouse until someone finds themselves short of skag and will pay over the odds for some of your collection. Basic supply and demand, only here your deals will occasionally be raided by the cops. It’s also a nifty method of investment, tying up a chunk of your money in cheap drugs that you can sell for thousands in profit when demand goes up.

I’ll stop talking about that aspect of the game there for fear of scaring off the children – this site had already been blocked as pornography once by a major filtering company, incidentally – and just say that I love Chinatown Wars, and living out fantasies of making millions in a particular brand of Pocket Monster is just one reason why. The odd thing, considering the lengths I’ll go to to defend GTA IV against its detractors, is that I really don’t like the old GTA games. I bought the first when it came out out of some feeling of obligation – the playground rumours that it was imminently to be banned helped – and it was cool while the novelty was there, but I just didn’t find them that much fun. It wasn’t until I could get immersed in the city and Rockstar’s humour in GTA III that the series really became something important to me.

That’s why I’d been wary of this one, but you can’t ignore reviews like these forever and it’s been absolutely ages since I’ve played anything on the DS. In fact, the last two games that I bought, Apollo Justice and Chrono Trigger, haven’t been played at all. My hoarding mentality strikes again…

Pokémon for the less innocent aside, Chinatown Wars is a huge amount of fun. While it may lack the radio stations and the portable version of GTA IV’s Liberty City is more right-angled than you might remember, Rockstar Leeds has done a great job of cramming the experience into a DS cartridge. It looks remarkable considering the usual standard of 3D on the DS, the touch-screen minigames are yet to get annoying, and the slightly bizarre humour has made it intact. I mean, when was the last game on any system, let alone a DS game, that mentioned coked-out midgets and injecting heroin into your eyeball… in the same sentence? Genius.

This is Why Nintendo Fans Don’t Get Nice Things

I had to shake my head when I saw that MadWorld didn’t even manage to chart in the latest NPDs, although it wasn’t exactly an unexpected event given the underperformance of No More Heroes, which seems aimed at a similar – apparently non-existent – demographic. Sad, but like I said, not unexpected. You can make your game as violent and funny as you like, but some are just too artsy for their own good.

What should be worrying for fans of more traditional games on Nintendo platforms, however, is how Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars appears to have flopped massively, selling 89,000 units against analysts’ predictions of anywhere from 200,000 to several million. If a game with a score of 94 on Metacritic and, oh yeah, a title containing the little-known words Grand Theft Auto can sell that badly, it doesn’t bode well for more mature titles on the platform. As much as I love my Ouendan and Phoenix Wright, I’m only human and would like to deal some heroin on my lunch break when that itch needs scratching.

Some blame piracy, and anecdotally I know of a lot of people who downloaded it, but R4 carts can’t be that prevalent. The fact is that Nintendo hasn’t been what it used to be for a lot of fans, myself included, since the disappointment of the GameCube, and I know many for whom the great library on the DS is the only thing keeping Nintendo from being written off as a lost cause. If that dries up completely you can see why Nintendo domination is a scary thought for some.

I’m not one of those who’s ready to cut Nintendo adrift, because I still see flashes of brilliance in games like Twilight Princess and Metroid Prime 3 to make me forgive Wii Music or Wii Play, but if decent adult games aren’t going to do anything on the Nintendo platforms I think it’s time to admit that, as some have suspected since the GameCube, Nintendo machines are for Nintendo games. The Wii is a great secondary console to play that odd gem that won’t show up anywhere else, but I think most hardcore gamers will agree when I say that the lion’s share of modern gaming will be done on the HD options.

And if you own Nintendo’s consoles and haven’t bought MadWorld or Chinatown Wars, congratulations. You’ve forfeited the right to complain when all Nintendo gives you at E3 is crushing disappointment.

World of Goo

World of GooI’m kind of late to this one given that it was a pretty big cult hit late last year, but the game that kept me from finishing Resident Evil 5 over the long Easter weekend wasn’t some big budget AAA title but World of Goo: a physics-based puzzle game developed by a team of two guys. Having been a darling of the independent gaming community for a while, it got released for WiiWare and has subsequently come out for various operating systems, and it was its inclusion in this year’s MacHeist that finally got me to play it.

At the time of writing my profile reckons I’ve been playing for around seven and a half hours, and that’s almost entirely been over the long weekend, a quick dabble with the demo when it was getting a lot of positive buzz aside. To my shame I brushed it off then, so consider this post my atonement.

I absolutely adore this game. It’s typical of the best indie games in the way that it’s built fun gameplay around a simple, strong central concept, and everything else from the sharp, detailed graphics with bags of personality to the jaunty, Elfman-esque soundtrack (free download here) has a couple of really great pieces. Even the writing, largely coming through the unseen ‘Sign Writer’, is often clever and loaded with in-jokes.

