John Woo, one of the greatest names in cinema, brings his kinetic style and breathtaking eye for beauty to the video gaming arena with the explosively amazing Stranglehold.
Before launching on an extremely successful American film career (Face-Off, Mission Impossible II), John Woo was perhaps Hong Kong’s greatest director. He virtually established the Hong Kong style with the “double impact” of The Killer and Hard Boiled. And it’s the second of those two films that has the most influence on John Woo’s Stranglehold.
Stranglehold is the literal sequel to the explosive Hard Boiled, reacquainting the audience with Inspector Tequila (again played by the charismatic Chow Yun Fat, in a startlingly realistic motion capture) and all his crazy gun-playing, pop-locking, dove-flying, bullet-timing, eyeball-shooting madness.
In a commercially sensible, though somewhat disappointing, move the game transports the movie’s setting from the original Hong Kong to America, thereby allowing Tequila and the rest of the cast to speak in English. The story is typically dramatic and sends Chow Yun Fat on a mission to chew gum and kick ass, and guess what? He’s all out of gum.
With the story being somewhat confusing, it’s a great thing that Tiger Hill has made the gameplay so accessible. Has shooting people ever been as much fun? Few games can replicate the truly impressive feel of Tequila sliding across tables, machine-gunning his way through massive hordes of hiss-inducing enemy forces and slipping between slow-motion and full speed.
Anyone remotely familiar with the iconic Max Payne games will feel immediately comfortable with Tequila’s controls. The characters interact with a rare feeling of depth; bullet hits and the Massive D destructible environments all feel solid, giving the game a realistic touch that many in the genre are missing.
Tiger Hill has managed to blend some great level designs in with a brilliantly fun shooting mechanic to make Stranglehold one of the best examples of next-gen gaming. An impressive audio design means that bullets whine, concrete shatters and buildings rock in synch with the frenetic on screen gunplay.
The HUD is kept as uncluttered as possible, with a life bar, ammo counter, Tequila time and Tequila bomb displays being the only visual distractions from the brutal explosions and nut shots. Tequila time puts the game into slow-motion, ala Max Payne, allowing players to smoothly avoid incoming fire while accurately decimating the stunned opponents.
The Tequila bomb, on the other hand, is slightly more innovative. As Chow Yun Fat obliterates his enemies, the Tequila bomb builds up, allowing access to four progressively more powerful special powers; these powers go from a simple health boost, all the way to a 360 degree, twirling bullet frenzy.
And just like that it’s over. Stranglehold’s single-player campaign is reasonably short, and only made slightly longer by a greater difficulty in the second half of the game. While it does feature some limited multiplayer options, it’s the story mode that is the main focus of the game. Yet many players will be drawn back into Woo’s detailed world to replay the experience over and over again.
Just like a John Woo film, Stranglehold is packed with over-the-top action sequences and only a slight regard for a resonating story. But when the gunplay is as orchestral and fluid as this, few will even consider what the hell is actually going on. A strong contender for the most fun to be had in a game all year, John Woo’s Stranglehold is the next best thing to being in a movie.