The Warriors is one of those games that shouldn't have worked. It's a video game based on a thirty year old movie with next to no story and very few likeable characters. Yet the developers managed to not only turn this 2004 Xbox/PlayStation (and eventually PSP) game into a competent action game, but they actually eclipsed the film by offering a much longer, fuller experience that dug into the origins of the film and what led up to the fateful events contained in the cult classic. It was an incredible game that proved once and for all that with the right team on board you can turn a traditional street brawler into a modern classic.
Unfortunately The Warriors: Street Brawl, Rockstar Games' brand new Xbox Live Arcade game, completely misses the point and turns in one of the most disappointing games of the year. Instead of giving us a deeper appreciation for the critically acclaimed movie, The Warriors has been reduced to a paint-by-numbers brawler straight out of the 1980s. Fans of old timey brawlers like Final Fight and Double Dragon may get a couple hours of enjoyment out of this game, but it's far below the standards set by Rockstar Games.
Unlike the original 2004 game, The Warriors: Street Brawl doesn't attempt to go back in time and rewrite the origin story. Instead it closely follows the story of the movie, from the events at the conclave in Pelham Bay Park. The story goes like this, Cyrus, the leader of the most powerful gang in all of New York City, has gathered all of the other games in the city together to call a truce. Together they will all work as one for the betterment of the gang, that way they can control the city and not be marginalized by all of the petty gang warfare. Unfortunately somebody kills Cyrus and blames the assassination on The Warriors. This leads to an all-out gang war against our heroes. Will The Warriors have enough lucky and skill to make it back to their safe house before sunrise? Will the real killer ever be brought to justice? These questions and more are clumsily answered in The Warriors: Street Brawl.
The game plays almost exactly like Double Dragon, a game that clearly inspired the original 2004 game. In fact, the developers were so influenced by Taito's 1987 brawler that they included a remake of the game using Warriors characters and locations. If I recall correctly, I called this mini-game one of the "all-time greatest Easter Eggs" when I reviewed the 2004 game. In a lot of ways this Xbox Live Arcade game feels like that mini-game, only instead of being a fun extra, it's a full laborious product that sucks all of the fun out of the property.
The first thing you need to know about The Warriors: Street Brawl is that it's dark ... very, very dark. Practically every level in the game is covered with the darkest of darks, making none of the levels stand out in any significant way. From time to time you'll see neon lights and other forms of illumination, but they are few and far between. What's frustrating is that games like Streets of Rage and Final Fight have managed to convey the dead of night while still allowing you to see what's going on. Heck, even the 2004 Xbox game didn't suffer from this problem. After awhile I wondered if they were covering everything in darkness because it was night or because the graphics were unacceptably bad.
Outside of the game's use of 3D polygons, The Warriors: Street Brawl feels exactly like your average 20 year old brawler. You have a punch and kick button, a jump button and a block button. Your character (who you get to choose at the beginning of the game) has a few combos and a rage meter that fills up (and unleashes more powerful attacks), but outside of that there's not much depth here. After seeing all of the fun combos and moves in the 2004 game, I was disappointed to see how limited this Xbox Live Arcade game is. It's not just the fact that the original Warriors game had more depth; even Super NES brawlers from the early 1990s had more to offer.The game is split up into 21 agonizing missions, each taking place in a different (although similar looking) location. You take on a number of gangs from the movie, fight a few bosses, and kick over a few trash cans to find food. The levels are made up of enemies that all look and fight the same. Even when they knock you to the ground, all of the enemies stand straight up and clap the same. Outside of the weapons and outfits, you would think that you're fighting the same bozo over and over again. And the truth is, you basically are.
The problem with The Warriors is that it doesn't play fair. From the very get-go you are swarmed with more enemies than you can fight at any one time. And just to make things harder (and increase the size of the level) you are forced to deal with reinforcements. Every so often a timer will pop up and count down how much time you have before more enemies show up. At first this isn't a problem, but late in the game you'll find that reinforcements are showing up when you're already dealing with a half dozen gang members. There were more than a few times when I just put the control down and gave up, there's no way I can take on a dozen bad guys all by myself. The fun of Final Fight and Double Dragon was that you always felt like you had a fighting chance, but when playing this single player I never felt like I could beat all of the goons they were throwing at me.
Thankfully you can bring three more friends into the action, but even that isn't as much fun as it sounds. It basically becomes a giant cacophony of bodies being punched and thrown about. It's disorganized and nowhere near as much fun as similar games (like Konami's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade games). This is a big disappointment given how much fun the multiplayer mode was in the original 2004 Xbox game.
To add insult, nothing about the game's presentation matches the thirty year old movie. The graphics are too dark and gritty to feel like the film, the music is out of place and modern, and there's no voice acting. The whole thing is very disconcerting, especially given their experience handling this license. It feels like there may have been some good ideas in this game, but the overall presentation is a total mess.
Even if the music and visuals were spot on, it still wouldn't make up for the slow-paced gameplay, the clunky controls and the dreary levels. This game somehow manages to suck all of the fun and excitement out of the original movie, instead turning it into an unfair action game where all you do is mash buttons for several hours. The Warriors: Street Brawl is a major step down from the five year old Xbox game. It's a product that feels wholly unnecessary. If you want your Warriors fix then go play the 2004 game, you'll be surprised at how diverse the gameplay is. And best of all, it still holds up remarkably well. There's no reason to come out and play The Warriors: Street Brawl!