[25 March 2007]
“We got the streets, suckers! Can you dig it?”
-Cyrus, The Warriors
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: 60 hours. Okami: 59 hours. Final Fantasy XII: 55 hours and counting. In the last three months, I’ve spent/wasted 174 hours of my life, running around painting monkeys’ bottoms as a rabid wolf with a flea on his back, leveling up angst ridden teenagers and solving mind bending puzzles as an elf in a green tunic who never seems to make it past the age of 18. As you can imagine, I’m completely pooped and don’t want to go anywhere near an RPG/adventure for a long time, so thank God for The Warriors, the perfect antidote for my epic quest blues.
The 2005 game (originally released on the PS2/Xbox) is just now finally making its belated appearance on the PSP. Its release is a welcome relief in its own right, not to mention an excuse for me to dig out Sony’s troubled handheld and still feel a sense of mild amazement at what this white slab of sexiness is capable of.
As a game based on the 1979 cult hit by director Walter Hill, which in turn was based on the 1965 novel by Sol Yurick, the fear of whisper chain syndrome (as in stuff gets added/left out/twisted as it passes down the chain) is natural. After all, the original film was criticized for leaving out key sequences from the book. Whilst the game doesn’t include everything the movie omitted, it does, however, significantly build on what the film recreated and then some. More a prequel than a digital re-imagining, The Warriors is all the better for its differences from the movie that it’s based on, treading its own path and standing out head and shoulders above its contemporaries.
The action (which there is a hell of a lot of) kicks off before the now infamous ‘Meeting’—to be precise, 93 days before Cyrus got wasted. Most of the game explains the origins of The Warriors and how they earned their spot during that fatal midnight summit. The final few chapters then reenact the most famous moments of the movie, ultimately going a little further and building upon them in the way only games can.
Your aim is to work your thugs up the gang land hierarchy and improve their rep and street cred. In between the 15-hour main quest you’ll unlock five extra side missions, which detail the establishment of The Warriors by Cleon and Vermin and how various members such as Ajax, Fox, Swan et al made their mark. The extra time spent on the backstory and characterization gives everyone a soul; the film was hardly dialogue heavy, but Rockstar has taken time to give each individual a better-rounded persona. They also built on the other gangs as well, including some that weren’t even in the movie or only had a brief appearance. Simply put, Rockstar has created its own universe within the film, without it ever feeling unbelievable or tarnishing the memory of the source material.
Finally, the way Cleon and co. earned their base in Coney Island is also explained. An abandoned warehouse used by junkies soon becomes home and acts as a central hub for your team. This base also offers other deviations away from the main campaign. The most notable of these is ‘Armies of the Night,’ a 2D take on The Warriors gameplay which pays homage to the inspirations behind Rockstar’s title: Streets of Rage, Final Fight et al. Also available is ‘Rumble’, a mode that allows you to create your own gang, taking members from all the other gangs’ soldiers. You can also complete bonus missions, such as ‘King of the Hill,’ ‘Wheelchair Racing,’ and so on.
You’re granted full freedom to explore Coney Island and can complete various side quests if you wish, such as warding off invading gangs, collecting protection money, and tagging various hot spots. Initially, you play as Rembrandt, the young, naïve graffiti artist of the gang, while leader of the pack Cleon (voiced by original actor Dorsey Wright, as many of the original crew also returned to reprise their roles) oversees Rembrandt’s initiation into the fold. What follows is a quick tutorial explaining the ins and outs of The Warriors’ simple yet effective combat system.
Unfortunately, though, this quick A-to-Z only serves to remind us exactly why the PSP is struggling as much as it is. Clearly, the handheld edition is a port of its older brother; whether that is a good or bad thing remains open to much debate. At times it feels like a square peg shoved forcibly into a very small round hole. The ‘Square’ and ‘X’ symbols act as your main fighting buttons and you’re encouraged to mix the two together to pull of more powerful combos. The ‘Circle’ button deepens the combat further by acting as a grapple manoeuvre. You’ll find that combining all three can often wield some hilarious yet brutal beat downs, as bone crunching knees to the skull and smashed bottles to the head are played out in slow-mo for your twisted viewing pleasure. The environments are also surprisingly interactive, as chairs, snooker cues, beer bottles and garbage bins are all available if you’re feeling really sadistic. Sadly, weapons have a limited use, as baseball bats, knives, axes and even crowbars break after repeated abuse.
