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.
You Warriors are good. Real good.
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.
Can you count, suckas?
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.