25 years before Rockstar translated the 1979 gang-warfare-glorifying movie ‘The Warriors’ into an open-world playable celebration of wanton violence and lawless pandemonium, a lesser-known Amiga developer beat them to the punch. And stab. And bludgeon with a blunt instrument. And so on.
While not an officially licensed product, Synergistic’s ‘New York Warriors’ is a thinly veiled tribute to the “armies of the night” seen in Walter Hill’s controversial movie. So contentious in fact that it was withdrawn from circulation having been blamed for inciting violence, even leading to three fatalities. Don’t let the amateurish graphics fool you, this was a commercial release published by Virgin in 1990 during the height of the Amiga’s reign as the UK’s number one 16-bit gaming computer platform.
DOS gamers were ‘treated’ to their own port, as were Spectrum and Amstrad owners. Despite the provision of operating instructions for the Atari ST version in the manual, this failed to materialise.
Also known as NY Warriors for not entirely unfathomable reasons, it’s based on the 1989 Arcadia coin-op, Delta Command. Designed on an Amiga and executed via an expanded A500 motherboard with attached PCB containing the game data, the two versions are practically interchangeable.
There are 18 games in the series altogether including AAARGH!, Xenon, and SideWinder; the latter receiving a not so subtle nod of recognition in NY Warriors.
Whatever you want to call it, thingy is a slightly askew top-down run and gun reminiscent of Ikari Warriors, Commando, Dogs of War, Leathernecks and dozens of other similar titles in the same genre.
NY Warriors’ correlations with the movie revolve around the general themes, setting, and violence, underpinned with a perilous trek across the Big Apple.
In the movie, nine representatives of the city’s most influential gangs have been rallied to attend an (unarmed) meeting to discuss forging an allegiance against their one unifying enemy; the police. A truce masterminded by the legendary leader of the Gramercy Riffs, Cyrus. “He’s the one and only” and knows a “whoooole lotta magic” as the mythos has it.
Cyrus: (yelling) Can you count, suckers? I say, the future is ours… if you can count!
(a couple of soldiers cheer for Cyrus)
Cyrus: Now, look what we have here before us. We got the Saracens sitting next to the Jones Street Boys. We’ve got the Moonrunners right by the Van Cortlandt Rangers. Nobody is wasting nobody. That… is a miracle. And miracles is the way things ought to be.
(a few more soldiers cheering for Cyrus)
Cyrus: You’re standing right now with nine delegates from 100 gangs. And there’s over a hundred more. That’s 20,000 hardcore members. Forty-thousand, counting affiliates, and twenty-thousand more, not organised, but ready to fight: 60,000 soldiers! Now, there ain’t but 20,000 police in the whole town. Can you dig it?
Gang members: Yeah.
Cyrus: Can you dig it?
Gang members: Yeah!
Cyrus: Can you dig it?
Gang members: YEAH!
(shouting and cheering)
A receptive, pliable audience laps up the radical proposal as the summit unfolds in Van Cortlandt Park, 30 miles from the Warriors’ home turf. Ironically there are echoes of the rousing speeches delivered by eminently virtuous freedom fighters such as Martin Luther King. A plot device that operates on multiple levels depending on your interpretation of the authority’s legitimacy in this chaotic, dystopian cesspit.
Refreshingly, a current day one, although the timeline was pushed forwards slightly for the director’s cut without doing anything to address the 1979 movie posters seen in the subway where much of the Warriors transpires. Either way, the future/present looks bleak. You won’t catch me visiting it.
Anyway, peace, love and police-state coups d’etats. There’s always someone who ruins the party for everyone. This time it’s Luther, the leader of the Rogues, who assassinates Cyrus and points the finger of blame at Warriors leader, Cleon.
Luther: There he is! That’s him! That’s… the Warrior! He shot Cyrus!
Cleon: Man, you crazy! I din’t do nuthin’!
Luther: We saw ‘im!
Cropsey, Rogue Lieutenant: Yeah, that’s him.
Luther: He’s the one! He’s the one! The Warriors did it!
(starts charging Cleon)
Luther: The Warriors did it! The Warriors did it! The Warriors did it!
