The Warriors hands-on

It's two months since we - and, today, we finally had the opportunity to play the free-roaming street brawler for ourselves.

Beat-'em-ups that provide players with the autonomy to wander around 3D environments have, traditionally, been a disaster. Whether it's the (now long-forgotten) PS2 fist-fest The Bouncer or the more recent Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance, it's a genre that has always sounded like a good idea in theory but left a lot to be desired in practice.

Thankfully, from what we've played of The Warriors, the Rockstar Toronto team behind it has done a solid job in avoiding the classic pitfalls that earlier attempts at roaming fighters have tumbled into.

For starters, while the game does pay homage to classic scrolling beat-'em-ups like Double Dragon or Streets of Rage (by virtue of end-of-level boss fights, for instance), it's not purely limited to fighting followed by interludes of tedious meandering around bare levels.

Many of the early missions, for instance, are based around spraying graffiti tags to mark your territory, lending some variety to the action while also providing plausible reasons for getting you from A to B. While you are free to go where you please, and you'll also be given the option of which of two or three different missions you'd like to tackle next, the game it's actually very linear - and all the better for it.

Like past Rockstar outing Manhunt (with which The Warriors shares elements such as the radar, stealth kills and being able to hide in shadows), it's tightly structured and it's always apparent what your next objective is. Even if it does generally involve stabbing someone with a broken bottle.

Indeed, contrary to the outrageously camp aesthetic of the cult movie on which the game is directly based, The Warriors is definitively violent. Perhaps not quite to the chilling degree of Manhunt but any game that allows you to hurl an enemy into a wall face-first, before they then crumble to the floor in a bloody mess, clearly isn't messing about.

The fighting system itself strikes a satisfactory balance between accessibility and offering a wide range of manoeuvres (an early training level allows you to practise your moves on a load of old homeless guys, which is slightly perturbing).

However, the interface's reliance on simple combos and context-sensitive moves means that the brawling can feel closer to that of a wrestling game than a conventional beat-'em-up and, as such, does run the risk of proceedings degenerating into primal button-bashing.

Your gang of Warriors consists of nine characters, all of whom you get to control at various points (the entire game is also playable as a two-player cooperative venture). Each gang member supposedly makes use of a different fighting style although, to our eyes, there was little distinction to be made between the various scrapping techniques on offer.

The main point of having an entire gang on side though is that players are able to utilise six basic squad commands via the game's War Chief system: Wreck 'em All (attack the nearest enemy); Let's Go (follow the player's character); Watch My Back (defend the player's character); Mayhem (smash everything in sight - useful for looting stores); Hold Up (the gang stays where it is); and Scatter (gang members find places to hide - handy for evading cops).

It's a fairly neat system that seems to demonstrate an impressive level of AI. But while it's certainly a novelty for a game based on hand-to-hand combat, we're yet to be convinced as to whether it will genuinely add an extra layer of depth to the game or whether it could end up as little more than a gimmick.

Still, this is a bold and ambitious attempt to add a contemporary twist to the much maligned beat-'em-up. In fact, The Warriors could finally drag fighting games kicking and screaming (literally) out of their retro-tinged ghetto.

The Warriors will be released for PS2 and Xbox on 21 October