Reviewed: November 2, 2005
Released: October 21, 2005
I am embarrassed to admit that up until about six months ago, if anyone asked me what the movie The Warriors was about, I would have had absolutely no clue what they were talking about. Even as much of a movie buff as I like to believe I am, I had never heard of any movie called The Warriors, and if hard pressed I probably would have assumed it to be a film about Native Americans. Never would I have figured it to be a widely recognized 1979 cult classic about a group of New York gang members.
In fact, my first inking that this movie even existed was the day that I picked up my Xbox version of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which contained a card advertising the upcoming release of a videogame version of The Warriors. My friend Tom – a film school student – nearly flipped his lid when he saw the card on my coffee table.
“Rockstar is making a Warriors game? Sweet!”
Tom explained to me that The Warriors was a film about a delegation of members from a Coney Island gang called, well…The Warriors, who are called to Bronx along with a thousand or so other delegates from other rival gangs, to have a summit with a fella named Cyrus. Cyrus, leader of the city’s largest gang, the Gramercy Riffs, has devised a plan in which all of the 100,000-plus NYC gang members put aside their gang-on-gang turf war differences, call a truce, and then unite against the true common enemy – the city’s 20,000-member police force. Can you dig it? CAN YOU DIG IT!?!
However, just as Cyrus has the crowd’s rousing agreement, his pep talk is cut short by a bullet. In the riot that ensues, the delegates from the Warriors are wrongly accused of the shooting, and suddenly become the target for every gang member and police officer in NYC.
The Warriors escape from immediate danger by hopping the quickest subway to Coney, but when the subway system goes down unexpectedly the Warriors are faced with a long hike home – one that forces them to cross turf borders belonging to some of the toughest, slickest and downright weirdest gangs in the Big Apple. Gangs with names like the Lizzies, Baseball Furies, Orphans and Savage Huns; each has its own distinctive, and sometimes demonic, twist that develops an eerie and vulnerable setting for the out-of-town heroes.
The funny thing is, after Tom explained the movie to me – heck, even after he lent the movie to me – I just couldn’t comprehend why Rockstar would take this relatively unknown movie and turn it into a game. I mean, for all of its cheesy late 70’s drama, the movie is quite compelling – but none of the kids today, what with their big-budget action and gangsta flicks, they would have even the slightest interest…or would they?
And that’s when I started hearing the buzz about The Warriors, and just how many people really did know the movie and were looking forward to the game. A few weeks ago, Tom went to NYC for a screenwriter’s seminar and returned with reports of a veritable Warriors media assault in the Big Apple, and mentioning of the excited discussion of other seminar attendees regarding the game.
My buddies on Xbox Live – especially those from NYC or with familial ties – asking me to let them know details about the game because they were holding $50 just waiting to hear how true it was to the movie. True, most of these people weren’t the 18 or 19 year old kids you expect to buy Rockstar games – they were the 30, 35, 38 year old gamers like myself who grew up with this movie – I just missed the Warriors boat somehow.
So, how does Rockstar adapt The Warriors movie into a Warriors game? Quite ingeniously, actually. You see, they take equal parts of their top-selling hits and put them in a blender and wallah – The Warriors on the PS2.
What games, you ask? Well, obviously Grand Theft Auto, but also Manhunt, State of Emergency, Red Dead Revolver – they are all present. You have the open city structure of GTA (kind of), the stealth action and eerie ambiance of Manhunt, the riotous destruction of State of Emergency, and the creepy character designs of Red Dead Revolver.
But The Warriors is a much different game than you are probably expecting. At its core, it is a cityscape beat ‘em up along the lines of Strider of Bouncer. But there really is so much more that makes The Warriors a very interesting and unique game.
First, Rockstar went on an interesting route with their adaptation by creating an entire front-story to preface the movie. In fact, roughly three-quarters of the game will find the Warriors in situations that happen before Cyrus’ meeting is even called. Only the final four or five missions actually mimic the movie; and while these final missions play out in one continuous string of events, the pre-movie missions are structured loosely like poor-man’s GTA – with a limited open-world street and dozens of missions and minimissions to choose pretty much at your liking.
The story begins with you playing the role of Rembrandt – a new recruit with impressive tagging skills. Rembrandt’s initiation serves as the tutorial training mission to the intuitive control scheme, and gives the gamer his or her first glimpse into the surprisingly complex fighting engine driving The Warriors.
Where beat ‘em ups and street brawlers generally like to stick with the 1-2-3 formula for fighting (punch-punch-punch or punch-punch-kick) without much variation, Warriors adds an entirely fresh situational combo system which will have the gamer combing light attacks, heavy attacks, weapons and grappling maneuvers to form an exhilarating and complex array of takedowns. The overall package is just shy of what you would find in a fighting game, and really marks an evolution in the brawler genre.