The ‘Triangle’ button in the meanwhile is a kind of do it all button, controlling jump, graffiti tagging and interacting with the waiting-to-be-mugged civilians, of which there are a lot. However, if you wish to block, you have to press down on the awful PSP d-pad, which is a lot harder than it sounds. The interface problem is heightened further as aligning the camera behind you requires the d-pad yet again. Camera control is a mix of holding down the left shoulder pad (also assigned to running) and the fiddly PSP analogue stick (which controls movement) meaning that you cannot move and rotate the camera simultaneously. It only adds weight to the criticism of Sony’s foolish oversight to leave out an extra stick on the PSP’s surface.
The mission objectives themselves are well-balanced in terms of variety. One minute you’re beating a crippled wheelchair bound gang leader, the next you could be invading and destroying the turf of your rival gangs and looting from their businesses, while afterwards you could be tagging NY’s newest trains, stealthily avoiding the glare of security guards. If all else fails you can just open a can whoopass and beat your way to the top.
Unsurprisingly for a Rockstar title, the game has a very Grand Theft Auto feel to it. There aren’t any huge, sprawling metropolises for you to adventure in, but there are often small towns to explore. The menus are reminiscent of the original crime simulator as is the handy map and the dark sense of humour. One standout example is during the initiation mission of Cochise. He’s asked to invade the Boppers’ hangout in Harlem and retrieve a size 9 hat from the unusually fat-headed boss. During the fiercely contested fight Cochise can retrieve the hat for himself, get his groove on, and woo some divas with his disco moves. It’s a great way of making light of what is a typically dark and violent Rockstar title. While Cochise may love to get on down at the most inappropriate times, so will you, as the 70’s soundtrack perfectly captures the feel and the essence of the time without ever being too cheesy or embarrassing for your peers to hear. I would often leave my PSP on just to relax to the beats, and finding any excuse to listen to the sultry, smooth voice of the late Lynne Thigpen is welcome.
Yet despite the control flaws and the woolly and often loose lock-on mechanism, I did find myself deriving a lot of enjoyment from The Warriors, an almost-guilty pleasure if you will. What astounds me the most, however, is the way the narrative is played out.
Games are hardly the medium in which to look for a thought-provoking story, but The Warriors provides exactly that. It’s the type of game that makes you question just how much affection the gamer’s controlled characters deserve. Inevitably, you do get attached to your gang, but then the rapport fades somewhat as you’re forced to mug innocent bystanders, men, women and even the elderly to make enough cash to get some ‘Flash’ (a health pack). The game curiously encourages you to mug women; they usually have the most money on them. Any civilian that attempts to call the police needs to be dealt with via brute force and brute force alone. If not mugging, then breaking into cars to steal stereos, robbing stores, and so on. Yes you’re a gang member, but unlike Grand Theft Auto where you have the option of earning money innocently, in The Warriors you have no such choice. The worst example is when establishing your dominance over Coney Island you have to beat down the local businesses to ‘politely’ inform them that The Warriors are running things from now on. Often you do wonder if your avatars are just as bad as Luther and The Rogues, and the moral decisions that appear before you greatly affect the bonds between the player and the characters.
Obviously, The Warriors really isn’t a game for the kids, as the themes of sex, drug abuse, relentless violence and language so blue that it would make a sailor blush are unapologetically thrown in your face. Admittedly, the one-note and unashamedly shallow premise may put you off; if so you’re simply in the wrong genre of games and The Warriors has nothing to offer you other than a quick bar brawl. If, however, the sight of a beaten man, with blood dripping from his mouth as he desperately crawls to safety, turns you on, then The Warriors is digital crack.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/the-warriors/