It's been years since we first got excited that Rockstar was doing a game adaptation of The Warriors. Since then we've seen the screenshots, we've watched the trailer, we've mentioned leather waistcoats more times than we can count and we've twiddled our thumbs. Now, with the release date just days away, we've finally had a chance to play it.
For those wondering why we've been looking forward to The Warriors quite so much, the answer lies in the source material. Walter Hill's 1979 film is a classic in our books, featuring as it does lots of fighting, lots of swearing and lots of people who are cooler and harder than we'll ever be.
The titular Warriors are members of a New York gang who find themselves wrongly accused of murdering local hardnut Cyrus. Every gang in the city is out to avenge his death, which means the Warriors are on the run - desperately trying to make it back to their home turf of Coney Island and safety.
Along the way they encounter all manner of rival gangs, from baseball players with painted faces to jive talkin' Harlem heavies to homicidal mime artists. They're all unique, but they all have two things in common - they're out for Warrior blood, and they're not stopping till they've spilled enough of it to paint the Statue of Liberty a nice shade of darkening red. And they're all mental.
Gangs of New York
Rather interestingly, the Warriors game only starts to follow the plot of the movie when you're two-thirds of the way through - the first part of the game is based around original content which expands the Warriors universe, showing you the events which led up to Cyrus calling the rally at which he 's shot. Plus you get to see what the Warriors got up to before they became gangland New York's most wanted, too.
Which mostly consists of robbing, fighting, doing drugs and recruiting new members. For the game's first mission, which our demo began with, you play as afro-ed graffiti artist Rembrandt - in the movie he's already a full fledged Warrior, but here he's still trying to earn his colours. This means the mission also doubles as a tutorial, introducing you to the game's combat system.
Y'see, the Warriors want to see how your fighting skills shape up, and so they've bribed a load of tramps with promises of all the Tennents Extra they can drink (or something like that) in exchange for letting you beat them up. The tramps are too wasted to fight back with any real degree of accuracy, leaving you free to experiment with your combat moves.
These differ from Warrior to Warrior - some characters use a fluid, stylised move-set clearly influenced by martial arts, for example, while others prefer to lay straight in with powerful punches and clumsy kicks. Their stamina varies, too, so tough guy Ajax can take more hits than newbie Rembrandt, for example.
Each face button on the pad assigned to a certain move, and there are plenty of combos to learn. Aiming is done with the left analog stick, and, rather neatly, if you press down your character won't simply turn around but will perform a backwards kick or punch.
It'll probably feel familiar if you have any experience of the fighting system in the Def Jam games [let's not go there - Ed] - you even have a rage meter that builds up with every hit. Once it's full you can press a button and everything will go blurry, signalling that you can now pull off super-violent finishing moves. Once again, these vary depending on which character you're playing as, but many of the ones we've seen apparently forcing people's privates up into their body with a few swift kicks.
Once you've got the hang of the combat and a few basic moves, such as jumping fences and climbing over stuff, it's into your first proper mission - spraying big red Ws over every tag painted by rival gang The Destroyers (a gang specially invented for the game). The game mechanic works like this: a yellow squiggle appears on the screen, and you have to paint over it by very carefully nudging the left analog stick.
There are three elements to the challenge here - firstly, it's a bit fiddly; secondly, if you take too long over it the po-po are liable to turn up and give you a load of hassle; and thirdly, you waste a bit of spray paint each time you mess up. And if you run out completely, you'll need to steal some stuff to make some cash to buy some more.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to nick a car radio - just smash the window and then undo each screw by rotating the analog stick. Once again, though, you've got to be quick and get the job done before the cops arrive.
Alternatively, you might like to try robbing a local shop. You have to pick the lock first by pressing X at precisely the right moment to match up the pins, unless you want to risk setting off the alarm with a quick smash and grab.
Pharmacies are particularly good places to rob, since not only can you swipe the cash out of the till but you can also take Flash out of the medicine cabinet. Flash is an amyl nitrate-type drug that acts as a health power-up - indeed, we saw the cuts and scratches Rembrandt acquired during his fight with the tramps heal before our very eyes after just a single sniff. You can revive other Warriors with it should they fall down during a fight, too.
Tag team action
Once we'd got to grips with the basic game elements and combat controls, Rockstar showed us one of the game's stealth missions, where you have to infiltrate the heart of the Destroyers' turf and spray over all the tags on the walls of their HQ. Problem is, various gang members are guarding the place - and you've got to create a distraction.
This is done by hiding in the shadows, chucking a bottle down the other end of the street, and waiting for the Destroyer guard to go and find out what's going on. Then it's a simple matter of nipping into the shadows behind his hiding place and waiting for him to move back in position before creeping up and pulling off a silent neckbreaker move. Once he's unconscious, you can spray away before moving on to your next target.
So it's not all straightforward brawling - although that is a major part of the gameplay, something which Rockstar makes no apologies for. They told us the developers have been inspired by old-school brawlers such as Double Dragon, even to the extent where you'll have to face off with tough end-of-level bosses and find their lone weakness to bring them down.
If you're having trouble making it alone, another player can join in at any time thanks to the game's co-op mode. We were shown a level where a couple of Warriors are battling it out with a big group of baseball Furies, complete with bats. You start off on the same screen as your chum, but if you get too far apart from each other the screen divides into two, and there's a radar so you can instantly check where they are - putting an end to those "Where are you? Come here" "No, YOU come over HERE" conversations, with a bit of luck.
But if you're the friendless type, you can always call on the other Warriors to back you up by using War Chief commands and ordering them to cover you. You can also tell them to follow you, run and hide or just cause general mayhem, depending on the situation. From what we saw the AI is working well - the Warriors followed our instructions instantly and fought off our opponents intelligently and effectively.
All in all, we liked what we saw of The Warriors, despite the fact that we weren't left feeling like the game is going to break any boundaries exactly. The graphics are decent, with some excellent lighting effects and fluid animations, but once again, there was nothing that made our eyes pop out of our crazy skulls.
But what did get us going was the way Rockstar has carefully recreated the world of the Warriors and captured the feel of the movie, and we weren't surprised to learn that the company founders are all big fans. The characters clearly resemble their big screen counterparts and though Rockstar didn't disclose whether or not they've secured any of the original actors to do the voices, we could have sworn that Ajax is the real deal. It was a particular thrill to hear him spit out everyone's favourite line from the movie - "I'll shove that bat up your ass and turn you into a Popsicle."
And we relished the chance to "be" a Warrior, and to be in the coolest street gang that ever walked the streets of Coney Island. On first impressions, it seems unlikely that The Warriors is going to revolutionise the brawler genre - but so far, it's looking solid enough to impress fans of both the genre and the movie. To quote the film's silky voiced DJ - who can also be heard in the game, naturally - be lookin' good, Warriors.