One moment that stuck with me was the beginning of the fourth world, the Information Superhighway. Whereas all previous levels had been similarly themed, here things are thrown into the green and black digital world, and even the gameplay changes to match the new design. New mechanics like the ability to ‘infect’ pieces to give them different properties and the use of gravity to curve shots around a planetoid are a complete switch from the basic bridge and tower building that made up the previous three worlds. That’s not to say the rest of it isn’t inventive, because it certainly is, but I think it speaks volumes about how much invention is in here that it can be so suddenly switched around.

Now I know how long this has been out so it’s quite likely that people have played it, but I also know what proportion of the players actually paid for it – so much for the ‘we only pirate because of DRM’ story, eh? Trust me: it’s more than worth the $20.

Resi 5: Old But Not Outdated

If you need proof of how far certain genres have come in the last few years, just look at how gameplay that was considered a revolution in 2005 is now being treated as a relic in its next-gen sequel – I am, of course, talking about Resident Evil 5. Blame Dead Space for spoiling us if you like, but the fact is that few genres have come all that far in the last five years in any respect other than visuals.

Resident Evil 5

I’m nearing the end of Resident Evil 5, and yes, it does feel clunky after we’ve enjoyed the improvements to the formula in games like Gears of War and Dead Space. Yes, managing the inventory in real-time is an unnecessary attempt at creating tension. Yes, the partner AI is prone to lapses of judgement – although at least this time it can shoot back. Yes, the setting lacks that unsettling, macabre tone of Resi 4. Yes, we’d all like to run and gun. These are flaws that make it worthy of being marked down against its predecessor, but everything else that that game did right is in here as well. It looks great, it has that same satisfyingly precise gunplay, the boss battles are impressive, the battles are intense…

Maybe it’s played things too safe, which is what people seem to be piling on about, but the fact remains that when you play Resident Evil 5 as Resident Evil 5 and not what you think Resident Evil 5 should be, you’ll have a great time.

People are rightfully disappointed in Capcom’s conservatism, but it’s still based on what few will dispute is a classic game and a frontrunner for the best game of the last generation. Dead Space moved the survival horror/action sub-genre forward, but it hasn’t made Resident Evil 4 a worse game and thus to say that Resi 5 is a bad game is hyperbole.

Don’t let me stop you throwing some vitriol over the DLC situation, though. Capcom deserves a kicking over that, if not the game’s overall quality.

360 Wi-Fi Without a £60 Adaptor

Since moving into a place where my gaming den – more on that in an upcoming post – is beyond the reach of an ethernet cable, I came to require a way to get my 360 online wirelessly, and although the official adaptor was the obvious choice, I didn’t want to pay the frankly shameful £60 RRP. I know that wireless hardware is dirt cheap and that one isn’t even fully featured, lacking the WPA2 support that every certified Wi-Fi device since 2006 has featured. Not to mention that it wouldn’t help me avoid my previous issues with the PS3’s built-in Wi-Fi.

It’s not often that I can provide genuinely useful advice, so listen up. I know enough about home networking to know that one way around this is an ethernet bridge, which are reasonably cheap and will work with any ethernet device. But even so, buying one for each console and possibly more for, say, a standalone Blu-ray player in the future could add up.

Linksys WRT54GLMy solution was to buy a Linksys WRT54GL, which can be had for less than £50 new. It’s a fairly basic router with one exception: it runs on Linux.

This being the Internet, it’s been taken apart by enthusiasts to add piles of features through third-party firmware. The free Tomato Firmware, which has a simple client mode as one of its key features, is exactly what you need. I put it in ethernet bridge mode and both consoles are online without a hitch, and the router has been going strong for two weeks now.

I should also point out that Tomato works with a number of other routers, which may even be cheaper. I just went with the Linksys because it was the original.

The official site has a video showing how to put it into client mode, which will be all that 99% of users want. There’s also an excellent tutorial here, which explains the difference between the two client modes – I went with bridge because I wanted everything on the same subnet for video streaming.

I know that I’m not the only one who is baffled by the fact that you can get an excellent router to do the job of the official adaptor and more for less money, but I’m not going to complain too much when open networking standards give us a relatively simple way around the problem. Alas, it’s not as easy to get around extortionate prices on other 360 peripherals like the larger hard drives or charging cables that cost comparatively nothing on a certain competing console, but maybe Microsoft will have a heart with the next iteration.

Then again, only one of those machines is actually making money. Maybe not…