Since released in 2005, no other game has really nailed the same sinister thrill of urban vandalism. It told the surprisingly endearing tale of a scrappy gang carving out a name for itself in the blood-slicked streets of '70s New York City. Combining deep beat 'em up combat with copious amounts of looting, The Warriors managed to defy both the curse of the movie tie-in and the excessive controversy Rockstar titles so often kite.
United Front Games, the developer behind the brilliant Sleeping Dogs, plans to fill the gap with its Early Access beat 'em up, Smash + Grab. Despite eschewing a singleplayer story in favor of competitive multiplayer, Smash + Grab channels the same penchant for raging against the industrial machine that Rockstar's classic did. Armed with a lead pipe and a bottomless bag, your goal is simple: smash store windows and grab the most loot. It's all there in the name.
Looting before booting
Now, I'll be the first to admit I'm not much of a multiplayer guy. I spend a lot of time biting the dust in games like Battlefield and Overwatch, so out of respect for my poor teammates, I tend to stick to solo experiences. Smash + Grab has a better solution. Rather than worrying about K/D ratios, each 12-minute match focuses on the looting.
Two gangs, each composed of three human players supported by crews of AI goons, compete to pillage as much as possible from the streets of a cyberpunk city, smashing up storefronts and hunting down loot crates droned in from the sky. While this leads to no shortage of bloody brawling as the stores are picked dry, combat is more of an obstacle to victory than a means of achieving it. Smash + Grab doesn’t care whether you're a badass killer. In my time with it so far, focusing on looting has been a perfectly viable option. Even if—or, more likely, when—I die, the cost to my team isn't as severe as a -1 to our kill count.
Better yet, the combat itself emphasizes tactics over twitch reflexes, giving me a fighting chance against opponents with far nimbler fingers than I. Whether charging into the fray swinging a fire axe above my head, or dancing around the perimeter of a brawl taking pot shots with a nail gun, there are always strategic considerations to make. Do I focus my attention on the enemy player, or the MOBA-like AI creeps shielding them? Do I drop my damage buff now, or wait for my buddy's gang to rush in from the other end of the street? Do I try to hit the timing on a devastating counter-attack, risking a beat down if I mess it up? Or should I just dodge away and regroup?
This level of strategy is present in many of Smash + Grab's systems. My favourite is the Dead Rising-esque weapons crafting. As you pilfer valuables from smashed-in storefronts, you pick up scrap which can be used to augment your weapons with effects like fire damage and bleeding. Swinging around an electrically-charged sledgehammer is mighty fun, and the damage bonus gives looters a leg up against those trying to play the game like a traditional deathmatch. Even the standard weapons have a real sense of weight to them, with every strike of a two-by-four accompanied by a satisfying, meaty thwack.
A PC punching bag
Taking more cues from MOBAs, matches are divided into three phases, with each new phase unlocking more shops to smash and more weapons to collect. Playing as Etch, a support character packing Molotovs and AoE buffs, I start each match with a piddly nail gun, but by the second phase I might be lugging around a slower, deadlier crossbow. By the third I'll have hunted down a thunderous shotgun—which I'll promptly craft into the lightning-infused Shellshocker.
The only real complaint I can level at Smash + Grab at the moment is its technical performance. My machine is far from top-of-the-line, but it still surpasses the recommended specs by a decent margin. Nevertheless, my PC—a GTX 970, i7-3770, and 16GB of DDR4—drops frames regularly, even at 1080p with the settings at low. The Steam reviews reveal a number of people with similar issues, and United Front Games has it's working on fixing them, but it's something to keep in mind if your PC is getting long in the tooth.
For a concept simple enough to be conveyed in two words, Smash + Grab has a whole lot of potential crammed into its loot bag. From its slick, punk aesthetic to its brutally satisfying combat, it might just be The Warriors sequel I've been waiting 10 years for.