The Warriors—the latest urban turf-war offering from Grand Theft Auto publisher Rockstar Games—takes its title, setting and plotline from the 1979 movie of the same name. It puts you in the shoes of nine characters in the Warriors gang, which has been wrongly accused of assassinating a rival leader. Not incidentally, that rival leader had been trying to rally New York's 60,000 gangbangers into an army to take on the city's 20,000 police.
Now, they're all after the Warriors, bent on impeding your gang's progress ... permanently. The "only" thing that stands between the Warriors and safety is 20 miles of hostile inner-city territory.
The Warriors game-playing logic is decidedly Neanderthal: Beat every enemy in your path into bloody submission using any blunt—or sharp—implement at hand. That list begins with your own body parts (fists, elbows, feet and knees), but also includes baseball bats, wrenches, crowbars, broomsticks, sledge hammers, meat cleavers ... even frying pans. Incredibly, the brutality depicted—and required—in this game makes the Grand Theft Auto series almost look tame by comparison.
In keeping with this urban-warfare theme, virtually every activity characters engage in is illegal. The first level, for example, is a training exercise in which a young tough named Rembrandt learns to fight by mercilessly pounding drunken vagabonds. After that gang initiation, Rembrandt goes on a crime spree with another Warrior who coaches him on how to steal car stereos, mug innocent pedestrians and break into stores to pocket cash (all necessary activities throughout the game). To restore their health, characters need to buy "flash," a snorted drug similar to cocaine. It goes without saying—but needs to be said—that the police are sworn enemies.
From Intense to Bored
The back cover of just about every video game sold in America includes a content-descriptor box. The Warriors' includes the phrase "intense violence." What's the difference between mere "violence" and viciousness that warrants the modifier "intense"? On a purely technical level, it means a lot of bloodshed—sadly, no big surprise for those familiar with this genre.
On a more subjective level, however, I found the intense hand-to-hand combat in The Warriors more dehumanizing than games that deal death via automatic weapons. In the first level, for example, Rembrandt relentlessly throttles bums with his hands and then bludgeons them with a baseball bat. Even after it seemed I'd learned these basic offensive moves, the drunks kept coming and coming ... and coming.
Most games include some kind of life-bar that indicates how close an enemy is to death. But The Warriors' game mechanics made it difficult to discern how close I was to dispatching these combatants. At one point, I concentrated all my blows on a single, dim-witted soul, hitting him over and over and over—what seemed like hundreds of times. Still, zombie-like, he kept getting up for more.
Perhaps 20 minutes into administering this mindless, pointless beating to homeless men, I thought, This is entertainment? As I kept playing, that initial (and upon reflection, justified) revulsion slowly morphed into something I'm positive the game's designers didn't intend: boredom. The sheer gratuity of the game's violence left me detached and disinterested in proceeding any further.
Nevertheless, I wonder if everyone who plays The Warriors will respond that way. It's worth considering how those who engage in hour upon hour of this interactive "entertainment" will eventually be shaped by it. It's impossible for me to believe games such as this one can contribute anything of value to the way its players view real human beings.
Survival of the Fittest: The Game
On a philosophical plane, The Warriors is the latest entry in an emerging genre of urban fighting games that illustrate social Darwinism: Protect your turf, and kill everyone else. Only your survival matters. Other similar M-rated titles, such as 50 Cent: Bulletproof and True Crime: New York City, strive to outdo one another in terms of violence, bloodshed and profanity. They differ slightly in their execution, but the overall effect is the same as what I experienced with The Warriors—excess piled upon excess, to the point of vacuous, sadistic absurdity.
As our Plugged In team reviews movies, TV, music and video games, we work hard to give credit where it's due. Even in products with objectionable content, we try to identify positive messages. But there is simply nothing positive to say about The Warriors and its ilk, games that glorify soul-numbing cruelty and all manner of futile, self-destructive behaviors.