When Rockstar came out to play

Feature

– Nicholas Payne

It has been 10 years since Rockstar Toronto released one of the greatest film-to-game adaptations of all time with 2005’s The Warriors.

Based on the 1979 film of the same name, Rockstar’s The Warriors preceded the events of Walter Hill’s movie by taking a look back at the formation of Coney Island’s toughest fictional street gang, following the Warriors’ journey through to the gang’s eventual framing for murder and mad dash to escape NYC and clear their names.

They nailed the powerful kicks to the crotch thing for one.

They were alleged to have kicked a guy in the crotch so hard he exploded.

Film-to-game adaptations can be a tricky business, almost as fraught with disaster as the death sentence that is game-to-film. For every lovingly-crafted The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, there are dozens of painful Harry Potter or Transformers studio cash-ins to sift through in the EB Games bargain bin.

You can tell when the people behind these games have a genuine affection for the source material, and there’s no guarantee a well-received film will be able to carry on that goodwill to produce a half-decent interactive property.

Avalanche Studios recently tried to capitalise on the popularity of Mad Max: Fury Road by releasing an adaptation for PS4, Xbox One and PC, but despite their best efforts they only demonstrated the difficulty in recreating a film universe when the source material has set the bar so high.

In fact, some games can be so poor they actually run the risk of tarnishing the legacy of the film they’re based upon – more gen-Y gamers would know E.T the Extra-Terrestrial as the “worst game of all time” or “the game that killed Atari” rather than by Spielberg’s smash 1980s film.

So, in a neo-anarchistic wasteland of missed opportunities, what did Rockstar Toronto get so right?

Banging head attire is one thing they nailed.

Banging head attire is one thing they nailed.

It was the way the studio balanced the old and the new, showing respect for the original while expanding and building on the concepts of the cinematic universe.

They did this through mechanics such as the intuitive brawling system and weapon-heavy environments, the surprisingly fun spray-painting minigames, and little touches such as twiddling the analogue sticks to remove the screws on a car radio.

Rockstar’s The Warriors kept to the traditions with some great throwback licensed music from the likes of Amii Stewart and Fear (though the latter is a few years young to be canon) , but the real musical highlight was when the original soundtrack kicked in during fight scenes and the synths of composer Barry de Vorzon’s Carpenter-esque theme started blaring.

Rockstar also gave previously obscure gangs and characters a chance to shine as antagonists in their own missions.

Every gamer at heart has an element of Pokémon collector in them – whether that manifests in our favourite weapons loadout in Call of Duty or our bizarre refusal to play as any other character than Wii Fit Trainer in Super Smash Bros.

By giving each gang in The Warriors a distinct look, personality and final boss (known as Warlords), the developers fed directly into that subconscious desire we all have to pick our team of favourites.

Gotta shank em' all.

Gotta shank ’em all.

The Baseball Furies wore old Yankees uniforms and neon face paint, and their Warlord was a hulking slugger carrying a battlemace constructed from tied-together baseball bats. The Hi-Hats dressed like mimes; replete with suspenders and top hats, and their Warlord, Chatterbox, was a maniacal overweight clown with a penchant for street art. (My personal favourites were the Punks, badass switchblade-wielding, roller-skating JDs in denim overalls.)

The game even featured a strong co-op story mode, as well as an arena-brawl multiplayer space where players could pick a gang and duke it out.

These little details combined to make The Warriors one of the most faithful film-to-game adaptations ever made, and created a whole new generation of Warriors fans who would seek out the original film.

Wu Tang lyrics have the same effect.

Wu Tang lyrics have the same effect.

One of the best post-Warriors adaptations was Feral Interactive and Creative Assembly’s Alien: Isolation, released last year to a middling response but a cult appreciation from those who played it with the lights off and were transported back to the quiet horror of Scott’s original.

And that’s the delicate point of transforming these popular films into interactive games – they need to offer more than the film, or audiences will feel cheated, but they also need to stick closely enough to the source that players are comfortable.

It’s a ridiculous conundrum for developers, but for anyone wanting to take on the challenge, Rockstar’s The Warriors stands as an example of how to do it right.

A decade on, and Swan, Ajax, Cleon and the rest of the gang’s digital journey back to CI is the pinnacle of lovingly-crafted adaptation. Can you dig it?

You can discuss The Warriors with Nicholas on Twitter at @nicholas_payne. For more video game features and news follow LoadScreen on Twitter @load_screen and like us on Facebook.

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