Genre: Third-Person Shooter
Developer: Midway Studios Chicago
Release Date: September 18, 2007
As the movie industry's output seems to be waning somewhat, it's no surprise that more actors and directors are turning their attention to gaming projects. In my opinion, no one has created a wildly successful crossover game yet, but it's certainly only a matter of time before it happens.
Film director John Woo helps bring some serious over-the-top action and violence to the PC with the first-person shooter Stranglehold. Roughly based on the characters he introduced in his Hong Kong action film "Hard-Boiled," Stranglehold is a story of rival gangs fighting over the lucrative Hong Kong heroin trade. Inspector "Tequila" Yuen ends up in the middle as he helps to locate the kidnapped daughter and granddaughter of a long-established business owner.
Stranglehold features highly destructive environments and plenty of enemies to shoot up and put down. You'll find the same liberal use of slow-motion action in Stranglehold that you'd experience watching one of Woo's theatrical releases. In addition to numerous power-up modes, the game includes a straightforward reward system which allows you to unlock additional media and content specifically designed to enhance the multiplayer modes. Be forewarned: Stranglehold's violence and gore levels can be quite high at times, especially when using the precision aim power-up, so you may want to use some discretion when you have young children around. As you're playing the game, controls and special features are conveniently explained when you encounter them for the first time.
One of the most noticeable features of Stranglehold is that most of the environments are visually busy, and just about everything is destructible. The attention to detail is superb, and there is actually so much graphical detail that usable objects are identified with a pulsating glow, so you can find them a bit easier. The game utilizes a simplified and uncluttered HUD system with the status of the four major power-ups and health status indicators clearly displayed. Although the storyline is a bit clichéd, the voice acting in the game is excellent, especially by Chow Yun-Fat, who reprises his role as Tequila. The soundtrack in Stranglehold is a perfect match for the action and featured locations.
Tequila has some of the wildest moves available in any shooter. He can take cover behind walls and pillars, swing on chandeliers, run and slide on banisters and even dive and roll to evade return fire. He's also able to interact with his environment to a greater extent, using zip lines, roll carts and wall springs to get in and out of trouble. Not only can you crouch in the game, but you can also dive to a prone position and roll, while still shooting at your enemies. With all of the move possibilities and the need to use them in order to increase my style points, I found myself controlling a Tequila who looked like he had too much soda and coffee in his system; after the first few firefights, I was able to get a handle on the moves, and things went much smoother.
In Stranglehold, someone is always keeping score. Each of your kills is rated using a five-star system, depending on how stylishly you performed the kill. Kills where you have utilized the environment to your advantage often rate the highest, while simply gunning down a bad guy will usually only earn you a single star. This rating system is one of the elements that helps support the game's arcade feel. As is the case for most shooters, you will have the frequent opportunity to pick up objects, and beyond the normal health kits and weapons, you'll find origami cranes, which increase your power-up meter by a level. In two of the missions, you'll also be tasked with planting bombs, a process which is simplified by indicators that direct you toward optimal placements.
A major part of playing Stranglehold is playing the game with style. You should be sliding down banisters and handrails, rebounding off walls, sliding across rooms on push carts and gliding across tabletops while blasting away at just about anything that moves or takes up space. Playing with style is not just for the coolness factor; style moves and combos are what allow you to charge and recharge your special power-up abilities.
There are four special power-ups that are sequentially unlocked as you progress through the single-player campaign. The most important is the health power-up, which replenishes a portion of your health. You also have a Precision Aim power-up, which is similar to having a sniper scope; a Barrage Attack, which allows you to enter a repeating firing mode for a short period of time; and a Spin Attack, which allows you to fire in a circular pattern when you're surrounded. At any time during gameplay, you can enter a slow-motion mode called "Tequila Time" by pressing your right mouse button. You're probably familiar with this feature, which was first introduced in the shooter Max Payne; similarly, this mode will only last as long as you have time left on your "Tequila Time" meter.
There are frequent opportunities for you to use objects in the environment against a group of enemies, including air conditioners, rocks, foundation pillars and my favorite, propane tanks. Another unique feature in Stranglehold is the Stand-Off mode. In several areas, you'll be surrounded by multiple enemies and will enter a Stand-Off mode, where everything is slowed down and you're required to shoot multiple enemies in sequence while you also dodge either left or right to miss their bullets. This feature felt more like a mini-game, and I personally felt it disrupted the flow of the experience, rather than adding to it.
Stranglehold includes a straightforward, points-based reward system. As you play the game and accumulate points, you can visit the unlock shop from the main game menu to purchase concept art, game development videos (including a bonus video on how to make an origami crane) and additional player skins for multiplayer mode. What is most interesting about this feature is that the shopkeeper is modeled after and voiced by the director, John Woo.
Stranglehold supports two multiplayer game modes, Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, but you're required to set up an account before you can access this content. When logged in, you have the ability to join a quick match, browse available matches or create your own match with either public or private slots. Up to six players can play together in a multiplayer match. The online system supports a ranking system and leaderboard, but you can choose to not play in ranked games. To my surprise, when I logged in to play, I found very few players on the servers.
I thoroughly enjoyed playing Stranglehold. Although some gamers will not like its arcade level of gameplay, I found the title to be quite entertaining and an excellent tribute to the Hong Kong action movie genre. The single-player campaign is a bit short, and the online multiplayer community seems almost non-existent, but with its intense shoot-outs, amazingly destructible environments and excellent voice acting, the game is worthy of much more attention than it has received. Mature gamers who enjoy exaggerated battles as found in Hong Kong action films should definitely give Stranglehold a try.
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