For no coherent reason all the other gang reps take his word for it and beat Cleon to death, as the remaining members flee the scene to avert being crushed in the rioting stampede. Many of the extras were real gang members and got a bit carried away after Cyrus’ motivational speech, so it’s hard to tell where to draw the line between acting and genuine fear.
Swan, the Warriors’ ‘war chief’ assumes responsibility for the suddenly leaderless gang in an effort to get them home safely. Little do they know that a bounty has been placed on their heads, broadcast by a faceless, anonymous radio DJ played by Lynne Thigpen.
D.J.: All right now, for all you boppers out there in the big city, all you street people with an ear for the action, I’ve been asked to relay a request from the Grammercy Riffs. It’s a special for the Warriors, that real live bunch from Coney, and I do mean the Warriors. Here’s a hit with them in mind.
All we see is her lips narrating the activities of the Warriors like a pitch-side baseball commentator, tipping off their rivals in the process.
“Latest sports news off the streets, boppers, The Baseball Furies dropped the ball, made an error… our friends are on second base and are trying to make it all the way home, but the inside word is that the odds are against them… stay tuned boppers, stay tuned.”
She must have an eye in the sky… or rather an informer in a pay-phone box. Remember those? Some of the iconic red ones we had in the UK have since been turned into defibrillator stations. Others even mini-libraries. Look it up.
In any case, exactly how the DJ receives her information needn’t have been justified logically since the Warriors was never intended to be an accurate reflection of real life. Walter Hill “wanted to take it into a fantasy element, but at the same time add some contemporary flash”.
It explains why it presents as a highly orchestrated, live-action, stylised comic. One based on a novel by Sol Yurick that features a character called Junior who reads a comic book interpretation of the story as it unravels. Distorting reality a step further, this 1965 source material was inspired by the Greek mythology of Xenophon’s Anabasis.
To hammer home the message, the movie is chock-full of comic book frame transitions that freeze the action, apply a cartoon filter and then cross-fade back into the next moving scene. Or at least that’s the case where the ultimate director’s cut released in 2005 is concerned. It wasn’t possible at the time to implement these due to scheduling restraints, and a race to the finish line against a similarly themed movie called The Wanderers.
By the end of the Warriors’ treacherous journey, the manhunt is finally nixed. This too is announced by the nameless DJ, who casually apologises for almost getting an innocent (ish) posse slaughtered, before making it up to them with another appropriate track. S’all good, a’ight?
DJ: Good news boppers, the big alert has been called off. It turns out that the early reports were wrong, all wrong. Now for that group out there that had such a hard time getting home, sorry about that. I guess the only thing we can do is play you a song.
Cool. All’s well that ends well. When Swan confronts Luther on the beach for the final reckoning he asks, “Why’d you do it? Why’d you waste Cyrus?”
“No reason. I just… like doing things like that!” is his feeble explanation.
It makes perfect sense that an imbecile like Luther wouldn’t have a convoluted grand master scheme worth writing home about. Even though staying true to form results in a rather weak climax.
What makes The Warriors more memorable is the sheer variety of imaginative gangs. Each are clad in their own signature, customised uniforms, synchronously wield the same weapons and are known by an appropriate name. If you’re not part of a gang there’s a good chance you don’t exist.
I think I spotted a total of three ‘civvies’ throughout. Even the police are portrayed as being part of the same violent, unethical fabric of society. It’s this that blurs the line between heroes and anti-heroes, and allows many people to root for the eponymous leads despite some of them being complete low-lives.
The Baseball Furies with their team uniforms, painted faces and bats are the gang fans particularly associate with the movie, though everyone has their personal favourite. There are the dungaree-decked rollerskating ‘Punks’…
…fedora-balancing, stripey-shirted Van Cortlandt Rangers, jazzy Moonrunners, motorbike-riding Satans’ Mothers (I suspect that might have been truncated), Savage Huns hailing from Chinatown, bumblebee-motifed Jones Street Boys, clowning Hi-Hats, Harlem Boppers, lesbian Lizzies, adult Orphans, and bald, bus-touring Turnbull ACs.
The only bus in the world slower than the one in the movie!
Plus dozens more peripheral ones that are mentioned, yet not seen, or were cut from the final edit. Still, there are plenty left to make New York seem like the deadliest place on earth, if you can suspend your disbelief and “dig” the balletic, musical-without-the-singalong groove.
