2007 Reviews

John Woo's Stranglehold

  • Review Date: 2011-09
  • Release Date: 2007-09
  • Developer: Midway Games
  • Rating: 7.5

First I'll cover John Woo, acclaimed Hong Kong action movie director who is behind Stranglehold. Now I've seen most of his top movies; Hard Boiled, The Killer, Bullet In The Head, Police Story, and his western movies Hard Target, Broken Arrow, Face/Off. I like a good action movie or a good crime/drama, but none of his movies have been very memorable for me. In fact I can barely remember a thing about Hard Boiled, and it's only been a couple years since I saw it! Stranglehold is the video game sequel to Hard Boiled. I'm not sure that it really features much of the plot, it's really just the same guy (Tequila, voiced/played by Chow Yun-Fat) in a completely different story.

The story in Stranglehold follows Tequila as he tries to get his long lost love and child back from a gang, who are using them to blackmail another gang. So Tequila sides with both gangs at some stage in order to get his family back. The story is okay - plenty of action movie cliches and rather predictable, but at least there is a story going on with cut-scenes throughout. I would have hoped the game would have featured something a little more interesting coming from John Woo; I could have thought up this plot in five minutes, but a game with a good story is rare. But the player model looks just like Chow Yun-Fat, which is great.

The gameplay in Stranglehold is straight-up action mixed with Timeshift and Max Payne. Bullet-time is important and used constantly during battle. There is a cover system, but it's not necessary, thank god, but jumping is missing. You also have special abilities which build up over time as you kill bad guys - simple health boosts, precise slow motion sniping, a fury mode where you can't be hurt and don't lose ammo and a spinning attack. They were good little features, in particular the sniping and fury were very helpful during boss fights. But I ended up using the health boost the most.

Weapons are all okay. You have only two weapon slots so I mostly stuck with the few machine guns and pistols. You do go through ammo quick and have to switch weapons often, but there are plenty around. Only the shotgun I didn't like - it was a bit useless unless at very close range. Overall the combat was fun and quite constant. Sometimes it felt a bit Painkiller-esque as you seem to enter one arena and have a set number of spawning enemies before you can continue to the next arena, but other parts of the game were more flowing so Midway didn't overdo the arena feel. Nor did they make the common mistake of endless spawns until the player moves forward - I really hate games that do that.

Stranglehold does feature a checkpoint system, so marks down for that as always. But it's not so bad here as the game won't have you dying over and over. I played on the lowest skill setting because I hate checkpoint replays, so I only died several times during the game at the most (mostly boss fights), but it wasn't stupidly easy either. There was still some challenge and strategic gameplay involved. The final level was suitably tough.

Stranglehold uses Unreal Engine 3.0, so it's no surprise that the game looks good. Unfortunately Midway really struggle with the structure of the levels from an aesthetic viewpoint, instead relying on lots of debris and detail instead of fantastic open levels. The levels are often very small and tight. When I got to the Slums level it started out with a great looking scene over a run-down city, but before I knew it the level had turned into trekking through tiny rooms, sewers and corridors. You also get to play through a museum, a penthouse building, a massive restaurant, even the Hong Kong marketplace, but while they all look really good, they're also quite small. Only the Tai O island opens up a little, filled with wooden huts and walkways through the island bays.

Strangehold may not do islands as pretty as Crysis or restaurants and casinos as impressive as Rainbow 6, but there's nothing to really complain about with the design.

The only major bug forced me to change the resolution every time I started the game or I'd just get a black screen. A minor annoyance though since I completed the game almost in a single sitting.

Usually after playing a game I know exactly what it did wrong and what to complain about. But in Stranglehold, to be honest, there's nothing really that bad here. It's just a good, action-packed game to add to the collection. Decent design, fun gameplay. Perhaps it's only big flaw is it's very short length and only seven levels.

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