One of the neater aspects of the fighting engine is how it incorporates the use of weapons into the fighting. In a street brawler, you would expect to use items like boards, bats and clubs to melee your attackers. Heck, you might even expect to come across more lethal weapons like knives and Molotov cocktails. But what about pipe wrenches, bricks, bottles, and…guitars?
Yes, all of these items are present in The Warriors – pretty much every three-dimensional object onscreen can be picked up and used for a weapon. But with a bit of a twist in that most of these objects have context-sensitive uses that will initiate in depending on your proximity to the enemy. While the bats and clubs come with the standard sweep and smash attacks, smaller items like bottles and bricks can be used as either thrown decoys (to distract guards), ranged projectiles, or hand-to-hand melee items depending on proximity.
Even cooler is the evolution – or should I say devolution – of the weapons themselves. Some items like boards and bats will shatter into useless splinters after too much use. But some weapons will actually break down into smaller, more lethal weapons. For instance, the act of smashing a bottle will usually result in a handful of broken glass, right? Well, it sounds to me like we have suddenly made ourselves a sharp little friend, eh? Anyone remember the glass shards from Manhunt? Yeah, it’s a lot like that…
But the game does not end at the fighting engine. Knowing that gamers have come to expect more for their money, the developers at Rockstar Toronto have also integrated an elaborate system of minigames to help gamers earn cash, steal turf, and otherwise progress the story along. The neat thing about these mini-games is how well they are incorporated into the core brawler gameplay, so much so in fact, that they become an integral part of the process.
The Warriors will have to play these stick-and-button minigames in order to steal objects, mug pedestrians, evade police, pick locks, free gang members, paint graffiti, and more. These minigames range from simple fill-the-meter button tapping, to unique “find the vibration” / “avoid the vibration” stick work, to some very complex Gitaroo-Man styled line tracing. Nearly every objective has some form of minigames involved, and Rockstar does a good job of throwing new stuff on the table throughout the course of the game.
Although some objectives will require you to gain cash for one reason or another, the main purpose for cash is so that you can buy heath and paint. Health comes in the form of a chemical substance called “flash” which can be purchased from NPC's located on certain street corners and alleyways. As your character takes damage, he will quickly begin to amass bruising and cuts – these are visual cues that your character needs to take some flash, which he will snort. Yes I said snort. I should probably drop the subject right now, but would like to mention that flash comes with very cool looking screen-clarifying effect.
Paint is used to tag over rival gangs’ “burners” or graffiti, which defines whose “turf” is whose. Tagging is accomplished using the Gitaroo-Man styled line tracing I mentioned earlier – in which a squiggly line is placed on the screen and the gamer has to trace a small ball over that line. The line is different for each and every tag, and the whole time that the ball is moving, the paint cache is being tapped. This means the ball needs to get from start to finish as quickly as possible. However, going off the line will cause the gamer to lose an extra slug of paint as well. So, depending on your skill and precision, a single-line “W” tag may take as few as a single paint can, or as many as three or four to complete. And since many missions require you to paint seven or eight single-line tags, and/or a three-line “Warriors” tag or two, paint quickly becomes a commodity.
Both paint and flash are can also be purchased from nefarious street corner dealers, who are sometimes known to take your money and run – requiring a right and proper beat-down. In order to catch them, you will have to kick it into a high gear sprint and hop chain link fences and crates, cross rooftops and dumpsters.
As the story progresses through the dozen and a half missions, gamers will take control of various Warriors members, from Cleon (the leader) to Ajax (the jerk) to Rembrandt (the artist) and more. Each character has his own unique fighting style and finishing moves, and some are more adept at performing certain minigame-based objectives than others. For instance, Cleon may have a rousing roundhouse kick that can take clear away four attackers at once, but he seems very slow at stealing radios.
You may not get a choice over whom you will control in each mission, but the character you are assigned does get to act as Warlord. This means that within any given mission, he can recruit other Warriors to join up with the pack and then give a limited number of commands for the gang to follow. Commands range from the general destruction of “Wreck it all!” to the more pointed “Get them!” to the defensive “Watch my back” and the fuzz evading “Scatter”. There are a handful of these commands that can easily be chosen by holding R2 and selecting the command with the right stick.
Most of the pre-movie story is hubbed out of the Warriors clubhouse hangout in Coney Island. Inside, there are a variety of gameplay options for gamers to explore in addition to the standard story mode – whether it is giving the characters a workout (ala San Andreas’ gym minigames), to playing the numerous “flashback” and “street” side missions, to just chit-chatting with the other Warriors, there is quite a bit to do beyond the story mode. And since workouts will increase your characters’ stats, and the side missions will help pad your wallet, they are actually beneficial to the game as a whole.
Once the story mode has reached the point of the fateful meeting in the Bronx, the game takes up the action of the movie and the action becomes a continuous string of missions as the boys try to make their way back to Coney Island. It is here where all of the character building workouts of the earlier gameplay comes into play, and health becomes a very important factor.
