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John Woo is a director known for his action films which frequently utilize the slow motion effect. When I hear the phrase “Hong Kong action film”, I usually associate that with him. He did make his way to Hollywood and made several successful films in America. Out of all the John Woo films I have seen, Hard Boiled and Broken Arrow are my favorites. Hard Boiled is often considered one of the best action movies ever made and it was followed up by the video game sequel, Stranglehold. John Woo co-founded the company Tiger Hill Entertainment and collaborated with Midway Games to release Stranglehold for Xbox 360 and PC in September, 2007 and PlayStation 3 in October of that same year. For this review, I played the PC version which I bought from GoG. The Collector’s Edition for PS3 came with Hard Boiled+ and you can still find copies for pretty cheap as of this review.
After a fellow cop is kidnapped and assassinated as a result of a war between two Hong Kong gangs, Inspector Tequila sets out to investigate. When he learns that his girlfriend and daughter have been kidnapped, he becomes a one-man army in an effort to save his family and just like the many classic action flicks that center on cops, bullets flying through the air becomes the norm, there’s no concern for private property, and the seemingly endless supply of bad guys are no match for the protagonist. I like the premise but I can’t say the plot hits the same highs as Hard Boiled but it does have a Hollywood feel to it. The voice acting is hit or miss. Most of the dialogue is in English and you can tell it’s not Chow Yun-fat’s native tongue. The actor reprises his role as Tequila and delivers a solid performance. Although, it sometimes seems odd that his accent is so strong and everybody around him can speak perfect English.
Stranglehold is a third-person shooter. You assume the role of Tequila and can run, crouch, dive, and take cover behind objects and structures. However, certain things cannot be used as cover and it’s not always clear what can and can’t be. It can be frustrating in the heat of battle. Tequila will automatically slide over certain obstacles and every so often, you’ll enter a standoff with enemies where you have to dodge bullets and shoot foes as quickly as possible. It’s a neat little mini-game and these encounters do get more challenging as you progress. Some of the later ones can be downright frustrating. One of the more unique aspects of the game is Tequila Time. At the press of a button, you can enter Tequila Time which is just slow motion and it lasts until the Tequila Time meter is drained but the meter will refill over time. Tequila Time allows you to easily kill enemies and you don’t always have to activate it manually. You can dive in any direction which is great for avoiding gunfire and Tequila Time will automatically activate if enemies are in your sights while diving. You can slide down rails, swing on things, ride things, and when performing any of these types of actions, you’ll enter Tequila Time automatically if you have your sights trained on enemies. You can interact with almost anything in the environment which results in a nice sense of freedom during encounters. You can use the environment to your advantage and don’t always have to engage enemies with your feet on the ground. However, some areas allow you interact with literally almost everything around you and I would frequently interact with the wrong thing because the camera wasn’t positioned in the exact right spot resulting in me either losing health, dying, or simply doing the wrong thing which can be annoying.
You are ranked in the chapters or levels based on your performance and you earn stars for Stylish Kills. Stringing stylish kills together raises your combo and the higher your combo, the more stars you earn. Earning stars fills up the Tequila Bomb Gauge. As the gauge fills, different Tequila Bombs or energy moves are activated to be used at any time. But they have to be unlocked first which happens as you progress through the story. You can convert energy into health which can be a big help if you need health and you’re not near a health pack. Precision Aim allows you easily shoot specific body parts and distant targets. The Barrage move makes you immune to most types of damage while you unleash a hailstorm of gunfire. And finally there’s the spin attack where Tequila spins around while firing his weapon, killing all of the enemies in the area. It’s actually a very useful attack if you’re in a tight spot which can happen easily later in the game. Whenever you activate any of these moves, the Tequila Bomb Gauge meter drains and you have to fill it up again which can be done by performing stylish kills or by acquiring the hidden Paper Cranes scattered around the environments. As you progress through the campaign, you’ll be rewarded with style points that can be spent in the Unlock Shop to unlock things like artwork, videos, and multiplayer skins.
You’ll get your hands on pistols, submachine guns, an assault rifle, heavy machine gun, and rocket launcher, and you’ll get to lob grenades. Some weapons can be dual wielded and can often be found scattered around the environments. Ammo never really becomes a problem unless you remain in one spot for too long. Enemies will drop weapons when killed but if you don’t keep moving, you can easily drain through most if not all of your ammo. Most of the enemies you encounter are typical thugs and goons. They’ll run around, shoot at you, rush you, take cover, and don’t exhibit any super intelligent behavior. Snipers can deal a lot of damage, you need to watch out for any foes wielding rocket launchers, and boss characters are more or less bullet sponges. Armored enemies appear later in the game, some baddies will rappel down ropes, and most encounters have enemies pouring in from multiple locations. Enemies will often just stand in place and shoot, making them easy targets, especially in the beginning of the game, and they tend to position themselves in areas where they can easily be killed by an environmental hazard. You do have to watch out for them, yourself, like explosive objects and one level includes laser trip bombs.
