It’s hard to have a conversation about the Golden Age of Arcades without somebody bringing up Warlords. One of a very few early four player arcade titles, Warlords was essentially a Breakout-style game that had players defending their own brick fortress from a ricocheting fireball while trying to muscle their way past opposing players’ castle walls. The simple gameplay and competitive nature of Warlords made it immediately engaging and addictive, which is why it quickly became a classic. Of course, Atari would want to give this storied franchise a facelift, which is exactly what they attempted in their aptly named release for PSN: Warlords.
The new Warlords takes the basic fortress-defense gameplay from the original, slaps some polygons over it and adds a few new gameplay elements in for good measure. The goal remains the same: defend your base while trying to destroy your opponents’ castles, but this time you’ll have an army of little “Snoots” to boss around while you try to concentrate on not getting hit by fireballs. The Snoots have 4 basic purposes: attack an enemy base, repair your base, attack enemy Snoots and take control points, which give you power-ups. You can’t split them up, so you’re basically making an executive decision as to which of those four actions is most important to you at any given time.
Now, the Warlords purists are probably waiting for me to say that the Snoots ruin the game and how they should have just stuck to the traditional formula, but the fact is that the Snoots are really the only compelling part of the new game. In fact, the new Warlords does a really bad job of recreating the experience of its arcade ancestor, thanks to poor camera placement and weak sound design. These elements work together with busy visual effects to make certain that the player never really knows what’s going on. Without a satisfying “crunch” sound, or at least some haptic feedback from the DualShock when your wall is hit, it’s never really certain whether your wall has taken damage. The camera traditionally sets up just above and behind the player fortress, which means that the fireball is obscured from view at the point of impact, so often times you can’t tell whether or not you’ve made a last-second save. Of course, players can opt for an overhead view which emulates the perspective of the original game, albeit for a loss of visual punch. The castle design is no help either. The walls crumble little-by-little, but the damage is often so minimal that, again, it becomes difficult to gauge how much trouble you’re in until your walls have fallen down completely.
Yet, the concept of Warlords really is great. The hectic nature of defending your base from fireballs while simultaneously guiding your troops around the battlefield makes for some incredibly tense bouts – especially when the giant Black Knight drops in and starts tearing up the battlefield. Unfortunately, the core mechanics keep the game feeling frustrating rather than exhilarating. Static camera angles and sound effects are easy enough to fix, so hopefully we’ll see a fix or expansion in the future, but as it stands, Warlords fans should probably try it out before spending real money on it.