A fun but unremarkable Max Payne clone
Stranglehold (or John Woo Presents Stranglehold, to give it its unwieldy full title) is a quite unremarkable third-person shooter which is mostly fun, sometimes frustrating and always tongue-in-cheek.
Stranglehold is the sequel to Hard Boiled, John Woo’s 1992 action film extravaganza, and it again follows the insubordinate, roguish Detective Tequila (voiced by Yun-Fat Chow) as he must find and save his old love interest, Billie, and their daughter, Teko. In theme, the game is highly derivative of a slightly hokey Hong Kong noir story: with gangsters, the traditional good guy/bad guy dynamic, stylistic gunplay and melodramatic, hammy dialogue. There’s also the obligatory “Fuck The Badge” scene where Tequila gets berated by his commanding officer and then quits. It’s basically Die Hard set in Asia.
In essence, Stranglehold is Max Payne’s spiritual successor – which is ironic, since Max Payne, itself, was highly influenced by John Woo movies. The crux of Stranglehold is in the way you can use “Tequila Time” to slow everything down around you, giving you space to pick off enemies and move strategically in and out of cover. (It also makes everything look and sound super cool.) There are around half a dozen different combat manoeuvres you can pull off using the various objects in your environment; you can dive from balconies, hang off chandeliers, slide down stairway banisters and slide on conveniently placed trolleys. Further, you can use “Tequila Bombs”: special abilities which allow you to heal up or pull off specific attacks (including a pretty awesome 360 spin-attack that kills just about everyone in the entire room). While your Tequila Time meter recharges gradually, there is also a combo meter which fills up – rewarding you for stylish kills – and which depletes as you use up these Bombs.
Most of the levels are very linear in fashion and usually require that you go through all the sections, kill all the bad guys and move on, until you get to the end of stage boss. With only seven levels in the single player mode, it won’t take you long to blast through them all.
As you progress through each level, the difficulty increases. This wouldn’t be a problem if the game were difficult in the right way. Instead, enemies increase in number and start becoming super resistant to your bullets. Because the weapons you’ve got can be fairly inaccurate, and because going in against these guys in close quarters is suicide, I found myself playing more cautiously – placing myself in a position where I could wait for enemies to spawn and then killing them. I don’t think this is what John Woo or the producers must have envisaged when they were thinking about the gunplay. It’s a shame because this takes out a lot of the emergent gameplay to be found in Stranglehold’s – robbing the game of its most appealing asset.
While some of the levels are more colourful, others slip into boring video game clichés. The graphics are okay, without being particularly wow-inducing. The character models – that of the main cast, especially – are actually quite good; unfortunately, some of the object textures are blurry and low-detail. Further, the voice acting is pretty bad and stilted, but it sort of fits with the schlocky tone of the game, anyway. Apart from the unfair manner in which the difficulty ramps up, my other chief complaint is that the sound effects in this game are a little pathetic; the guns all sound rather muted, tinny and, considering the game’s movie heritage, it’s very disappointing.
There are also modified Quick Time Events, albeit in another form called “Standoffs”. At certain points in the game, Tequila will be surrounded by enemies, time will slow down and you will rotate to face each of your assailants in sequence. As they start popping shots at you, you can use the left analogue stick to dodge out of the way, and aim and fire with the right analogue and trigger. While these sequences are initially a novel way to break up the relentless action between set pieces, they lose their freshness after a few goes. Towards the end, especially, these Standoffs can be pretty unforgiving and thereafter become an irritation.
Along with the main set of missions – divided into chapters and accessible through the level select – there is also an Unlock Shop where John Woo, the man himself, tends bar and serves drinks. Check the menu and there are a series of unlockable items – such as game artwork, videos and multiplayer character skins – which can be accessed by spending the points you eventually accrue over the course of the single player game. There is also a multiplayer mode but it isn’t that engaging; besides, it’s almost defunct online as there seem to be very few people still playing.
Stranglehold feels a little too sloppy to be considered a good game. It’s more than a little formulaic, but this wouldn’t be so much of a problem if they’d nailed the formula – which they obviously haven’t. Considering how the short the game is I would only recommend a rental and not a full purchase. Truth be told, you’ll probably see all there is to the game within a day or so, anyway.