There are multiple difficulty modes and I played on Normal. The game starts out easy enough but some of the later levels can be very challenging. In the earlier levels, it seems like most enemies are just waiting to be killed by something in the environment. Around almost every corner seems to be a glint which indicates something to shoot that causes something to fall and crush enemies or explode. I thought the game was going to lean towards the easy side throughout the entire campaign but I soon discovered that’s not the case. The later levels just throw crazy amounts of enemies at you and a lot of them wield deadly firepower. Your health can drain rather quickly when dudes with assault rifles and heavy machine guns are aiming for you. I found that cover becomes less useful later in the game for several reasons. Enemies are everywhere, more of them of will rush you, and much of the environment can easily be destroyed. Staying in one spot for too long will result in death. Tequila Time can be a big help during tough encounters and the game encourages you to interact with everything so there’s plenty of ways to activate Tequila Time and perform stylish kills which, in turn, fill up your Tequila Bomb gauge. The Tequila Bombs can be life savers later in the game. Thankfully, checkpoints are frequent and there’s usually one placed after every major battle so death doesn’t set you back too far.
The story will take you to locations in Hong Kong and Chicago. You’ll blow enemies away in a marketplace, hangar, penthouse, museum, parking garage, and fort and each area is diverse and filled with all kinds of breakable objects. The environmental destruction is impressive. Levels will include missions to complete like protecting NPCs, planting explosives, and destroying things. However, all the levels seem to play out the same. You progress down linear paths and corridors before reaching an open area where a major firefight will take place. Eventually, there’s a cut scene, standoff, and then bullets are flying everywhere. Rinse and repeat. A lot of areas, especially the ones later in the game, simply require you to survive waves of enemies before you can progress. The action can feel repetitive after a while. Health packs are scattered around everywhere and the only real incentive to explore is to find and collect the hidden Paper Cranes. You can view your stats and ranking for a level once you complete it and one thing I thought was neat and humorous is the “damage to world” stat. You’ll get to see the actual dollar amount of the damage done to the world.
Stranglehold looks okay. It’s not the best looking game from 2007 but the presentation does nail the cinematic look and feel of a John Woo film. Jaggies are noticeable and some textures appear noticeably blurry but the environments are diverse and the visual effects are excellent. Everything seems to explode, particles will fill the air during firefights, structures and objects will break apart from gunfire and it looks awesome, muzzle flashes look cool, and during Tequila Time, you can the bullet trails surrounding you as bullets zip through the environments in slow motion. Chow Yun-fat’s model looks great and the ragdoll animations can often be humorous but do make the combat feel satisfying. What’s really neat is that enemies will react differently depending on which part of their body is shot. Some blood will splash when a bullet makes impact but I do wish there was more gore effects in general. The action is accompanied by some awesome tunes peppered throughout. Enemies will scream and groan as they get shot and die and I do think the sound of some of the weapons-fire is lacking. But most sound decent and explosions are loud. On the technical side, I did not encounter any issues.
Stranglehold is a fun game and it’s better than I thought it would be but I do wish there was more single player content and I was disappointed with the small number of weapons. The core gameplay is solid and the game successfully captures the atmosphere and spirit of a John Woo film but things do get repetitive. While it’s neat that you can interact with almost everything, the fact remains you repeat the same loop throughout most of the game. Using the environment to your advantage is one of the game’s stand out features but it doesn’t always mask the game’s flaws. If it wasn’t so much fun riding down rails, swinging on chandeliers, jumping around in slow motion, and watching the environment crumble around you, Stranglehold would be a very generic third-person shooter. The campaign shouldn’t take you very long to beat, the unlock shop is great if you’re really interested in any behind-the-scenes stuff, and the replay value comes from the multiple difficulty modes and trying for better rankings. There is a multiplayer mode but whenever I would try to access it I was greeted with a “disconnected from server” message.
I would recommend Stranglehold to fans of action games and John Woo films. It’s a fun shooter with cool features and some memorable moments but if you strip out the John Woo influences, it’s very average. The action on display here is a pretty good reflection of what you would see in one of his films, mainly Hard Boiled. Ultimately, it’s definitely worth the ten dollar asking price on GoG so I would say give it a shot if you think it looks interesting.