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PSP Fanboy review: The Warriors

Hey, didn't The Warriors come out a long time ago on other platforms? And, wasn't it just a brawler game? Meh, maybe it's a Grand Theft Auto-clone. Why should I get excited for a cheap port of an old game?

This kind of sentiment would be completely baseless. It's true that The Warriors isn't a new game. It's also true that the PSP version is simply a port, without any significant upgrades to the original. And yes, like most of Rockstar's other games, this game borrows tons of elements from the revered GTA franchise. However, to think of it as "just a brawler" would do this game a horrible injustice. In fact, PSP owners should be grateful to have such a refreshingly solid game made available on the platform, especially at its budget price. Without a doubt, The Warriors is worth every penny: it provides hours of incredible fun, with a natural, satisfying combat system, and top-notch presentation.

From the moment you put the UMD into your system, you know you're in for something truly special. The XMB becomes painted with a beautiful background, and the looping video thumbnail excites. After the click of the X button, you'll see the familiar Rockstar logo, and a vintage Paramount Pictures logo. When the opening cinematic begins, you realize that Rockstar has one-upped itself with The Warriors: it is using the license to create an experience that surpasses that of the movie.

Rockstar traditionally excels in presentation and The Warriors is no different. The cinematics are wonderfully directed, and they're filled with spectacular movie-quality voice acting. The art direction is fantastic: everything, from the fonts to the music, evoke the mood of 1970s New York City. Everything else on the market seems amateurish compared to what Rockstar has done.

Of course, presentation can only take a game so far. Thankfully, Rockstar has crafted a brilliant brawler that is both incredibly accessible and satisfying. The fighting system is simple to pick up, as it only uses three face buttons for attacks. Through a combination of these buttons, you'll find yourself quickly taking down dozens of enemies in some pretty stylish ways. You never feel like you're button mashing in the game: each button press feels like it translates on screen to a specific move. You'll quickly and easily pull off some fantastic combos: it's hard not to feel empowered when you're able to throw some thugs in front of an oncoming train.

The game does a great job of guiding you through what you can do, and you'll quickly realize that there's a lot you can do. While the basic combat system is already solid, it's enhanced by some great AI. The game does a great job of rendering large crowds, filled with enemies and partners. Your teammates are relatively intelligent, and will go about fighting rival gang members. You'll see someone holding down a thug, giving you an opportunity to run in with a knife, stabbing him for a kill. These kind of opportunities aren't too frequent, but when they do occur, the camera appropriately zooms in, for a true cinematic effect. Not only will your gang fight, but they will listen to your orders: you can tell them to trash the town, protect you, etc. It's simple and effective.

Not only is the AI satisfying: the levels are as well. Although the levels set in Coney feel a bit too dreary, the game does a good job of emulating the feel of different parts of a New York City from yesteryear. The game goes into meticulous detail about the origins of The Warriors and as such, has you traveling to a variety of locales. Each scenario is interesting, and the story-telling adds a tremendous amount of authenticity to the game. You'll know whose turf you're in, and why. You'll always know what you have to do, and surprisingly, you'll always be compelled to go on.

As a brawler, the game does a lot of things right: the environments have a spectacular level of destructibility to them. You name it: boxes, cars, windows ... they will all break, especially when you throw a body into them. The wanton level of chaos is much appreciated. However, the game offers even more than simple fighting, to ensure that the gameplay doesn't get tiresome.

You'll find plenty of opportunities to tag the walls with The Warriors symbol. It's a simple, but effective process that has you tracing a certain pattern with the analog nub. While the nub doesn't provide the most precise control, it appears that Rockstar has tweaked the controls, making it feel fantastic on the handheld. You'll also be able to steal car radios, or mug civilians. It may sound a little like Grand Theft Auto, because it is somewhat similar. However, The Warriors easily trumps GTA in terms of controls: all of these moves use the analog nub and buttons in interesting ways: and it always feels much more precise than anything in the PSP Grand Theft Auto Stories.

The game's pacing is truly meticulous, as it makes you never want to put the controller down. You'll find yourself in a tagging contest at one moment, then in a massive riot, then in a fight against the cops, and then in a rooftop chase. The compelling story, mixed with the huge variety of gameplay, make The Warriors a genuine thrillride from beginning to end.

As if a well-written story mode wasn't enough, the game adds a ton of replayability through extras, such as bonus prequel chapters, and fun GTA-inspired excursions which have you roaming a (much smaller) city. The included Armies of the Night mode is a fantastic homage to classic arcade games: it's a 2D side-scrolling brawler that features authentic MIDI music and blinking Go signs. When you combine the single player, the arcade games, the sidequests, and the co-op mode, you easily have more than 20 hours of truly compelling gameplay. Rockstar has easily redefined what a brawler game can, and should be, with this game.

At $20, this game is a no-brainer: you must buy it. However, there are a few things to point out that prevent this game from reaching its true potential on the PSP platform. The first thing you'll notice right away are the graphics: they weren't all too great based on 2005 standards, and they're certainly not any better now. Even more surprisingly, pre-rendered cinematics look absolutely atrocious: the compression used on these movies really detract from the overall experience. So, while not an unattractive game, it's easy to see that this a retread from the beautiful Vice City Stories.

Also, it's obvious that this game was meant for a home console, not a handheld. The levels are incredibly long, with no ability to save progress mid-mission. Missions can easily pass ten minutes, and although you can put your system on Sleep mode, it's still an unfortunate oversight for the PSP translation. At least we can be thankful that the load times are incredibly brisk.

Don't be a fool: buy The Warriors now. It's a fine game, brimming with both style and substance. You'll be hard pressed to find another game on the system that will give you this much intense, violent, fun action at such a bargain price. Yes, it's a little dated graphically. Yes, it's a port. But, if you missed it the first time around, you don't want to miss your chance now.

PSP Fanboy Score: 8.5

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