Replay Value: 8
One solution, thanks to Rockstar Games, is the company's latest gang-themed beat 'em up, The Warriors. In it, you assume the role of a devil may care gang banger and set out to wreak mayhem on New York City circa 1979. Last I checked, you can't be thrown in jail for murder and theft performed in a video game.
There have been a bunch of action-oriented beat 'em ups released this year, including the weakly received Urban Reign and the much-hated Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance. The Warriors certainly won't do much to quell the perception that companies are bent on beating the beat 'em up genre to death, but it is at least playable and personable--whereas those other games were not.
For most of the game, you play the role of a newbie gang member named "Rembrandt." Much of the story revolves around Rembrandt's induction into The Warriors, and the gang's mission to expand their turf and become high-rollers among the many dozens of gangs populating New York City. With Rembrandt's help, the Warriors manage to infiltrate and tag the turf of some big time gangs, including the Destroyers, the Punks, the Lizzies, and everybody's favorite chop socky group, the Savage Huns. One day, out of the blue, Cyrus, the leader of NYC's largest gang, the Gramercy Riffs, calls members of all of the big gangs together to discuss a truce. Unfortunately, he's assassinated during the meeting and, what's worse, is the Warriors are framed as the prime suspects. Now they, or should I say, you, as the player, must fight from one end of New York City to the other in order to reach safety and hopefully uncover the truth. 60,000 rival gang members and a 20 mile walk don't add up to the best of odds.
Rockstar dug deep into Hollywood's seedy underbelly for this one, using the 1979 cult-classic film The Warriors as the blueprint for the video game. If you haven't seen the movie, you really should watch it before playing, just because you'll understand the characters and their motivations better. If you have seen the movie, you're going to be in geek heaven while playing the game. In terms of timeline, the game starts out roughly three months before the events in the film took place, but eventually links up to the film and takes players through many of its memorable confrontations. All of your favorite key scenes are here, including the "hey warrrrr-i-ors, come out to play-yaay" scene, and Rockstar even managed to bring many of the original actors into the studio to provide voice work for the game.
The Warriors for PS2 builds upon and re-tells the movie, and retains much of the spirit that made the film compelling, but, more importantly, it's also a well-designed beat 'em up.
The main portion of the game is its story mode, which spans 18 chapters and will take most players roughly 20 hours to complete. I was pleasantly thrilled to discover that the game includes a co-operative two-player mode that lets someone else jump in on the second controller at any point.
In each chapter, you're put into a different area of the city and given missions to complete. A mission typically involves spraying over a set number of rival gang tags or beating up a specific number of gang members. The game is somewhat open-ended, although not to the extent that Grand Theft Auto is. You're free to do just about anything in the process of completing a mission. There are bystanders and homeless people to mug, car radios to steal, stores to break into, and dozens of rival gang members loitering around just waiting to be thrashed. There are police officers patrolling the same streets too. If they see you, they'll try to arrest you and your buddies. If you like, you can take on each cop you come across and beat them to a bloody pulp, or you can climb onto a rooftop and hide from them until the coast is clear. Getting away isn't too difficult, since the neighborhoods are fairly large and ripe with hiding spots. You can climb over fences and onto rooftops, and, in some areas, duck into a friendly safe-house.
Combat is repetitive, which is always the case in beat 'em up games, but the controls provide enough variety to keep things interesting. You can perform multi-hit combos with punches and kicks, grapple enemies and drag them to the ground, and even use your spray cans to polish off opponents with a flashy finish. Sometimes, multiple opponents will surround you. No problem. You can use the analog stick to direct your attacks, or grab an opponent and throw them into the crowd to brush everybody back. On top of that, almost anything you find laying on the ground can be picked up and used as a weapon--bricks, 2x4s, bottles, you name it.
One of the game's more unique aspects is its warchief command interface. Simply put, there are always between three and eight other Warriors gang members tagging along with you during a mission, and you can issue them orders by pressing the R2 button. For example, if you issue the command to "wreck them all," the other warriors will go after rival gang members. Or, you can tell them to "watch my back," which is useful for when you're trying to pick a lock or lay down some graffiti. The warchief command interface is easy to use and not too complicated. Primarily, it gave the developers a way to keep the gang together throughout the entire game, which is important since The Warriors is, after all, a tale of nine guys fighting their way back to safety through a hell of 60,000 angry rivals.
