Back in 2005, Rockstar released The Warriors for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, a beat-'em-up based on Walter Hill's 1979 cult classic film of the same name. While it might seem like an odd choice for a developer to sink any effort into retelling such an obscure and weird movie through game form, The Warriors proved that such an endeavor could be well worth the effort. The Warriors didn't just retell the film--it added a huge amount of backstory to the characters and situations, and it was good backstory too. On top of that, the gameplay served as some of the best beat-'em-up action you could find in the 3D era of gaming, thanks to a steadfast dedication to making gang battles look and feel just right. Now The Warriors has gone the PS2 hand-me-down route and made its way to the PSP, but unlike so many of the previous PS2 ports to hit the system, The Warriors makes for a comfortable fit on Sony's handheld. The gameplay, storyline, and presentational elements have all held up with only a few little translation kinks here and there, and rather than shove in a bunch of unplayable extra content in a vain attempt to make the game look new and fresh 18 months later, Rockstar elected to keep the price low at a mere $20. If you have never experienced the game on other platforms, that's a hard deal to pass up.
The Warriors documents the trials and tribulations of, well, the Warriors, just one of hundreds of gangs bopping their way around New York City in the late 1970s. The movie from 1979 picked up just as the Warriors were on their way to a huge meeting, held by one of the city's biggest gangs, the Gramercy Riffs, and its enigmatic leader, Cyrus. At this meeting, Cyrus poses a single question to the hundreds of gang representatives in attendance: "Can you count, suckas?" Pointing out that together the various gangs of the city outnumber the police by a three-to-one margin, Cyrus lays out his plans for a unified gang movement--a single 60,000-member gang that could rule New York. But just when it seems like the crowd is behind him, a lone gunman fires, killing Cyrus and sending the crowd scattering as police surround the area. The opening scene of the game shows this exact sequence of events but shifts dramatically away from the movie from this point forward. From there, we hop into the wayback machine to a few months before this meeting, a time when the Warriors were still working to up their rep on the streets.
The film didn't spend much time with things like backstory and narrative beyond the gang's flee from the meeting and subsequent danger-filled trek back to their home turf on Coney Island. But the game goes back and gives these characters, as well as the many other assorted gangs that occupy New York, some context. You get to know the nine primary guys--Swan, Ajax, Cleon, Vermin, Cochese, Cowboy, Snow, Fox, and Rembrandt--quite well. Better than you might even expect. Throughout the 20-plus story missions, you'll get to play as each of them at one time or another, and you'll learn how Cleon and Vermin started the gang and how each member came to join. You'll even learn all about the gang's rivalries, especially against Coney Island's other crew, the Destroyers. What's impressive about this is that it feels like you're getting to know more about these characters, rather than just running through some tacked-on motions to stretch a two-hour movie into a 12-hour game. On some level, you start to get attached to these characters, which makes the course of the later game sequences (which are directly tied to the movie) all the more meaningful, as some members are knocked out of the picture, and the Warriors themselves are wrongfully marked for Cyrus' murder.
It helps that the script and storyline are both really well written, and the dialogue, though curse-filled and generally blunt, fits brilliantly with the hard-edged atmosphere The Warriors aims for. However, it bears mention that you shouldn't go into this game expecting to play as a bunch of Boy Scouts out fighting for justice. All the members of the Warriors are morally bankrupt in one way or another, and though they are the main protagonists and are generally likable guys, they're still street thugs, just like all the other street thugs out there. They vandalize, rob, and fight for a living, trolling for chicks and throwing down just to up their street cred. Throughout the course of the game, you'll be doing all of the above.
For the most part, The Warriors is a pure beat-'em-up, which of course means that you'll be doing an awful lot of brawling. Each of the Warriors fights roughly the same. You have weak and strong attacks that can be put together into a reasonable number of different combos, as well as a grab move for grab attacks and throws. Jumping and ground attacks are also thrown into the mix. Different types of weaponry will fall at your feet as you knock fools silly and break apart the scenery, and there's a wide variety of items to bop with, from simple bricks and boards to shivs and bottles. No guns, though. This is old-school gang fighting at its finest, and therefore firearms simply don't enter the picture--not for you, anyway.
