I could go on for hours about the reliability issues of Microsoft’s Xbox 360, but I’ll limit myself to this introduction. Exactly twenty-five minutes after playing Stranglehold for the very first time, my Xbox decided to give up on me by means of the infamous Red Ring of Death. It was already my second 360, as I had my first one repaired just one month earlier. And so it sent it back to Microsoft’s repair center in Germany to get it fixed…again. Upon receiving my third one (third time’s the charm), I immediately started playing Stranglehold, so I could finally give you my findings…
Stranglehold is a third-person shooter that was developed with the creative input of famous Hong Kong action director John Woo (Face/Off, Mission: Impossible 2, Hard Boiled). This game is basically a digital sequel to that last picture. As inspector Tequila (Chow Yun-Fat), you are tasked with solving the murder of one of your colleagues.
As was to be expected, the story is mere window dressing for the ferocious, explosive action. Stranglehold is basically a clone of Max Payne, though nowhere near as captivating.
The gameplay (hard?) boils down to running through linear levels, all the while blowing stuff up and shooting mobsters in the face, slow-motion style. You can perform a shootdodge (LT) or choose to slow down time manually while running around (RB). In some areas, it’s advisable to take cover behind pillars of walls (mostly during bossfights), but during the bulk of the game, it’s hardly necessary. Despite its simplicity, Stranglehold is still a fun game and as long as you don’t expect anything more than the videogame equivalent of a Steven Seagal flick, you won’t be disappointed.
For the most part, the AI limits itself to simpy running towards you, shouting all kinds of wannabe tough lines. They’re only dangerous when they largely outnumber you (say 10 to 1) and even then, you still have means of disposing them. To be more specific, you can activate four different ‘tequila bombs’, which are basically special powers that you activate after killing a set number of enemies.
The first one is a simple healing power, which comes in very handy when you’re heavily wounded and there are no medkits in sight. Another power lets you zoom in on an opponent’s head and when you pull the trigger, you follow the bullet until it drills its way into the unfortunate victim’s brains. The third power, ‘barrage’, makes you temporarily invincible and grants you unlimited ammo for a limited time, which is very useful against enemy strongpoints. And finally, Tequila has an attack that makes him spin 360 degrees, shooting every baddie in sight, while white pigeons flutter around (a real John Woo trademark).
It’s also nice to see that all your wanton destruction has its effect on the environments. You can pretty much destroy everything there is to see in the levels, from pillars, crates or scaffolding, all the way up to a T-Rex skeleton (which, by the way, will grant you an achievement).
Aside from the spectacular physics, the game’s graphics are actually a blurry, grainy mess. Seeing how this is an Unreal Engine 3.0 powered game, that’s surprising, to say the least. Tequila also has some goofy-looking animations. On the bright side, you’ll visit a lot of different, well-designed locations, such as casinos, museums, markets, slums, restaurants and what have you. The dialogue is unremarkable, mostly due to the corny script and the actors’ heavy Asian accent.
You can probably blaze through the game in six hours or less on the default difficulty setting, without feeling the urge to ever play it again. However, if you’re one of those achievement whores, you’ll probably want to play the game a second time (preferably in hard-boiled mode).
This will also let you garner enough style points to unlock every last multiplayer model, storyboard, making-of, trailer or piece of artwork. There’s also a barebones multiplayer mode (only deathmatch and team deathmatch) for up to six players. However, due to the poor implementation of the slow-motion mechanic (it feels very random), it’s hardly worth spending time with. In my opinion, Midway should have just skipped the multiplayer and spent their money on a lengthier campaign.
Stranglehold is by no means a bad game, but due to a lack of depth and variety, it’s far from being an essential purchase. Fans of the genre and John Woo afficionados won’t be disappointed, but gamers who are looking for something more than a simple, no-nonsense shoot ‘m-up, should look elsewhere.