Re-inventing the scrolling beat 'em up through the medium of tight denim, big hair and cassette radios is a brave thing to do. It could have been so easy to give the genre a predictable 'blinging urban' theme, but Rockstar has gone one better and returned to the badass roots of urban gang culture, with this videogame adaptation of 1979 movie The Warriors, a violent story of rival gangs fighting for turf in New York City, dressed in period clothes and hairstyles.
The Warriors clearly tips its hat to the likes of Streets of Rage and Final Fight, with Rockstar trying to recapture the 'good old days' of the beat 'em up. Obligatory subway sections are included - you can pick up weapons, hurl bottles and bricks, hold enemies in submission positions, and generally kick the living do-dah out of everything that walks. But then, this is the 21st century, and this is Rockstar we're talking about...
So the violence is shocking (naturally), glass bottles being shoved into faces, heads smacked into brick walls, and bodies thrown under subway cars. But The Warriors is about quite a bit more than just cracking skulls and leaving a trail of devastation in your gang's wake. A good threequarters of the game is set before the movie on which it's based, and sees you guide your gang through the ranks of New York's underworld.
It's this that forms the most interesting aspect of the game, as it uses the controller as more than just a tool with which to stove people's heads in. You have to smash and grab car stereos (four consecutive turns of the thumbstick and the screws are loose), mug people for cash (prevent the pad from vibrating to stop them struggling away), and 'tag' subway cars and walls with the Warriors logo, where you have to follow the outline with the spraycan, a bit like in those village fete games where you're not allowed to touch the bendy wire, in order to tag things properly. Tag well, and rival gangs will go ruddy-faced with rage.
The combat is fairly simple compared to more sophisticated brawlers, but that's not to say it isn't frequent or inventive. We counted at least a dozen enemies on screen at one point, and it never got dull throwing them through windows or into flaming cars, even if we did seem to be repeating the same moves. We did find, though, that sometimes our squad of Warriors was accidentally damaged by our attacks, and the AI didn't ensure they stayed out of harm's way. You can issue orders to your squads of goons, telling them to wreck everything in sight, run for cover, or watch your back, but in the thick of a riot you're as likely to smash a bottle over the head of a fellow Warrior as you are a member of a rival gang.
The Warriors isn't new - they were making games like this back in the 1980s - but it never ceases to be entertaining. The violence is intercut with missions to undermine other gangs, and there are plenty of opportunities for wanton destruction if you get bored. It's really faithful to the film too, but you don't have to be a fan to appreciate it - this is basically Rockstar's take on Streets of Rage, a jolly ghetto romp where the streets are paved with smashed-in faces. And it really works too!
A distracting, nasty, entertaining piece of afternoon-consuming nonsense. Shocking in parts, yet consistently enjoyable.