Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar Toronto
Release Date: October 17, 2005
Rockstar's The Warriors is one of those games that comes along, every so often, that reminds us of the power of the video game medium. It manipulates the mind, and can thus have a direct impact on emotions and even physicality should it do its job well enough. (It doesn't cause people to actually kill others, though. Let's not even go there.)
Shigeru Miyamoto once likened video games to self-contained virtual playgrounds — ones that you could visit again and again, and they would be their own entities in and of themselves.
All right. Why am I throwing out all of this heavy-handed dreck? Simple. That's what The Warriors is. It's a virtual recreation of the movie's environment, atmosphere, personas, and everything in between.
Simply put, you don't "play" The Warriors. You step into it.
The Warriors is based on the movie of the same name, and for anyone who isn't initiated by now, it's about a '70s New York City overrun by gimmick gangs, each with their own special traits. You've got your all girl gangs, your rich-kid gangs, your pinstripes-wearing baseball-bat-wielding gangs, etc. They're this close to taking over the city, under the leadership of Cyrus, leader of the biggest gang in town.
Unfortunately, during the speech Cyrus makes after gathering all of said gangs and revealing his master plan of citywide conquest, he gets shot, and the Warriors are set up to take the fall. This causes all sorts of problems as the Warriors are an entire city's length away from their home turf, and now have to defend themselves against a multitude of gangs — roughly 60,000 people – out for blood.
It probably would have been enough to just to cover the movie's story – as it's a pretty good setup all its own – and simply have the Warriors beating on random gangs with the very nice brawling engine the game sports (more on this later). But oh, no, Rockstar wasn't happy with this. Over half of the game deals with events before the ones of the movie. Warriors buffs will totally appreciate finding out how the gang got formed, and being able to get into the heads of each of it individual members.
During the course of the game I've robbed stores, stolen from cars, committed random riot violence, mugged people left and right, spray painted graffiti on public property, caused bumfights, stabbed people, snuck around rival gang territory and laid people out from the back, thrown bottles and blunt objects at innocents, stabbed people, bought drugs from dealers, assaulted policemen, and of course, administered hefty beatdowns on anyone I just didn't like. All of these things give you jail time in real life, but here… well, it says something about the quality of a game when you know what you're doing is wrong but you can't stop anyway. I think I finally see what so many others do in the Grand Theft Auto series. It's demented, freeform fun.
It'd be easy to say that Rockstar just threw all of these gameplay types against the wall to see what stuck, but it's impossible, because just about everything listed above has some sort of mini-game or unique control scheme to it that feels natural. If you want to rob a store, you have you pick a lock by matching its mechanisms up in a certain zone. If you want to mug someone or resist arrest, you have to avoid or look for controller vibrations while moving the analog stick. You unscrew car stereos by rotating the analog, you uncuff fellow Warriors by rapidly tapping the triggers, and so on. It's well-done stuff, and makes things feel less scripted overall. Whatever action you perform, you will get involved in it.
Given what I've just said, it indeed is a little misleading to call The Warriors a beat-'em-up as pre-release material has touted it. Physical violence is a big part of this game, but not as big as in games such as, say, Beat Down. But oh, is that violence ever sweet.
You only control one Warrior at a time (two if you're playing the co-op mode), but you issue commands to them via the thumbstick. You can tell the computer-controlled members to watch your back, scatter everywhere, lay waste to everything, things like that. In a fight, the controls are intuitive, and laden with branches of possibilities. You can simply smack an enemy around, or you can grab him. After you grab him, you can either toss him, lay into him, or pin him to the ground, whereupon you have even more possibilities, both physical and otherwise (i.e., spraying some paint into his face). Team-up attacks are also possible if you grapple someone that one of your fellow members is grappling as well. This is a huge step forward from the "punch-kick-jump-special-move" beat-'em-ups we're all used too, and the world needs more like it.
There are but a few nitpicks regarding the game that I can think of, and all but one involve the visuals. The graphics aren't exactly the best. The game uses an augmentation of the Grand Theft Auto engine, and while it works well enough for gameplay, it's really not so easy on the eyes compared to other games of this generation. It's passable at best, but no more than that. Still, given all of the action that goes on, it can be forgiven — as can the load time, though just barely. Prepare for this disc to spend a god amount of time grinding away in your Xbox.
This game is long for the casual player, and it's disappointing that there's no save system that allows you to continue right at the point you left off, Halo-style. Instead, you must play until you finish an entire mission, in order to reach a checkpoint for a chapter. These missions can get long, and there are but a few checkpoints per chapter. If you turn off the game, your progress past the last autosave is lost. This is a bummer if you want to see what happens next, but had trouble and barely got past the last gameplay segment you attempted in the first place.
Finally, the camera can sometimes have problems, especially when there's a big fight going on, or you're trying to more quickly through a territory. Sometimes it'll swing too close or too far from any part of the action that you might want. This being a 3D game, it'll extend to the controls, as well. It's an annoyance to be sure, but it's still a far cry from your average 3D Sonic game.
The sound, fortunately, is anything but dismal. Retro '70s tunes are all around you, and when there is no music, you'll still hear the seedy nightlife of a rundown New York City. Every sound effect draws you into the game, from the continuous breaking violence and sirens of the Blackout Riots, to the bone-crunches that ensue when being just a little too violent with a rival gang member.
Also, the dialogue... oh my God, the dialogue. There is so much dialogue in here that my head is spinning. I don't even want to think about the voice acting bill Rockstar racked up for this game. When you enter the Warriors' actual hangout, you'll hear what I mean, as each Warrior member carries on unique conversations with other members, and all of it looks and sounds natural. There's nothing forced about it. It goes past the boundaries of "voice acting" and merely becomes "voice." Individual characters are spot-on and superbly realized as well—Rockstar went so far as to bring back some of the old actors from the movie to play their characters' voice roles.
This is, hands down, bar none, one hundred percent, the greatest use of a license ever. It has heart, it has soul, and best of all, it makes you believe. The amount of missions, hidden missions, and secret unlockables (including a kick-butt homage to Double Dragon that's unearthed once you finish the game!) makes this more than worth the price of admission.
Buy this game. It doesn't even matter if you've seen the movie or not. If you haven't, odds are you'll be rushing out to find a copy once you're done with this anyway, so it's a moot point. Have fun.
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