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|ESRB rating: M
release date: Sep 05, 07
|» All About Stranglehold on ActionTrip|
"As a cop, he has brains, brawn, and an instinct to kill."
The above tagline is from a John Woo movie, "Lat sau san taam," also known as "Hard Boiled," and it goes a long way to encompass the spirit of Yun-Fat Chow-portrayed bastard child of Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood, the colorfully named Inspector Tequila.
15 years after the movie's release, the hard liquor inspector is back, this time in digital form, and in a game from Tiger Hill Entertainment and Midway, called Stranglehold.
Unlike in some other games that had a famous director's signature next to their name, John Woo's Stranglehold has the Hong Kong movie maker's marks all over the place. The game both artistically and choreographically carries the recognizable Woo flair for dramatics, so it's not at all surprising that the gameplay is sort of molded to correspond to the direction of the firefight scenes.
That said, from the moment I laid my eyes on Stranglehold, it unquestionably reminded me of Remedy's Max Payne. It should be said, however, that the footage that was released and simply watching the action from Stranglehold, can be very misleading. Once you actually sit down to play this one, you realize that the dynamics of the level design and just the overall pacing of the action are much different from Max Payne.
Granted, Tequila Time is almost comically similar to Max Payne's bullet time, or was that the Matrix bullet time? I guess you see my point. The bullet time concept has been thrown around so much, one almost considers it public property nowadays.
Still, the dives as you enter bullet time are a clear throwback to Max Payne, so some obvious similarities are simply too damn obvious to ignore. Even here, however, it's the small touches like entering bullet time automatically as you dive while facing an enemy, that make the whole experience more streamlined.
Once you start playing Stranglehold, you realize that this is a true-and-true Hong Kong action title. In that very fact alone, the whole noire detective panache of Max Payne is removed to make way for a much more consoles-geared feel to the action. At some points while playing Stranglehold, I had flashbacks of Dead to Rights. Most definitely, this game feels a lot more like Dead to Rights in its pacing and the way in which the intensity of the action culminates towards the next save point.
As such, Stranglehold is a very linear title with clear emphasis on smooth arcade action that's seasoned with the heavy use of the Havok physics engine and the Unreal Technology. Right off the bat, I was able to sort of slide into the mechanics of the firefights, almost effortlessly getting the grip on things as the action heated up from the very first level. The fast-paced nature of the campaign won't give you a moments rest, and even so, the cinematic interludes between missions will include the cohesive elements, which keep the story together. This is, obviously, where John Woo has stepped in with his expertise. While the action has a "Face Off" vibe to it, with countless slow motion moves that look like ballet miniatures with guns, the interludes bring out the underlining drama of a Hong Kong action flick - for whatever that entails. Stuff like flashbacks to events that bring the characters together, and more.
Setting aside all the John Woo touches, you can say that Tiger Hill had a clear vision of what they wanted to do and achieve with Stranglehold in terms of gameplay. The technology is put to good use as two billion in-game objects are tossed about and seen flying around in the air in the heat of battle, and Tequila is able to interact with stuff in the environment, winning style points for cool kills while, for example, sliding off a railing.
The strategically used graphic violence also plays its role quite well, as the accuracy shots (a special mode which can be used once your special shot bar is at a certain level) add that extra "OOMPH" to the kills. You'll know what I mean the first time you pull off a groin shot and watch the bad guy go down while grabbing his crotch in slow motion. The locational damage model works excellently, so each of these accuracy shots will have a very believable animation corresponding to the area of impact. When you think about it in terms of the core components of gameplay, these special moves that Tequila pulls off add quite a bit of flair on top of the standard bullet time mode.
8.3 Very Good
Fast-paced, seamless and nicely choreographed action, destructible environments, special shooting modes, John Woo touches;
Camera issues, very good game with clear limitations.