Despite the fact that it's based on a film more than a quarter-century old, very little about Rockstar's The Warriors feels dated or archaic. This stylish, retro brawler takes Walter Hill's cult-classic film of the same name and delves even deeper into the seedy, ultraviolent world of New York City gangs. Backed up by a more-than-competent gameplay engine and significant attention to detail, The Warriors works because it simply gets the concept of massive gang battles right. Everywhere you look, street toughs are battling it out, smashing each other with bricks, tossing each other through windows, and generally wrecking all manner of shop. It doesn't really matter if you're familiar with the film it's based on; The Warriors delivers as a completely stand-alone work, and any fan of beat-'em-up games is certain to enjoy it on some level. But if you have seen the film, all the better.
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 between their numbers, 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, how each member came to join, and 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 actually 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's 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 likeable 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 as such, firearms simply don't enter the picture--not for you, anyway.
The basic fighting engine found in The Warriors is mostly pretty simplistic, but because of the unpredictability of the environments, as well as the sheer number of fighters that can appear on screen at once, things can get very hectic, very fast. It's great, because while you do only have 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 just strikes as awesome. Be it two of your cohorts ganging up with baseball bats on one guy, or you 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. All it takes is you clicking down on the left analog stick (on Xbox) or the R2 button (on the PlayStation 2) and selecting one of the six available orders via the right stick. 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. The only annoying thing about this mechanic is related specifically to the Xbox version. A lot of other quick, sometimes tough actions are mapped to the left analog stick, and it's really easy to accidentally click it in. Fortunately, the commands won't change unless you press the right stick too, but you will hear the same voice command over and over every time you click it in. That does get rather grating after a time.
While many beat-'em-ups tend to get old after a few hours, simply because they rely so heavily on just 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's wronged your crew.
There are plenty of times where 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. Generally speaking, it's best to try to avoid cop fights whenever possible; but sometimes it just isn't, 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 any 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 uniform, 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. 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, Rockstar Toronto got all the nifty little character details in there, but the faces, body parts, and costumes are just kind of ugly. This was probably necessary, to get so many characters onscreen at once and keep the frame rate moving along steadily (which it does); but even so, it's hard to just look past what are some pretty clear-cut graphical problems. Speaking of which, the camera also has an innate tendency to get in your way at inopportune times. 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. You also won't notice much benefit in picking one version over another. The PS2 and Xbox versions are both practically identical, and even the Xbox version's 720p support doesn't seem to improve things much. Thankfully, the aforementioned good qualities do help--but you'll be hard pressed not to notice some of the graphical flaws.
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, they'd want the voices to match, but there are situations in which they could have easily gotten away with it, and ultimately would've 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 of the best sound effects you'll hear this year. Every hit is delivered with a high level of ferocity, and you really feel each and every one of them. As things get hectic and start breaking apart all over the place, the din of battle can actually 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 actually provides a good bit of extra content to play around with. There are multiple multiplayer modes, including 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 unlockable game in particular stands out as completely awesome. Titled Armies of the Night, it's basically a side-scrolling beat-'em-up in the tradition of something like a Final Fight or Double Dragon, and includes the opening sequence from Double Dragon, verbatim. Again, totally rad. 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. In a couple of nice touches, however, the camera will actually split if the two of you get too far away from one another, and a second player can jump into the game at practically any time, making it a lot more accessible.
With its unrelenting obsession with nailing the details of the film's universe, its quality action, and its breadth of content, The Warriors is easily one of the better pure-action games to come out this year. It's a game that clearly goes out of its way to do more than just rehash a previously told story, as many games based on films tend to do. Again, though, this is not a game in which you have to have seen the original movie to understand and enjoy it; but if anything, it'll make you want to go out of your way to see the movie, just to see how it plays out and compares to the game experience. And in the end, isn't that what all games based on movies try to do in the first place? If you've got a thing for mature-themed action games, The Warriors is well worth your while.