Positive: Cinematic, over-the-top action, wonderful environment destructibility, solid voice acting, and great sound effects.
Negative: Single-player portion of the game is very short, multiplayer is very much tacked on, and fairly repetitive game play.
At first glance, John Woo Presents Stranglehold may be ignored by the average game player as a Max Payne rip-off. Stranglehold is definitely not a Max Payne rip-off, but it does borrow some elements from the iconic game, all while adding its own original ideas. Fans of Hard Boiled will appreciate John Woo working with Chow Yun-Fat again, even if it is only virtually.
The virtual Chow Yun-Fat looks and sounds just right.
Nearly every part of the environment is interactive. Tequila can slide over tables, counters, run down (and up) rails, jump in a shopping cart and even crazier interactions such as running up a T-Rex in a museum. However, the scenery isn’t just there to slide your buttocks over. For example: killing enemies while sliding down rails will earn Tequila style points which allow him to use one of his four abilities that can be triggered by the d-pad. Tequila’s first ability allows him to restore a portion of his health. The second ability Tequila acquires is called “Precision Aim” and allows you to zoom in on an enemy, and shoot him with one bullet which will usually result in an instant kill. And yes, you can shoot an enemy in the crotch; there are specific animations for it. The third ability is called “Barrage” and makes Tequila invincible for a brief period of time, while increasing the power of his bullets, and giving him an infinite amount of them. Tequila’s last ability is called “Spin Attack” and kills all enemies on screen while doves fly away. After all, this is a John Woo production. Spin Attack isn’t fun to use, but on a higher difficulty it becomes fairly useful.
Stranglehold is clearly a spiritual successor to John Woo’s cult-classic action flick Hard Boiled, and while it occurs more than a few years after the film, inspector Tequila –with Chow Yun-Fat’s likeness and voice– hasn’t changed a bit. He’s still a cop on Hong Kong’s police force, and often “crosses the yellow tape” The basis of the story is the death of a Hong Kong police officer caused by gang members, and the kidnapping of Tequila’s ex-girlfriend, as well as his daughter. While the story and its many plot twists may not be anything special, it’s still good enough motivation for the player to play the game.
Tequila will face many, many enemies in Stranglehold, but he does have some unique abilities to aid him in his quest for his family. The most useful as well as the most used of these abilities is “Tequila Time” which is essentially bullet-time from Max Payne, but with a new name. Entering Tequila Time will slow the world down, but Tequila will still aim in real time. When you pull of a dive or environmental interaction with your cross-hair near an enemy, Tequila Time will be turned on automatically which is where Stranglehold’s bullet-time differs from other games. Also, a button exists which lets the player enter Tequila Time manually, but this feature is rarely used throughout the game.
Occasionally, Tequila will enter into “Standoffs” with multiple enemy characters attacking him simultaneously, but they shoot at Tequila only in one-on-one situations. With the analogue sticks, the player must dodge bullets (in slow-mo of course) while killing the enemies. The standoffs are fairly enjoyable and get very hectic. Of course, in Stranglehold, shooting your enemies is not the only way to get rid of them. Nearly every part of the environment can be destroyed or shredded to pieces with any weapon you get. Occasionally, the game uses the destructibility to create some simple environmental puzzles that are just plain annoying.
Game play is similar to Max Payne, but there are some notable differences to help differentiate Stranglehold.
Stranglehold doesn’t break any new ground visually; in fact the graphical quality is slightly above average. The actual textures themselves aren’t anything special. However, explosions and Tequila himself look and feel polished. The fact that the environment is so destructible completely makes up for the fact that the visuals could have been better. Overall, the general animations could have been executed in a better fashion.
The guns in Stranglehold (pistols, shotguns, rifles, etc.) all sound fairly generic, but the sounds of bullets penetrating and hitting different surfaces are great. The developers did a good job on this end, for example when Tequila shoots a brick pillar, the sound effect is just as the player would expect a bullet hitting bricks to sound like. The voice acting in the game is good for the most part, but Chow Yun-Fat does say a few lines rather flatly, but to be fair he doesn’t speak perfect English.
The main flaw of Stranglehold is the game’s length. The average game player will finish the single player game within six to eight hours. However, the game does feel satisfying once beat and the unlocked harder difficulty setting gives it a bit more replay value. The unlock shop also adds some motivation to replay the game. The multiplayer feels very tacked on with just two modes: deathmatch, and team deathmatch. Only the Barrage and the Spin Attack Tequila Bombs are useful, as Tequila time is not executed well at all due to the fact that everyone has to have it in order for it to be used. Precision aiming is also useless because while the other players move in real time, the player in the mode has his cross-hair moving in slow motion.
Ultimately, Stranglehold is a good game, but a short one. It doesn’t change the way we play games, but the game delivers on its over-the-top action promise. With poor replay value, John Woo Presents Stranglehold may not be a worthy purchase for full price, unless the consumer is a big John Woo or Chow Yun-Fat fan.