John Woo Presents: Stranglehold Review
Stranglehold has been designed as the game sequel to the popular John Woo movie Hard Boiled. The game takes place several years ahead of Hard Boiled. It follows a similar storyline with Inspector Tequila, a renegade cop, fighting for righteousness. When a fellow police officer has been murdered, Tequila jumps right into the action, demanding answers. Unfortunately, before long, he finds out that his ex partner and child have been kidnapped. Waiting for backup would be far too sensible for Tequila, so be prepared to take control of a one man army.
As Stranglehold loads up you will be presented with a cutscene, followed by a game menu, that both resemble what you would expect from a DVD movie. It is clear from the offset that the game has been designed with such a style in mind. As you change between the menus you will slowly pan around an action packed room in the middle of a slow motion gun fight. The menu provides access to unlockable items as well as DVD style extras; Stranglehold may just have the most attractive game menu ever.
Jumping straight into the action, you will soon be surrounded by enemies with nothing but your guns, armour like skin, and lighting fast reaction speeds to take them on. After taking down the first wave of enemies, you will get another, then another and inevitably another before moving onto the next area. This will be the basis of the entire game, progressing through different landscapes leaving behind an endless trail of bodies.
Thankfully the simple game design can become extremely enjoyable, thanks to the gameplay of Stranglehold. The first interesting game mechanic in Stranglehold is the ability to use the environment to kill enemies in style. You will find that you can slide along every table, run up stair banisters, swing from lights and even ride on top of trolleys. You will also have the ability to slow down time (Ed – Max Payne anyone?), allowing for some extremely precise aiming. As can be expected with such a system, the game can turn into an endless attempt to create dramatic fight scenes, diving around the environment as you devastate a room full of enemies.
An additional trait, to add a unique spin on a reused gameplay design, is a meter on the UI, which will increase as you perform stylish moves throughout the levels. This meter has four key points called “Tequila Bombs” that unlock a new ability. These abilities range from a quick health boost, to the ability to clear an entire room in one go. These abilities are extremely useful as you progress through the game, requiring you to play the game with as much style as possible, to gain an advantage.
At several points during the storyline, you will be surrounded by enemies, and presented with a standoff situation. Using one analogue stick to dodge the incoming bullets, you must take out the enemies one by one in a slow motion sequence. Whilst these mini game elements do not happen much during the game, they are an enjoyable addition to the otherwise repetitive gameplay.
The last major feature of Stranglehold is the one that makes the game unique. You can literally turn a beautiful environment into nuclear playground; as bullets affect the general scenery. If you stand behind a pillar, the enemies will simply shoot the pillar until it is a pile of rubble on the floor. Thankfully, whilst this aspect is extremely enjoyable in its own right and adds depth to the otherwise simple gameplay, it has also been used for puzzles throughout the game. You will often find that there is no path present, leaving you to construct your own by destroying specific parts of the environment.
Whilst the games destructible environments are visually appealing, the overall quality of the graphics is mediocre at best. The character models and animations in particular could have been improved, as they resemble the previous generation, more than they do current. The camera can become quite annoying at times, due to the majority of Stranglehold being based in small indoor environments. When you have ten enemies running at you with shotguns, the last thing you want is for the camera to be stuck in the ceiling.
Thankfully the audio helps bring atmosphere to the underwhelming graphics, with fantastic sound effects, creating a good representation of fast paced gunfire; with bullets flying everywhere. This, combined with a musical score fitting the Hong Kong style of Strangehold, provides a fantastic audio representation. The game also boasts a good voice cast that includes Chow Yun-Fat, providing a constant flow of cheesy one liners.
The games storyline and overall presentation mimics the intense gameplay. The storyline is predictable and cheesy, exactly as should be expected for a follow up to Hard Boiled – the storyline provides a decent representation of a Hollywood action film in game-form.
Stranglehold provides an enjoyable experience, which many will enjoy. Unfortunately, the game is shorter than most would hope, and provides little in terms of replay value. That said, you’ll be tiring of the repetitive nature by the end, so it’s probably for the best. The less mentioned about the online aspect of Stranglehold, the better. The online mode is simply a poor conversion of the single player gameplay, only allowing everyone to go into slow motion styled combat together or not at all. This all or nothing approach results in the online gameplay becoming a constant fight against confusion, as chaos ensues in real time.