The new driving dynamic is also welcome because the cops have bucked their ideas up, patrolling in numbers sufficient to spot previously safe carjacks more often. Once they're on your tail, it's no longer a case of simply ditching your wanted stars or playing hide-and-seek with units in the search radius; police cruisers race alongside and must be barged into crash barriers and junctions to disable them. You can still choose to evade or re-spray, but neutralising pursuers often gives you the edge and allows you to sneak off into an alleyway to let the buzz die down.
And you will certainly want to do that when you're dealing. On a superficial level the ability to buy and sell a variety of drugs from Liberty City's gang fraternity looks like a cynical publicity stunt, but after a few hours it's obvious that it's not only vital to progression but also dangerously addictive. Apart from a stock of reliably positioned dealers (each with particular buying and selling preferences), your PDA's email regularly rattles with offers to buy and sell at special prices within a certain period, which has you barrelling around the streets to turn a profit.
With mission rewards much lower than usual, it's important and sometimes obligatory to delve into this, and while you can turn the PDA alerts off I found myself regularly killing half an hour or so buying up cheap pills or powder, stashing them and then rolling them into a hefty cash bonus when the right email landed. With Ammu-Nation now available on your PDA to deliver guns and armour to a nearby safehouse, and a hell of a lot of bad guys to tackle across the game's dozens of story missions, the drug-dealing side of Chinatown Wars fits in perfectly.
That's hardly everything, either. Series mainstays like vigilante missions (accessed from police computers in stolen cruisers), taxi missions and ambulance duties are back, but you can also hijack drug shipments from marked vans (slicing open the door panels back at your safehouse to see what you've won), raid warehouses, enter races, and dabble in all sorts. There are newsagents selling scratchcards (a great chance to flush your money away), tattoo parlours, and petrol stations where you can fill bottles and stuff them with rags to build your own Molotovs at cut price, and arcadey rampages you can replay for better medals. Speaking of which, a pin-board at your safehouse allows you to replay any mission you've completed - a first for the series.
There are also 100 hidden security cameras to find and take out, which affect local drug prices, and thanks to Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection you can alert friends to interesting locations and swap drugs, while local wireless play allows you to link up with another player for shared carnage. With only one copy of the game to hand, I've not been able to test this, but frankly it could set fire to your cat and burn holes in your arm and it wouldn't have too much impact on the score.
Not that Chinatown Wars is completely without fault. Scenery sometimes hides Huang from view despite the option to centre the camera with the left shoulder button, and combat can be fiddly at times: the lock-on doesn't always cycle to the obvious target, and throwing Molotovs or grenades seems to want more fingers than I have available, although it's usually not a problem. There's also very occasional slowdown, and despite generally excellent graphics the beat-cops aren't always easy to spot when you're stealing cars, which can be frustrating. You may also get stuck very occasionally. The difficulty isn't too severe, but there are a good few occasions you only have one mission available.
On balance though, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is a triumph, not just in terms of bringing a difficult game to a new platform intact, but because it actually improves it in the process, and demonstrates a mastery of DS form and function. Those hoping for another gritty, complex narrative spine bound in the flesh of an openworld action-adventure may be disappointed by the rather more frivolous and silly antics of the Chinatown Wars cast, but even cynics should be converted by the huge, densely packed action playground we've been given instead. Overall this is GTA as it first was, with the inherited wisdom of GTA as it's been since, finished off with all sorts of things that would happily belong in a GTA of the future.