The basic fighting engine found in The Warriors is mostly simplistic, but because of the unpredictability of the environments, as well as the sheer number of fighters that can appear onscreen at once, things can get very hectic, very fast. It's great, because while you do have only a few attacks to choose from, you still have to be somewhat methodical in your attack methods, or you could suddenly find yourself flailing wildly at air, allowing eight enemies to surround you and subsequently beat the hell out of you. During the biggest brawls, you'll sometimes find yourself doing something or seeing something in the periphery that strikes you as awesome. Whether two of your cohorts are ganging up with baseball bats on one guy, or you're tossing some punk through a window without even trying, there's a lot of possibility for unpredictable mayhem in this game.
Sometimes the mayhem can be made more purposeful, thanks to some tactical commands you can give to your gang members. Titled "warchief commands," these quick, easy instructions will cause your team to do anything from scattering from police to simply breaking everything in sight. If you're in a defensive position, you can command them to come in and get your back. If you've absolutely, positively got to get away, just tell them to follow you. Giving these commands on the PSP is more complicated than it was on consoles because you've got to hold down some different buttons to make up for the lack of a right analog stick, and selecting the proper command in the heat of a tense moment with the slightly oversensitive PSP analog stick is a touch obnoxious. Still, the mechanic works, and your artificial-intelligence-controlled cohorts seem to react to the commands remarkably well. Sometimes they'll get held up by opposing gang members or cops trying to stop them, but they rarely seem to get hung up of their own volition.
While many beat-'em-ups tend to get old after a few hours, simply because they rely so heavily on sending waves and waves of bad guys at you, The Warriors avoids this particular trapping by breaking up the action with plenty of other tasks. Sometimes you'll simply find yourself tasked with collecting protection money from Coney Island businesses, or stealing car stereos and breaking into and looting shops. Other times, you'll find yourself in a heart-pounding chase sequence, running from rival gangs or pursuing some rat who has wronged your crew.
There are plenty of times when you'll have to play things stealthy, lest large swarms of opposing gang members or cops come barreling down on you. Sometimes it's when you're trying to make an escape, or sometimes it's when you're out to make some moves, like getting your tag on in a graffiti-tagging challenge. Admittedly, the stealth portions of the game are probably the weakest, simply because the stealth attacks tend to be more trouble to pull off than they're worth. But the sequences themselves are usually set up quite well, since the level designs often provide plenty of nifty hiding spots and unique paths to check out--plus, it's rarely too difficult to bop your way out of a bad situation, should you find yourself in one.
The rival gangs aren't always the most challenging opponents to beat down, but they don't go down without some measure of fight. They've always got numbers on their side, and gang-member AI is usually pretty solid. Cops are another story--they, like gangs, will swarm in numbers, but they're incredibly tough to knock down. They have a nasty habit of arresting your brothers in arms, forcing you to periodically run over and unlock them via a quick button-mashing minigame. It's best to try to avoid cop fights whenever possible; but sometimes it isn't possible, and these brawls can be kind of frustrating. Fortunately, The Warriors employs a good checkpoint save system, making it so that you rarely have to do long sequences over and over again.
What The Warriors ultimately does best is tie together film and game. For those of you who have never seen the film, it took an almost parodied look at the gang scene of New York from some 25 years ago, with lots of kooky-themed gangs, like the Hi-Hats, a group of malcontent mimes that run Broadway; the Baseball Furies, a crew of baseball fanatics, complete with uniforms, bats, and freaky face paint; and the Gramercy Riffs, a group of martial-arts-loving brothers with a military-like level of discipline and dedication. All of these gangs live and breathe in a bleak, scuzzy, almost postapocalyptic vision of NYC. Every building, tree, and car has a dingy, soiled look to it, and it's picture perfect for the look of the film. The game expands on the gangs, giving groups like the Hi-Hats, Destroyers, and Boppers more screen time. It also takes sequences from the film, like the fight against the Baseball Furies and the ambush by the all-girl crew known as the Lizzies, and turns them into great gameplay bits. Some of the boss fights, in particular, are great fun. A few come off a little haphazardly, but those few are definitely in the minority.
