Our latest look at Midway's Stranglehold takes us to a marketplace that, by its inclusion of tutorial segments and the generally easy pace of the action, looks like it will probably end up being the first level in the game, though the unfinished Xbox 360 version we saw was only a section of the entire game, so even that isn't set in stone.
This third-person action shooter attempts to capture the nonstop, graceful gunplay and stuntlike acrobatics that are commonly associated with John Woo's work, and in those terms, it's feeling pretty satisfying. The left trigger in the Xbox 360 version is used to dive in any direction, though it's also a context-sensitive control. If you're standing near a glowing object or surface, like the handrail on a staircase, Inspector Tequila will hop onto the rail and let you run right up it. The level also has plenty of carts, and running at these and diving causes you to dive onto the cart, which starts rolling forward. You can steer it a bit while you shoot at enemies.
Stranglehold is clearly taking a lot of inspiration from the Max Payne series, and as such, the game also makes a big deal out of slow-motion "bullet time" effects. Here, it's called tequila time. You can enter it at will, but the game also defaults to automatic use of your slow-motion power. If you dive sideways or slide down a handrail while aiming at an enemy, the game slows automatically, making it easy to line up shots and take out enemies. It's a bit different than Max Payne, though, as it slows down only when you're actively trying to line up a shot or pointing at an enemy. This makes more economical use of your slow motion, which is governed by an onscreen meter. The meter appears to refill fairly quickly, though, so running out of slow-motion time was never much of a problem during our stint with the game.
The game looks pretty good, and you can tell that a lot of work has gone into making sure that Chow Yun Fat's character model looks like the real deal. The game has a cover mechanic that lets you hide behind pillars, corners, and so on, and during these sequences, you get a good, up-close look at Inspector Tequila himself. Just like the real thing, he always seems to be wincing as he endlessly fires dual pistols, shotguns, and other weapons at his foes.
You also get a good, up-close view of things during stand-offs. These sequences happen at specific moments in the game, where you end up getting surrounded by multiple gunmen. When this happens, everything gets slow and your movement control is limited to leaning left and right to avoid bullets. The right stick becomes a more focused aiming reticle, and you need to quickly take out each enemy while leaning to avoid their incoming bullets. It's an interesting canned sequence that handles this action-movie standby in a pretty cool way.
With Stranglehold due out in August, it won't be long now until we get to see how the whole game comes together. The action definitely feels just about right, so it's up to the story sequences and voice acting to see if it can form a cohesive, cool package.