First sentences in reviews are tricky things. Does the erstwhile reviewer start with a quip, or relate some kind of factoid about the developer, or the genre of the game in question? Do you launch into the core plot of the game in a breathless, movie-trailer style tone, hoping to immerse the reader in the game's fictional world? Thankfully for this particular reviewer, Rockstar's latest epic title, The Warriors, presents an easy opening paragraphic gambit. Go out and buy a copy, right now. Not just because it's a fine game (although it is), or because we're on the Take 2 payroll (which we're sadly not -- they must be rolling in GTA cash), but because like many of Rockstar's titles, it doesn't shy away from what old-style VHS sleeves used to call "Adult Themes", and it's only a matter of time before some aspiring (read: repellent) politician notices that the game features drug use as a way to regain health, or the fact that you can willingly throw heavily pickled winos into burning trash cans. Faster than you can say "Ray Martin's Shiny Hairpiece", The Warriors will find itself banned after a chorus of A Current Affair-led cries of indignation. Rockstar's got a pretty good track record in these things -- just look at GTA III, GTA: San Andreas and Manhunt, all of which saw initial releases that were later pulled from shelves. Perhaps that's a pessimistic way of looking at things, and maybe the strict fictional setting of The Warriors will save it.
Ahem. That doesn't tell you much about The Warriors, does it? Well, the Warriors is definitely the strangest Movie-licenced game produced this year. It's not going to launch along with a line of cuddly toys, foam Warriors hands, tooth decaying treats and paper Halloween masks. Nor is an epic, Oscar-winning favourite of the critics, dipped into the digital entertainment world. No, what Rockstar's chosen for its latest adults-only title is instead a somewhat obscure "cult" classic from 1979 that was presumably the favorite of somebody in the Rockstar offices. Actually, you can scrub the "presumably" from that last sentence -- in order to not only secure the license, but then painstakingly recreate the dark and drab urban wasteland of the film, hire the correct voice talent and work for years to craft a game that's as much a loving tribute as it is a fine piece of video gaming, you'd have to be borderline obsessive. Obsessions, however, can bring forth great works, and while the Warriors isn't without its faults, it's also going to go down as one of the best late-period games of this current generation.
The basic plot of The Warriors film revolves around the assassination of Cyrus, the messianic leader of the largest gang in New York. He's in the middle of delivering a speech meant to unify the disparate gangs so that they can take over the city when he's gunned down, and The Warriors are unfairly accused of the crime, and they have to make their way across New York with every other gang out there baying for blood, and armed in a manner designed to extract it from the human body with a maximum of pain. That's not a bad framework to hang a game on, but Rockstar's fleshed it out considerably, adding side and backstories that play out before the events of the film. It'll take you more than half the game just to get to the movie, so fans of the source material will have plenty to play through that seems new and refreshing, albeit drenched in late 70's style, sucka.
It's certainly not hard to define what kind of game The Warriors is. It's a beat-em-up, and that's a genre that's arguably not just stale, but green and rotting. Quick, name a recent good beat-em-up. Score several negative points if your mind immediately thought of either Final Fight or Double Dragon -- you're just seriously showing your age there. Then again, this is a game based on a near thirty-year old somewhat obscure movie. Perhaps you're allowed to show your age in such circumstances. Whatever the case may be, The Warriors takes the urban gang warfare motif of the movie and matches it to a simple but fun button mashing combat experience in realistic 3D worlds. Predictably, this will intermittently involve a few odd camera angles. Also predictably, you'll find that certain sections are precise button combination numbers, but many fights can devolve into mashing the controls or exploiting certain boss weaknesses, especially when it comes to throwing bricks, bins and bottles to slowly deplete energy bars. To put it simply, however, the weaknesses of the game engine don't matter that much in a title that's such exuberant fun to play, even if the subject matter and much of the language makes it a title that shouldn't be offered to youngsters at all.
In case you hadn't gathered by now, The Warriors is brutal, and part of what it gets right when it comes to brutal is in accurately showing and depicting large scale gang wars. While you're still clearly the centre of any fight you're in, all around you street toughs are punching, kicking, beating and burning each other in a remarkably lifelike way. Watch events for long enough and the cracks in the AI will show, but you really have to look hard to find them. Let yourself fall into The Warriors world, and before long you'll be marveling at many of the game's set piece battles. There are other genres present too -- predictably a little bit of stealth, some virtual graffiti and even some platform jumping sections, but for the most part this is a title that revels in pure fist on face action.
As was mentioned in the introduction, the sheer brutality of The Warriors means it's only a matter of time before it falls under the radar of some opportunistic type or another, and that'll probably mean yet another store-shelf pulling endeavor and lots of column inches about protecting the children. Not only does that ignore the evidence that the vast majority of gamers are adults who should (in theory) be totally capable of dealing with the subject matter at hand, it'll also mean that gamers won't be able to enjoy one of this year's best games titles. The question shouldn't be "Can you dig it?" but "Why ain't you digging it yet?"