When you've had a successful run as a publisher and developer and earned yourself a measure of respect from critics and consumers, there are certain opportunities that present themselves--like the perks that become available to filmmakers, for example. So, therefore, it's possible to get more idiosyncratic projects off the ground due to the wealth that's been created by their success. Such is the case with Rockstar's upcoming game The Warriors, based on the 1979 film that's been in development for nearly three years. Though the game certainly has all the earmarks for a successful Rockstar game thanks to its urban setting, accessible gameplay, solid visuals, and the developer's eye for little details, it was and is a labor of love for Rockstar's Toronto development studio. We had the chance to get a look at a work-in-progress version of the PlayStation 2 game to see how the dream project is coming together.
Though the source material for the game is still out there--the late '70s film of the same name from Walter Hill is out on DVD, plus it still makes the rounds on late-night TV, and the Sol Yurick's 1965 debut novel remains in print--it's still possible to have missed out on the tale of gang violence in New York. For those who have missed out, here's a quick history lesson: The Warriors focuses on a night in the life of a gang struggling to get back to its turf after being marked for an ass-kicking death. And the reason every gang under the moon is gunning for them? It seems that the crew has been framed for the murder of Cyrus, a gang leader who was attempting to unite the gangs under one banner in order to fortify their cumulative power into a formidable collective that could run the city regardless of police opposition.
Unfortunately, Cyrus is right in the middle of his pitch at a massive gang meeting in the Bronx--which draws representatives from every major gang in the five boroughs of New York--when he's shot. The real killer, not being a fool, quickly frames the unsuspecting Warriors, which subsequently leads to them being marked for a painful retribution. Outnumbered in an epic way, the crew has no choice but to haul ass back to the Bronx by the only means open to them, the subway, which leads to the longest and most painful walk of their lives. The film, edgy for its day, stands as a nicely done snapshot of the late '70s, with a unique visual style, groovy dialogue, and stylized depictions of gangs that border on camp (let's face it, The Warriors looked an awful lot like the Village People).
While Rockstar could have chosen to ape the film frame for frame for its game (not a bad idea considering the movie was pretty much structured into compartmentalized bits that would work perfectly fine as game levels), the film buffs and fan boys in Toronto instead took the opportunity to craft a hybrid experience that draws on material from Yurick's book and original content to tell a much more fleshed-out story. Though The Warriors' run from the Bronx to Coney Island is still a core part of the game, it's not the only story there is to tell.
The game will begin roughly three months prior to the events in the film, and we see what the gang was up to the summer before that one terrible night that will serve as the final act. You'll come to play as each member of the crew who, in true video game fashion, has its own unique moves. The core mechanics in The Warriors are basically the time-honored punching, kicking, and throwing seen in the old-school beat-'em-ups, which was once a major genre but has since thinned out considerably. However, combat in The Warriors is more than just a simplistic throwback to old-school games such as Double Dragon, Final Fight, and Streets of Rage.
Come Out and PlayYou'll be able to perform heavy and light attacks, and there is a dedicated button for each attack. As you'd expect, you'll find a number of different button combinations that will yield powerful and painful combos. The combo system is actually more than just for show, as pulling off assorted combos will fill your rage meter, which, a la EA's Def Jam games, will let you enter rage mode when full. The mode lets you pull off more-powerful attacks, which are just what the doctor ordered. Pressing both attack buttons at the same time will perform your character's special moves, of which each character will have two.
If you'd like a more hands-on approach, you'll be able to grab your opponent and throw him anywhere you'd like, or do some up-close and personal beating. A couple of the nice touches to the combat system are the snap attack and reversal systems. Snap attacks let you quickly fire off "Yo mama" jokes at your foes while in the heat of battle, which...OK, that's not true, but wouldn't it be great? The snap attacks are actually a very cool way to attack anyone around you in a flash by simply pressing the square button and the direction of your intended foe. This actually ends up being extremely useful, as the artificial intelligence takes full advantage of the 3D space you're fighting in and will do whatever it takes to get the drop on you. The reversal system is just what it sounds like: a way for you to reverse an enemy's attack and give you the upper hand in a fight. If all that doesn't satisfy your inner thug, you can also pick up whatever's handy. Rockstar is littering each level with all manner of useful objects, and so you can use any number of things to beat the smack out of your foe. If the AI should prove to be a challenge, and it will once you move past the relative safety of the low-key tutorial levels that kick off the game, you'll want to make liberal use of the block button.
Now while all of the above is a perfectly fine fighting system, the team in Toronto has topped it off with a very cool touch that lets you command your crew, which can grow to eight deep depending on the level. The game will borrow a page from the film and, once you've gathered yourself a crew of Warriors, let you direct them via the war chief command system. The easy-to-use system lets you tell your crew to follow, stay, and attack by simply calling up a menu and picking an option. In addition to those expected options, you'll be able to select a "mayhem" option, which sends your crew into a frenzy of destruction. Now why would you want to send your boys out on a tear of destruction? Money. Plain and simple. The Warriors features a very basic economy that lets you spend your acquired bling on flash, a health-restoring pharmaceutical that's not entirely legal. While looting stores is one way to earn cash, the game gives you a few options to let you pick the felony that's right for you. You'll also be able to steal car stereos and mug people, which are both minigames you'll initiate with a button press. Stealing stereos will simply require you to spin the analog sticks as if you were taking out the screws holding it in the car's dashboard. Mugging is simply a struggle against a meter that lets you know when you've got the upper hand on your victim. Finally, we got a look at the graffiti tagging system, which uses a simple tracing mechanic that has you trace a tag icon with the analog stick while your character sprays.
The visuals in the game are in the same vein as Rockstar's Manhunt, due in part to the nighttime setting and the collection of weirdos out to mash you. However, The Warriors is more than just that game with a new coat of paint. You'll find an impressive level of detail on the character models, all of which bear more than a passing resemblance to their celluloid counterparts. The environments are also modeled after the locales in the film, and they do a good job of matching the film's unique take on New York circa the late '70s. The cinematics that will be used to tell the story will lift their look directly from the film, and, in some cases, it will be shot for shot.
The audio in the version we saw was a mix of early and placeholder material. Rockstar is actually still exploring how much of the original cast is going to be tapped to bring their virtual archetypes to life. We heard some reasonably good soundalikes during the demo, which bodes well if the team chooses to avoid tracking down the film's core cast. The rest of the audio package, the expected cacophony of breaking objects and an impressive score that mixed old and new music tracks, provided the perfect complement to the action.
Based on what we've seen so far, The Warriors is looking like the best-case scenario for a dream project. Whereas developers and filmmakers sometimes drop the ball when they're finally given the chance to work on something they've always wanted to, Rockstar Toronto seems to be heading in the right direction. Atmospheric visuals, solid gameplay, the beginnings of strong audio, and a smart expansion of the story all point to The Warriors turning out to be an action game worth a look, as well as a welcome revival of the old-school beat-'em-up. All in all, it's not a bad evolution for a story published in 1965 and inspired by the Greek tale of Xenophon (look it up!). The Warriors is slated to hit the PlayStation 2 and Xbox this fall, so look for more on the game in the months leading up to its launch.