The Warriors is commonly acknowledged as the movie that made “can you dig it?” a catchphrase, although people were digging (or not) all kinds of things long before 1979. It possibly originated from beatnik culture in the ’50s. Certainly, it was popular parlance back then.
‘Dig It’ is a song that features on the 1970 Beatles album ‘Let It Be’ and includes the line, “That was ‘Can You Dig It?’ by Georgie Wood, and now we’d like to do ‘Hark, the Angels Come’.” The full version from which the excerpt was taken is known as ‘Can You Dig It?’.
‘Can You Dig It?’ is also a song on the 1968 Monkees album ‘Head’.
Well, can you? Mull it over while we move on.
Considering The Warriors is a movie that revolves around gang warfare – not so much gardening – there’s very little explicit violence or bloodshed to speak of. More controversial is the homophobic language, sexism and repeated threats of rape (actual in the novel). Even when Chloe, the undercover cop sitting on a bench in a deserted park after dark says she’s up for ‘some action’, Ajax insists, “Oh, you’ll get it. But I like it rough!” to prove his manhood.
Anyone who isn’t interested in exploiting the situation (actually a sting operation, to hell with entrapment) is heckled and branded a ‘faggot’. I don’t think Ajax is referring to those meaty chunks of dubious origin you can get from cheapo freezer food stores.
For the Warriors to stand a chance at surviving a mob onslaught, the script calls for no weapons of mass destruction to be available. Very rarely is even a pistol seen during skirmishes. Instead, gangs rely on low-tech baseball bats, flick knives, fists and so on.
Naturally, the game-not-of-the-same-name ups the ante in terms of its available arsenal. Synergistic definitely “did it my way”. I mean their way. Instead of running away from trouble, all the while calling the perpetrators “wimps”, our one or two-man army of mercenaries are voluntarily choppered in, quickly proceeding to run towards it to save the world from a nuclear terrorist attack. Taking place at the World Trade Centre of all places – that would never happen! Shirley?
Cowboy: (winded, running from the Baseball Furies) I can’t make it.
Ajax: Are you sure?
Cowboy: Yes, I’m sure…
Ajax: Well, good! I’m sick of runnin’ from these wimps!
As humanity-preserving warriors, the stakes are slightly higher than getting home in time for tea. As explained by the manual’s prologue…
“Welcome to New York City fifteen years from now. Thinking about strolling through Central Park before taking in a play on Broadway? Forget about it! Terrorists have planted a nuclear device in the World Trade Centre and have taken New York hostage. Salvaging what’s left of civilisation rests on your shoulders.
Is the terrorist’s request for Manhattan, Greenwich Village and the southeastern part of Schenectady unreasonable? Of course it is! Today it’s Manhattan, tomorrow world domination.
(Weird that Greenwich Village is singled out as it’s a district within Manhattan, as noted by Amiga World magazine when they scorelessly reviewed the game in November 1990)
Stay sane and ready for action. Not only do you have to contend with terrorists, but you’ll have to make your way past the bloodthirsty dregs of society, run-away trains and assorted surprise attackers in order to find the lunatics that have laid siege to the city.
As an arms expert and self-appointed vigilante, you must battle your way through gang-infested city streets, subways, and parks to reach the World Trade Centre. Once there, you must descend the building using rickety elevators to locate and detonate the device.
If you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere. If not, the Big Apple bites the dust.”
New York x2, so good the record stuttered! To prove we’re in New York, New York, when we kick the bucket we’re almost chastised with an animated scene depicting a decapitated Statue of Liberty against the backdrop of a detonating nuclear bomb. We’ll be seeing that a lot, poor thing.
If you thought ‘bullet hell’ was a term reserved for shoot ’em ups, think again. NY Warriors is closer to Smash TV than Ikari Warriors in that regard. Absolutely deafening, gunblast-blinding bedlam, with a difficulty curve you’ll need a ski lift to ascend!
We begin with a puny single-shot rifle, soon upgrading to a flamethrower, cluster bombs, heat-seeking missiles, fan shots (three-way ballistics that ‘fan’ out in different directions), supercharged missiles and fan missiles. Including the rifle, we can carry three weapons simultaneously, automatically switching between them as the most powerful one depletes.
There are eight areas to tackle as indicated on a wire-frame map of the city, some culminating in a boss battle. Against a couple of seemingly impassable tanks for instance.
