Reviewed: November 29, 2005
Released: October 21, 2005
Chances are, a good percentage of you readers aren’t even old enough to have seen The Warriors when it debuted in theaters back in 1979. I was only 15 at the time and not allowed to see it, at least for a few more years until it came out on this new cable channel called HBO, but it was only recently that the anniversary DVD allowed me to experience the film in all it’s pristine glory and probably in better quality than the original screenings more than 25 years ago.
The Warriors was certainly ahead of its time and definitely set the stage for future inner-city gang movies like Escape from New York in 1981. While gangs and gang warfare were running rampant in America’s larger cities, nobody ever took the initiative to dramatize this hidden culture, at least from the gang's point of view.
I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical when I heard that Rockstar was going to try and convert a 25-year old movie (admittedly a cult classic) into a video game, but given Rockstar’s proclivity for violent and controversial video games, who better to take a…ahem…stab at it. And the result is truly an offering worthy of the Rockstar logo, exuding elements from just about every other game they have released in the past five years.
Take one part GTA, two parts Manhunt, and three parts State of Emergency and you basically have the formula for The Warriors; a game that could easily become one of the best brawlers in 2005; not that there is much competition in the genre this year - Beat Down anyone?
The Warriors succeeds where so many brawlers have failed in the past by actually telling a story, and not the story from the movie, but something totally original that manages to tie into the film. We get a lot of backstory on the Warriors and a taste of everyday life in a gang that the movie never told.
The game, much like the movie, starts with the assassination of Cyrus, a visionary gang lord who one day realizes that gang members outnumber the cops and could easily take over New York if they could only put their petty disputes aside and work as a unified team. Somebody doesn’t agree with this new philosophy and pops a cap in his ass then frames the Warriors for the hit. The movie basically covers the Warriors hazardous trek back to the relative safety of their own turf, Coney Island, but they will have to pass through much of the city and numerous gangs, all bent on revenge.
While this would have made for a great game in and of itself, Rockstar chose to start with the assassination then transport you back in time for most of the game. In fact, only the final few missions mirror the events of the film. Once the game reaches this point then it is pretty much on autopilot and you are following a scripted sequence of events, but prior to where game meets movie, you have surprising freedom to pick and choose where you go and what you do. It’s much like a GTA world where you have this big inner-city playground and can play all day until you are ready to trigger the next story mission and advance the plot.
The Warriors initiates you into the gameplay while initiating you into the gang at the same time. You start of as Rembrandt, the youngest and newest member of the Warriors, and you will have to prove yourself in a series of several tests including brawling, robbery, boosting car stereos, tagging, purchasing drugs (which heal you), and good old-fashioned running away.
Combat is surprisingly intuitive and deceptively deep with as many fighting moves as you might find in a game like Mortal Kombat. The game mixes standard street fighting moves with grapples and throws that you might find in a wrestling game along with combos, moving attacks, and advanced multi-fighter tandem moves. Land enough blows and you can build up your Rage meter and trigger a brief period of invulnerability and extra damage.
There is also an impressive weapons combat system in place that allows you to pick up and swing or throw just about any loose item in the game. This really allows you to interact with the fully destructible environments and perform some truly spontaneous attacks.
The Warriors mixes up the fighting with some mini-game action that will have you swirling your analog sticks to unscrew car stereos or alternating squeezes of the right and left triggers to pick the lock on handcuffs. And for aspiring urban artists, there is a very cool graffiti element that has you tracing on-screen patterns with your analog stick to create works of art to mark your turf – beats peeing on a fire hydrant.
Over the course of the game you will get to take control of nine Warriors, each with their own subtle nuances to controls and abilities. This definitely mixes up the gameplay and keeps things fresh, especially when you take control of Cleon. In what is probably the most surprising and deepest elements to the game is the squad-based command system that allows you to issue orders when playing as the Warchief. Clicking the left stick will bring up a circular menu then you can pick from one of six commands to order your men to “Wreck ‘Em All”, “Scatter”, “Watch My Back”, “Hold Up”, “Mayhem”, and “Let’s Go”.
After you have conquered the 23 story missions and made it back to Coney Island alive you’ll probably want to explore the fantastic multiplayer Rumble mode that allows you and a friend (or enemy) to create and customize your own gangs then go head-to-head in a variety of game modes like CTF, King of the Hill, and even Wheelchair Races.
Even better, the solo campaign can also be shared with a great cooperative mode that simply requires player 2 to hit Start on their controller to split the screen and take possession of any available Warrior. They can play for as long as they want then drop out and the screen reverts to full view. The game and AI is structured so that you don’t really have any advantages with two human players, but you might find the narrower field of vision and the reduction in framerate to be a significant disadvantage.
Rockstar did a phenomenal amount of research, both into the movie and New York City as it appeared in 1979, so they could bring you the ultimate recreation of the city at that time. There are some game screens that are nearly identical to photographs and frames from the film. New York City has never looked this dirty or dangerous.
While the design elements are firmly in place the actual quality of those visuals can be a bit lacking at times; despite the 720p support on the Xbox. Colors are muted and washed out, even more than the PS2, and there are some problems with the camera, especially in close-quarters battles where the camera can get stuck or even obscure your view with some object.
Back on a positive note, the details in the city and the characters are simply amazing, and don’t be surprised to see a lot of era-specific advertising. The animation on the characters is remarkably, with each move flowing nicely into the next for smooth series of combos that often result in finishing moves that made me wince and look away.
Each of the various gangs all has their own theme and “colors” to match. And when the battles start to get really large, you’ll really be impressed at just how much action this game engine can reproduce on the screen at one time. This has all of the carnage and mayhem of State of Emergency, only this game is good.
The 70’s has become synonymous with several styles of music ranging from Disco to pure funk; the latter finding a home in TV show themes and movie scores. If you dug the grooves in Shaft or even the original themes from the movie version of The Warriors then the opening movie will certainly put a smile on your face. And when the 70’s funk-a-delic intro is over there is a film-worthy score underlying the rest of the game.
The Warriors is fully voiced with some fantastic performances and totally authentic slang for the time. These performances really help individualize the gang members and give them their own personality.
Sound effects are powerful and subtle. You can hear the ambient noises of horns honking and sirens off in the distance (at least you hope they are in the distance), and then you have the crunches and groans of melee, the whack of a fist up the side of your head or the thud of bat slamming into somebody’s skull.
It’s all wrapped up in a 3D surround mix that supports Dolby Digital and DTS Interactive for a truly immersive audio experience that easily rivals the movie experience – even the newly remastered DVD.
The core story mode consists of 23 substantial missions that can take most gamers around 20 hours to complete. That itself is quite substantial by today’s gaming standards, but when you throw in the cooperative story option and the Rumble mode you have countless more hours of hard-hitting gameplay ahead of you.
And for those who like secrets and bonuses, you can spend the rest of this year tracking down more than 450 unlockables like hidden game modes, items, and bonus characters. And when you finally unlock those you have a whole new reason to re-explore The Warriors.
I have to admit, I went into this game not knowing what to expect. I had been following all the post-E3 hype and I had seen the movie, but you never really know how a movie tie-in is going to work, especially a 25-year old movie, until you actually play it.
The Warriors could have easily become just another repetitious street brawling title, but with a strong and original storyline that merges with the film plot, great combat action, and authentic 70’s style and flavor, this is one game that will keep you knocking heads for months to come.