So, the Warriors sounds great, right? Sure, it is a great game – never has a brawler been this deep, this detailed, this edgy. But for some reason, I don’t think it really lives up to the hype it is receiving. I can’t fault it on many technical levels – the visual presentation, the audio, the core gameplay. But for a number of reasons, the game as a whole just doesn’t mesh together as cohesively as it should.
First, the game suffers a bit from the same irritating issues that affected Rockstar’s riot simulation, State of Emergency. There is often so much stuff going on onscreen, so many attackers swarming, so many weapons flying, that the characters and the action get lost in the shuffle. Since the characters can be stopped mid-move by the blows of nearby attackers, it often becomes difficult to pull off proper attack combos. The only real option is to start mashing buttons to clear space, which effectively negates the deep fighting engine of the game.
This problem also rears its head in situations like tagging or uncuffing buddies, where an objective you must completed, yet the character keeps getting knocked away because the backup isn’t pulling their weight. I don’t know how many times I got into a cycle of trying to uncuff a buddy, getting knocked off just before completing the button tapping minigame, restarting and then finally getting it, only to have yet another of my backup get cuffed and have to go through it all again.
The game also features some fairly nebulous mission objectives at times. I know is the second mission alone, I spent at least two separate hours of play trying to figure out where this third freaking radio was I was supposed to steal. In a police car? For real? Why would a police car have a radio in it? In the same regard, there are many times where the game seems to assume that you know more about what is going to happen than you really do. You will often look at an objective screen and see objectives listed that are not accessible yet (i.e. behind locked gates that might open later) and you will find yourself scouring every nook and cranny looking for a hidden “burner” that isn’t there yet.
While Warriors does feature certain stealth elements, I wish the game did a more believable job with the stealth. What you get here is a dash of sneaking and distraction (tossing bottles and rocks), but the whole shadow hopping is silly, and without a crouch feature it doesn’t feel very natural. Instead of letting me run to a shadow and suddenly have the police lose interest, I would much rather have to duck behind boxes or crates.
And finally, while Warriors serves up a bevy of unique and fresh gameplay ideas, it nearly as often succumbs to the evils of repetition. There were many times where I wished a mission would just end so I could move on to something new.
Why can’t GTA look this good? Oh yeah, because each level only allows you about a quarter or less of any GTA city at any given time. The environments may not be big, but they look so good, so gritty, and so realistic.
Better yet, the character modeling of the Warriors and other NPC characters is second to none on the PS2. Sure, most of the NPC’s within any given level will be falling into one of only a couple of character types, but the 3D shading and shadowing give so much depth and tangibility to the characters.
The camera is a bit wonky, and will sometimes cause you fits in tight hallways or hectic scenarios – even sometimes awkwardly blocking manual control (a lined-out camera icon will appear on the screen) which can cause some issues with stair climbing and such.
Like the NPC's, the weapon-specific finishing move animations are rehashed quite often, although the game sometimes seems to pick a different camera angle to keep things fresh. I won’t go into details for the sake of the squeamish readers, but some of the finishing animations appear to have earned their degree from the Manhunt school of film design. Catch my drift?
The Warriors features some of the best sound in the business – which should come as no surprise to Rockstar fans. Many of the actors from the original movie lend their voices to the affair, and many lines of dialogue seem to be stripped right from the movie. And although the movie DJ, Lynne Thigpen, passed away in 2003, Rockstar has included an equally sultry voiced DJ calling the play-by-play of the gang wars throughout the game.
The only real downside to the voice work are the canned lines from the pedestrian traffic and rival gang members, which gets repeated over and over within each level. I don’t know how many times I heard “I should steal some hair products” or something equally as goofy each time you passed the same character type.
This is one of those games where the F-word is used a lot. But it is also one of those games where it really fits the subject matter, so I am not quite so offended. Still, the game could have done with a bit less – if only so I could play the game around my wife without getting embarrassed.
The music is a note-for-note reproduction of the chilling, creepy background ambiance track from the movie. Unless, of course you hit a particularly exciting scene where the game kicks into some of the strange, dated and downright cheesy 70’s-to-80’s transition rock that was featured in the movie. But, in keeping with Rockstar’s other games, these songs – most likely remastered – will have you singing along long before you realize how embarrassing it is that you like these songs. They did it to us with Vice City and San Andreas, and now with The Warriors. Good going guys.
Between the dozen and a half storyline missions, the neighborhood side missions, the flashback missions, and the other character building quests – you are looking at about 20 hours of gaming. That may sound like a lot, but for some reason it doesn’t seem as long or wholly satisfying as you might find from other 20-hour games.
Maybe it is because having seen the movie, there is a certain amount of anticipation for the final scenes, and when mixed with the slightly repetitive nature of some of the missions, you feel a bit like you are going through the steps. Then, by the time you do reach your destination, you are too exhausted or too desensitized to really enjoy it. But still, 20 hours is a lot of gaming, and with the inclusion of two-player (local) co-op, it’s hard to go wrong.
So to answer my friends’ questions:
CAN YOU DIG IT?!?