Each city flashes as we approach them and ceases when brought under control to represent our overall progress. You will have seen something vaguely similar-ish in Final Fight.
Four levels of difficulty supposedly tailor the game to match our ability, though all seem like the road to hell if you ask me. As the curve gets steeper we’re compensated with more continues for each set of five lives. Up until we attempt the flamethrower mode where we receive just two continues and only come packing with a single weapon. Can you guess which one?
Few of the gangs appear to have been snagged straight from the movie. Only really the AK-M armed Sluggers who stand-in for the Baseball Furies and the goofy acid-bolt-shooting Klowns who supplant the Soho Hi-Hats. They must have been trained at the circus of hard knocks to come up with a gimmick like that.
Airborne Jetpackers armed with bombs would have been difficult and expensive to pull off with ’70s special effects technology, though do feature in the game.
No prizes for guessing who the permanently grinning, sly ‘Ramboids’ are based on. For any aliens who have just landed and need another clue; they’re armed to the teeth with AK-47s and wear red headbands.
Shuriken-chucking assassins, technically mutant ninjas, for no apparent reason appear in China. ‘Mercy’ isn’t part of their lexicon so you’d need to whip out your dictionary if you’re going to negotiate a truce.
Rastas are so preoccupied with living the high life they probably have no idea who, or how many people they’ve slain with their SPAS-12 shotguns.
Hold on one cotton-pickin’ minute, I have to vehemently object to this horrible example of lazy stereotyping. Clearly not all black people are druggies. Some of them only deal narcotics. Others are gun-runners, pimps or slave traders. You shouldn’t pigeonhole entire races of people based on uneducated prejudice. Some of my best friends are black drug-dealing pimps. Hmmf.
Sammies sporting AR-15s are no less criminal judging by their inability to adhere to the speed limit. By their own admission, they “can’t drive 55”. A reference to the Sammy Hagar song ‘I Can’t Drive 55’ first released in 1984. It has since been raised in the US so they needn’t worry.
Bombers, as the name would suggest, are terrorists. These ones have brought their pet H&K MP-5SDs with them. That must really roll off the tongue when they visit Guns R Us to stock up.
Even the bystanders should be approached with extreme caution. Fail to take out a tramp supposedly sleeping on a park bench, or a sweet, harmless granny hobbling along on her walking stick, and you’ll soon regret it… while you stitch up the gaping hole in your forehead, six feet under.
NY Warriors was delivered on two floppies. Nevertheless, the game only recognises a single disk drive, and you’ll require a 1mb Amiga to run it, despite any assumptions the shoddy, PD quality presentation would lead you to believe.
It does pull a few neat bells and whistles out of the hat that are worthy of note. Musical ones for a start. Sound effects, music or both simultaneously are toggleable options. And credit where it’s due, the tune heard playing as the well-drawn, animated title screen is displayed is synth-tastically catchy, raising our expectations for the main event.
A bit more effort than strictly necessary was also put into the in-game animation. Buzzing bluebottles (I presume) can be seen circling around corpses, while the trees’ leaves flutter in the wind for example. Although not moving (for obvious reasons), human limbs can be spotted hanging out of dumpsters, which is a ‘nice’ touch too. I do enjoy a bit of black humour, I mean dark humour… you know, as in morbid.
Potentially a bonus if this is your forte, the pace is absolutely manic. If you’re an unbreakable superhero who laughs in the face of World War III and can cauterise your own wounds with gunpowder, you can complete the game in under twenty minutes. Like Swan, leaving you wondering, “This is what we fought all night to get back to?”.
For everyone else, it’s a value for money challenge for life, so perfect for masochists. Even so, it’s all very predictable and not nearly as much fun as some of its forbears that nailed the limited genre several years prior. Amiga Power summed it up far more succinctly in a single sentence than I ever could when they exclaimed, “Oh God, Ikari Warriors Part 84419436540835”, vilifying it with a 17% score. As such NY Warriors is unlikely to draw you back in once flummoxed by your own personal brick wall.
When Luther repeatedly clinks his beer bottles together to intimidate Swan and co., goading them with the improvised line, “Waaaarr-ii-ooors, come out to pla-ee-aaay”, you’ll know immediately the right two-word reply.