It's also interesting how most tasks in the game are accomplished as mini-games. When you try to tag a wall or pick a lock, you don't just tap a button and watch it happen. Instead, you have to complete a simple mini-game to accomplish the task. In order to lay down a tag, you have actually draw a "W" without going too far outside the lines of the template. If you mess up, you have to use another can of paint to continue the tag. To pick a lock, you have to press the X button when the plungers are in the red area in order to stop them. Other mini-games involve unscrewing car radios, freeing arrested Warriors from their handcuffs, and mugging bystanders. The process of mugging someone is actually pretty amusing. First, you grab onto them and press the triangle button to get them in a half nelson. Then, a circular indicator appears. You have to use the analog stick to position the pointer inside the circle so that it makes the controller vibrate. A meter fills up when you do this. If you fill your meter before the victim breaks free, you'll successfully incapacitate them and steal their money.
For the most part, the pace of the game is dictated by how much health and how many paint cans you have, and whether or not any of your buddies have been arrested. You can regain health by snorting Coc--er, a substance called "Flash"--but it isn't free. Flash and spray paint have to be purchased from street dealers. To buy that stuff, though, you need money, which you get by robbing stores, stealing car radios, and mugging people. And, once in a while, you may need to free one of your buddies that the cops have handcuffed and left laying on the street. As you can see, one thing very often leads to another.
Some people will notice similarities between The Warriors and another Rockstar video game, Manhunt. That's no surprise, since Rockstar's Toronto studio developed both games. Basically, they used the Manhunt engine as the base, fixed the hiccupy camera and desolate graphics, and gave players more to do besides hiding in dark holes. The third-person camera viewpoint provides a healthy view of the action, and, unlike the case with Manhunt, there don't seem to be any problems with objects suddenly popping into view or the frame-rate skipping along.
Rockstar Toronto went to great lengths to make the video game emulate the look and feel of the original film. The character models are spitting images of the original actors and, in many cases, the original actors from the film were hired to provide sound effects and spoken dialogue for the game. Although there is a good hour's worth of new dialogue and story to take in, many of the cinematic scenes that take place near the end of the game were setup using the same camera angles and dialogue that were in the original film. Some scenes are difficult to watch, because they involve torture and blood-letting. Bear that in mind.
They also didn't sugar coat the language. The original film had a few "F" bombs in it, and so does the game. Within the first minute, the introduction desensitizes the player's ears with the f-word, the s-word, and everybody's favorite British slang term for cigarettes that we often use to refer to homosexuals in a negative sense. Throughout the game, characters will drop curse words when they're involved in a fight. Pretty much every cinematic cut scene that appears between levels is thick with cursing and allusions to copulating with someone’s mom. Basically, if you're offended by violence or naughty language, this game is going to offend you.
Some people may describe the game's graphics and audio as outdated or chintzy. Not because the game engine is weak, but because the developers did such a good job of making the game look and sound like the original 1979 film. Most of the action takes place at night in neighborhoods that are run-down. Everything is dark and dirty. Meanwhile, the music in the background has dramatic overtones and synthesizer riffs flowing through it akin to a one of John Carpenter's classic soundtracks. Despite the intended retro feel, there's still a lot of hardware-flexing detail to take notice of. Citizens, street bums, cops, and rival gang members can be found sitting, standing, and walking around. If you get close to them, you can hear them muttering or conversing with one another. In the environment, there are all kinds of trash bags, boxes, fences, phone booths, store windows, and other objects to break or pick up. The reflections in store windows and the multi-layered shadows cast by street lights onto the pavement are also rather impressive.
Special care was put into the character models. A whole mess of polygons were used to make them look just like they did in the film. If you're a fan of the movie, you'll recognize the individual gangs right off. For instance, the purple jackets and hats worn by the "Brawlers," or the pinstriped baseball uniforms and face paint worn by the "Baseball Furies." Among the warriors, Cleon's leopard print doo rag, Cowboy's Steston hat, and Cochise's bandana and African jewelry are easily spotted.
As beat 'em ups go, The Warriors manages to overcome the repetitiveness that's inherent to the genre by giving players much more to do than just doling out knuckle sandwiches. It isn't as diverse as Grand Theft Auto, but you should be able to squeeze an ample degree of catharsis out of mugging people, laying down graffiti, breaking into stores, and pummeling rival gang members. I highly recommend that you watch the movie first, though. The game does a great job of emulating the look of the movie and duplicating key scenes, but it's much easier to empathize with the characters if you've already seen them brought to life by the original actors.