It's a solid action game that may hold your interest, but it won't blow you away like the movie that inspired it.

User Rating: 7.5 | Stranglehold X360
The idea of making a game that's a direct sequel to a John Woo film sounds like a can't-lose formula for sheer awesomeness. After all, the director's distinctive style has already served as the inspiration for the hugely successful Max Payne games. But the end result is, perhaps, a bit underwhelming. It's a solidly made action game that may hold your interest for the eight hours or so that it lasts, but it won't blow you away like Hard-Boiled did the first time you saw it.

Stranglehold is a sequel of sorts to Hard-Boiled, in that you play as Inspector Tequila, the character played by Chow Yun-Fat in the film. When Tequila's ex-girlfriend and daughter get caught up in an organized crime double-cross, he heads out to rescue them with both guns blazing. It's a totally typical setup and isn't very interesting but definitely provides Tequila with a suitable excuse to kill lots of dudes. Still, Hard-Boiled and John Woo’s other films typically have some moments of overblown emotion to match all the overblown action, and in this regard Stranglehold falls short.

Comparisons to the Max Payne games can't be avoided, and to anyone who has played those games, Stranglehold will feel very familiar. What Max Payne referred to as Bullet Time is here called Tequila Time, but it works the same way. When you activate it the action shifts into slow motion but you still aim and fire in real time, giving you a big edge on the hundreds and hundreds of expendable goons the game sends after you. This concept doesn't feel quite as fresh today as it did when the Max Payne games were released, but it's still fun to see all the mayhem slow to a crawl and to take that perfect shot as you're diving through the air. Through it all, you’ll have a nice assortment of weapons at your disposal, including pistols (one in each hand, of course), submachine guns, shotguns, assault rifles, and the occasional rocket launcher or very powerful golden pistol.

Stranglehold also introduces a number of new elements to the formula. Most significant is the fact that you can interact with the environment in a number of ways. Tequila can take cover behind things, kick up tables, jump off of walls, run up or slide down railings, hang from chandeliers, jump on rollcarts, shoot signs, light fixtures and other objects so that they collapse onto bad guys, and so on. And as the bullets are flying, the environments are constantly falling apart. Concrete pillars crumble to reveal the rebar underneath; plaster tiles shatter; wood splinters. The environmental destruction in Stranglehold is pretty spectacular.

Tequila also has a few special abilities, called Tequila bombs. One lets you refill a small amount of your health. Another lets you take slow and precise aim at enemies near or far, and the camera dramatically follows your bullet and provides a close-up of your target spewing blood after the bullet strikes. The third lets you unleash a barrage of ammo on enemies without taking damage yourself for a short time, while the fourth has you spinning around like the Tasmanian Devil, cutting down any nearby enemies in a hail of gunfire while John Woo’s signature white doves inexplicably fly out of your feet. To make use of these moves you need to fill up your Tequila bomb meter, which you do in two ways. One way is by earning style points for your kills. You get at least one style point for any kill, but you earn a lot more for killing people while jumping off of walls or sliding down ziplines or doing other crazy stuff. The other way is by finding the paper cranes that are scattered throughout each level. The moves are useful for getting out of the occasional tight spot and help give the game a bit more over-the-top cinematic flair. Speaking of which, you’ll also occasionally find yourself in what the game calls a standoff, where Tequila is surrounded by thugs on all sides. In these situations the left stick is used to lean left or right to dodge incoming fire while the right stick is used to aim, and you need to pick off the bad guys one by one. Like the Tequila bomb moves, it’s pretty absurd, but it’s fun, and Hard-Boiled wasn’t exactly a study in realism.

The game’s campaign is quite short, with seven stages that will probably take you roughly an hour apiece. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that the game doesn’t last longer than that, as the gameplay isn’t really deep enough to stay interesting beyond that point. Players who enjoy the game will probably get more out of replaying those stages on harder difficulty levels than they would out of a longer game anyway. The game missteps a bit in the early levels with a few environmental puzzles that slow down the pace of the action, but later on these elements disappear and Stranglehold becomes a nonstop gunfest. On the default difficulty the game is relatively easy for the most part, as the bad guys are pretty stupid and will obligingly stand in an ideal place to be shot or to be crushed under some convenient overhanging object or blasted to kingdom come by a nearby explosive barrel, though to be fair, they’re pretty stupid in the movies that inspired this game, too, and exist pretty much only to be mowed down by the hero. The only threat they pose is in numbers, and the game sends them after you by the hundreds. There are also a few boss battles, but these are usually just a matter of figuring out the boss’s weakness, or being told what it is by the game’s hint system. The tougher difficulty levels definitely provide a significantly greater challenge, though.

Stranglehold also has a multiplayer online mode, but the game’s focus on stylish gunplay doesn’t carry over very well. Instead these modes often turn into a race for the paper cranes and the most powerful weapons, and whatever player manages to fill up his Tequila bomb gauge and pull off a barrage or spin move first is pretty much unstoppable. It’s also worth noting that the online community doesn’t seem very robust at this point, and we’ve had trouble finding games at times. Ultimately, the single-player mode is certainly the main attraction here.

Stranglehold looks nice, and as mentioned earlier, the most impressive thing about the visuals is how the environments fall apart. Throughout the game you’ll wreak destructive havoc in a Hong Kong marketplace, a casino, a posh Chicago penthouse, a museum, and elsewhere, so there’s no shortage of things to blast to bits. Aside from that, your enemies often go down in bloody, spectacular fashion. The character models look pretty good, with Chow Yun-Fat looking a little too shiny but sporting his signature scowl and carrying some of the charisma of the man himself. Of course, Chow provides Tequila’s voice, and he and the rest of the cast do a fine job, though it’s too bad the story itself isn’t a bit more interesting. The rest of the game’s sound presentation also gets the job done, with the music being a mix of typical action movie orchestrations and traditional Asian sounds, and the noises accompanying all the destruction sounding like they should.

You’ve most likely played games that are a lot like Stranglehold before, and it’s certainly not the most innovative game on the market. But it does what it sets out to do well enough that most fans of over-the-top action will probably enjoy it. There’s not enough content here to justify a purchase, but if the thought of blasting a bunch of mooks in slow motion sounds like fun, Stranglehold will probably keep you entertained enough to justify a rental.

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