Genre: Third-Person Shooter
Developer: Midway Studios Chicago
Release Date: Summer 2007
The short version of this is that there are too many gun-toting hoodlums, and Inspector Tequila aims to do something about that. He will thin the herd, as it were.
The long version is that in the last decade or so, video games have become more and more cinematic, using more of the tools of the action movie to represent certain moods, themes, and abilities. Max Payne was arguably the most successful game in this regard; it stole dramatic slow-motion and the visual language of film noir to create one of the first games that really felt like you were playing a movie.
Most of those cinematic tools were invented or perfected by John Woo, so in a way, Stranglehold represents the closing of a circle. He invented these tools, and now he’s using them to create a game that plays, looks, and feels like one of his bullet-opera mid-‘90s Hong Kong action movies, complete with Chow Yun-Fat with a gun in either hand.
Stranglehold is essentially a sequel to Woo’s Hard-Boiled, starring Yun-Fat’s face and voice as Inspector Tequila. When Tequila’s family is kidnapped, Tequila is forced to choose between upholding the law and rescuing them, giving the game that air of moral ambiguity that differentiates Woo’s films from almost anyone else’s.
Whichever way Tequila goes, it will involve depopulating several large buildings worth of thugs. Anyone who’s seen a classic John Woo movie will recognize the camera work, the level of bloodshed, or the general atmosphere of constant destruction here. You don’t just shoot guys; they tumble over backwards, screaming, clutching wounds, as stray bullets blast everything around them into powder. A volley of shotgun rounds sound and have the general effect of an artillery bombardment, and nobody drops after just one bullet unless the bullet was particularly dramatic.
As Tequila, you’re equipped with twin pistols and whatever firearms – a riot shotgun, twin submachineguns, an assault rifle, and presumably more – you can pick up from the fallen. You come factory standard with a slow-motion shootdodge, allowing you to avoid incoming fire while simultaneously blasting your opposition, as well as the ability to latch onto various surfaces and objects for, basically, drama value. You can run along railings, slide down banisters, ride a wheeled cart down a hallway with guns blazing, and in one notable moment, run up the spine of a tyrannosaurus skeleton as you and approximately fifty-three thousand random gunmen turn Chicago’s Field Museum into something that looks like a World War II set.
The more stylishly you dispatch an enemy, the more style points you get. With more style points, you charge up a meter and earn the right to unleash cinematic special moves that the developers call Tequila Bombs. The four Bombs are, as of this writing, a low-power health pickup; a single sniper shot with Tequila’s pistol that’ll automatically drop any target it hits; a barrage of high-powered gunfire that’ll destroy everything in front of Tequila for the next few seconds; and a spin attack, complete with doves flying and Tequila rotating in place while firing his pistols, which’ll drop anything within a certain range of Tequila.
Using the Tequila Bombs wisely is a big part of succeeding at Stranglehold, which isn’t precisely difficult so much as it’s intense. Every screen feels like the beach at Normandy, with half a dozen guys firing John Woo-style assault rifles at you without pausing to reload, blasting everything between them and you into powder. Tequila can take a lot of punishment, but Stranglehold is one long test of your twitch reflexes nonetheless.
I’ll admit that Stranglehold, in some ways, feels like the world’s largest and most ambitious TCM for Max Payne, but that’s by no means a negative criticism. It’s the absolute expression of the balls-to-the-wall action that John Woo basically embodies, but this time, it’s a video game.
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