Famed action director John Woo makes his gaming debut with Stranglehold, a sequel to one of his greatest films, Hard Boiled. The third person action shooter allows you to step into the role of inspector Tequila, once again played by the legendary Chow Yun Fat.

Stranglehold plays to its cinematic roots very well. Even the menu screen gets in on the act, scanning across action scenes towards sub-menus in “bullet time”. The storyline, rife with twists and turns, is moved along briskly through short cut-scenes. But stunning action sequences are Woo’s bread and butter and the plot takes a backseat to a major amount of ass-kicking.

If you’ve watched any of the videos or seen any of the screenshots, you’ve probably figured out that the game plays a lot like the Max Payne games which, funny enough, were inspired by John Woo’s films. At its core, Stranglehold is very much a straightforward action game; a stunning shooting gallery tied together with the charisma of Chow Yun Fat and the style of Woo. Everything mostly takes place in third person, allowing you to fully appreciate the methods in which Tequila is dispensing the pain. A single action button combined with the press of a direction key allows you to interact with the environment in many ways: jumping onto a railing, lunging and rolling, wall-dodging, swinging from just about anything hanging from the ceiling. This worked well for the most part, but some of the more demanding levels became tedious and I quickly realized that context sensitive buttons and precision gameplay are not a great mix. Particularly, when that button does not understand that lunging headlong into a laser trip-mine is not the gameplay decision I desire to make. The levels are generally set up so that leaping about like a madman doesn’t ensure that you meet your untimely demise.

And leap about you will. In Stranglehold, you don’t want to just kill your opponent… you want to kill him with style! In fact, you get points and bonuses for it! Offing your foe in a particularly cool fashion fills up a portion of your Tequila-time meter. In each of the first few consecutive levels, a new Tequila-time power is granted and as your Kill-O-Meter (my highly technical name for it) fills, you gain access to those powers. You can choose to go all out and use the top level room-clearing power or invoke quick consecutive instances of the lesser abilities. I found myself sticking to the Health Recharge and Barrage attacks, but you may find others to your liking. They are all fun to use. One allows you to pinpoint a shot from your gun to your opponent and then follow the bullet to its target, which really never gets old. The ultimate attack places the game in slow-motion while Tequila spins in circles shooting everything that moves. Unfortunately one of those very cool Tequila-time moves in concert with the end-game Rocket Launcher means that the final two bosses don’t really stand a chance. It might have been wise to make an adjustment for that, because otherwise the boss fights were all pretty satisfying.

You’ll visit some stunning locales in Stranglehold, including the slums of Hong Kong, a museum of history in Chicago, a casino, and one gorgeous big boss hideout. The level design is really solid and you’ll have a great time shooting them all to pieces. In fact, killing your enemy by environmental hazard is one of the most rewarding parts of the game. Anything that can be busted apart is fair game: signs, barrels, heavy machinery, you name it. There’s a great degree of destructibility to the levels of Stranglehold, which lends an air of authenticity – and a great deal of satisfaction - to your encounters.

At various times throughout Stranglehold, you’ll encounter a “stand-off”. These are typically introduced by a cut sequence that shows the inspector strolling casually into a room while enemies pop up all around him from various hidden locations. This minigame turns Tequila from one foe to the next in a bid to outmaneuver and outshoot the villains that have you surrounded. Once the stand-off begins, you’re forced into a close-up perspective with slightly different crosshairs and key actions, and wildly different control sensitivity. The idea of breaking up the largely monotonous gameplay is good, but it was completely unintuitive to suddenly change perspective and mouse sensitivity. A more successful minigame takes place during the second level in which you take to a chopper and mow down the bad guys from a side-mounted minigun. I’d have welcomed another similar diversion late in the game.

Tequila has no shortage of firearms from which to choose, but he can carry only two at any given time. Some are more effective than others in given situations, but realism doesn’t seem to be the goal here, and as a result, you can use just about any weapon in any situation. In the end, you’ll probably just use whatever happens to be lying about when you run out of ammo. Without a weapon, you’ll resort to using your fists and probably won’t make it very far against armed thugs.

The scoring system, secrets, and unlockables go a long way towards giving the game replayability. At the end of the level, you’ll be given an assortment of stats and a letter grade to tell you how you did. In addition to filling up your Kill-O-Meter, points awarded from stylish kills can be used in the Unlock Shop. Manned by Woo himself, this area of the game will allow you to purchase extras with your points. Up for grabs are a large selection of concept art, “making of” videos, and even extra characters for use in the multiplayer portion of the game. There’s enough there that you won’t be able to get everything on a single playthrough. Once you’ve finished the game you are free to revisit any previous levels to earn more points and get a better score.

The audio is another strong point of Stranglehold. The weapons, music, and voice-overs are all well done. The boss characters are especially verbose.

I was unable to find anyone online to test the multiplayer portion of the game, but it does exist, so it’s possible that it may gain a following. In the end though, this game is all about taking out hordes of bad guys in spectacular ways and luckily Midway has crafted a pretty replayable singleplayer game.

Stranglehold is an exceptional third-person action game that focuses on pure shooting and destruction. The plot is not especially deep, but the star power of Chow Yun Fat helps drive things along. The environments and effects are all very well done and showcase Unreal Engine 3 and advanced physics very well. The AI is not overly intelligent, but that’s okay… it falls perfectly into the genre. There are a few bugs and places you can get stuck, but overall it performed very well. Though you’ll experience a relatively short ride (6-7 hours), you can at least play through your favorite parts again and try for a better score and more points to unlock the extras. Midway does a good job, for the most part, keeping the environments fresh, though the gameplay is somewhat repetitive. My biggest complaint would have to be that the controls seem much more suited to a control pad and you can’t change basic things like mouse sensitivity. That’s pretty much an expected and standard PC option.

If you like to deal out destruction by the bucket-loads or are just a fan of John Woo or Chow Yun Fat, then you definitely want to check out Stranglehold.

  • Visual - (9) - Mostly sensational levels.
  • Audio - (9) - Good weapon sounds and music. Great voice-overs.
  • Gameplay - (7) - A bit repetitive, but good arcade action.
  • Value - (7) - Multiplayer doesn't seem to have taken off yet. Good unlockables and replay, but a rather short (6-7 hours) singleplayer campaign.
  • Bias - (9) - John Woo, Chow Yun Fat, and UE3. Awesome!

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