Given the art design, the destructible environments, and the general flurries of mayhem you can cause, you'd think that The Warriors would be a pretty fantastic-looking game. You'd be wrong. Certainly, the aesthetics aren't without merit, but the basic graphics engine the game uses does little to impress--especially now that it has been scaled down for the PSP hardware. You won't notice it as much with the environments, because everything is supposed to be drab anyway, thus making the generally low-res textures and minimalist lighting seem completely normal. The character models, however, are not good at all. Sure, the developers got all the nifty little character details in there, but the faces, body parts, and costumes are kind of ugly. On consoles, this was a bit more forgivable because at least the frame rate stayed smooth. On the PSP, the game is much more prone to random bouts of slowdown. The camera is also markedly worse in this version because, once again, of the lack of a right analog stick to control it. The camera has a tendency to get in your way at inopportune times, especially when you're in the midst of battle. It's not awful, and for the most part things are framed well, but when you're in a tight space and surrounded by cops, it rarely works to your benefit. However, on the plus side, the game doesn't suffer from sluggish loading times. Save for a couple of spots where things take a bit long, most of the loads are fairly quick and don't get in the way of the game whatsoever.
The audio, on the other hand, is on the other side of the scale. Many of the original actors from the film have returned to voice their characters--at least, most of the ones that are still alive. Guys like Michael Beck, James Remar, and Dorsey Wright once again turn in excellent performances (despite sounding quite a bit older than the 20-something characters they play), and the remaining voice cast delivers, too. It helps that the dialogue is well written, but there's hardly a bad voice actor in the bunch. The one weird thing about the voice work, though, is that a lot of it is made up of lines directly from the film. It seems as though, in some situations, Rockstar might have been better off just taking audio directly from the film rather than rerecording it. Obviously, the developers would want the voices to match, but there are situations in which they could have easily gotten away with it and ultimately would have had a better piece of dialogue.
Barry De Vorzon's original score is fully intact here, as are many of the licensed tracks from the original soundtrack, including songs from artists like Joe Walsh, Fear, and Arnold McCuller. All the songs are most definitely of the '70s, helping to give the game that pulpy, retro vibe that it so clearly seeks. The Warriors also boasts some excellent sound effects. Every hit is delivered with a high level of ferocity, and you feel each and every one of them. As things get hectic and start breaking apart all over the place, the din of battle can get pretty deafening. It's just excellent audio work all around, and it really increases the intensity of battle by quite a margin.
When all is said and done with the story mode, The Warriors provides a good bit of extra content to play around with. There are multiple multiplayer modes, including ad hoc two-player co-op for any story mission, as well as a few unique minigames such as quick rumbles, a capture-the-flag variation (involving a girl instead of a flag), and king of the hill. The minigames are merely amusing distractions, although one bonus game stands out as completely awesome. Titled Armies of the Night, it's basically a side-scrolling beat-'em-up in the tradition of Final Fight or Double Dragon and includes the opening sequence from Double Dragon, verbatim. The cooperative play is about what you'd expect, and it doesn't involve a lot of actual cooperation so much as it does two people standing next to each other, beating up a lot of dudes. The PSP version's co-op play lacks the ability you had in the console versions to drop in and out at any time during a game (you can only join in during the initial game load). But playing co-op on the PSP also eliminates the need for the screen to split whenever one of you runs too far away from the other. It's a trade-off, and a livable one at that.
Though there is ultimately little appeal in the PSP version of The Warriors for those who have already played the game on other platforms, PSP owners who missed out on the original release won't find a gimped version of the game here. The few problems with this port are relatively mild, and the cheap price makes the game's hefty amount of content that much more appealing. Of course, you could just as easily go out and buy the PS2 or Xbox versions of The Warriors today for the same price, and the console versions will always be the ideal way to play this game. But if you prefer your gaming on the go, The Warriors on the PSP won't let you down.