Stranglehold Hands-On - A Night at the Museum

We throw down in an updated version of Midway's upcoming John Woo-inspired action game.

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LAS VEGAS--Midway showed off an updated version of Stranglehold, its upcoming action title made in collaboration with director John Woo, at its Las Vegas press event. A short presentation on the game showed two videos. One video highlighted the work that's going into crafting Woo's signature gunfights in Stranglehold; the second focused on Woo and actor Chow Yun Fat's involvement in the project. Once the presentations were over, a playable version of the game was up and running on the Xbox 360, which let us try out a new level set in the Chicago Historical Museum.

The playable demo at the show broke up the level into three chunks named after areas you'll be going through: party room, dino room, and slate room. You could choose to jump to each individually or start out at the beginning of the level--the party room--and go through each area sequentially. The demo opens up with a film that sets the stage for the action as nefarious dudes spirit away damsels in distress and Inspector Tequila arrives. The party room is basically a large multilevel area where you race through rooms and go up stairs, shooting up your foes in a stylish fashion. The next area you race to is full of massive dinosaur fossils that you can actually run up or swing from, including T-rexes and pterodactyls. Finally, the slate room features fossil slab displays.

The three areas work well to show off the various new features in the demo. The party room lets you get up to speed on the basics of Tequila's abilities, the centerpiece of which is a dive that can shift to slow-motion "Tequila time" so you can aim at your enemies. The time slowdown kicks in automatically as you dive and aim at an enemy. You can also trigger it manually by hitting a shoulder button. If you manage to take out enemies while in Tequila time, you'll be rewarded with points that go toward filling a meter in the lower left-hand corner of the screen that contains the four Tequila bomb abilities.

These four special abilities are laid out in a cross-style pattern, matching their assignment on the 360 controller's D pad. When your meter is full, pressing up on the D pad activates your precision shot, a sniper-style mode that zooms in your view and lets you fire a single shot with pinpoint accuracy. Pressing right on the D pad triggers barrage, which slows down time and lets you shoot off a flurry of bullets in rapid succession for a short stretch. Pressing down on the D pad triggers your spin, a flashy 360-degree hail of gunfire that wipes out enemies around you. Finally, pressing left on the D pad uses up a portion of your meter to restore health.

The dino room lets you perform Tequila's more advanced moves, such as hopping and running on railings or the various dinosaur skeletons laid out in the room or hanging from the ceiling. Besides looking cool, performing stylish actions rewards you with tequila points--the more impressive the move, the greater the payoff and the faster your meter will fill. You'll also be able to take cover and pop out to shoot. Taking cover plays a larger part in the slate room because you'll make use of the fossil slates to avoid fire from enemies that are coming at you from every direction. The downside is you'll quickly discover that slabs of fossils don't have much staying power in the face of a hail of bullets, so you'll have to keep on the move.

Stranglehold's visuals were very sharp and sported some extra polish since we last saw the game in motion. Inspector Tequila is a polygonal sight to behold, reflecting the meticulous work done by the team to capture Chow Yun Fat's likeness in the game. The other characters come close, especially in the nicely produced cutscenes, but don't quite match Tequila's quality. The museum environment is a little on the plain side but sports a lot more character once you start trashing it. The unassuming museum features a respectable amount of destructibility that is in line with the game's much-touted massive-destruction feature. You can shoot up just about anything you see around you with varying results. You'll break the glass and perforate the bases of displays, completely decimate dinosaur fossils, shatter vases, and blow apart columns to call out just some of the payoff you get from making use of your arsenal in the game. The action is enhanced by the use of various filters that represent Tequila time or the Tequila bombs.

The good inspector mixes up his own special Tequila bomb for his friends.
The good inspector mixes up his own special Tequila bomb for his friends.

Finally, the game's cinematic style is definitely coming together well, offering dramatic camera angles during the different Tequila bomb and Tequila time sequences. However, as nice as the game is looking, there are a few rough spots, most of which are to be expected in a work-in-progress game. The frame rate isn't quite consistent yet and dips when things get crazy. The camera also has a tendency to go weird during hectic times, which makes aiming a challenge. Lastly, animation is still inconsistent in places and makes your enemies move awkwardly.

The audio in the game is very satisfying, thanks to a focus on what you'd want to hear out of a game based on a John Woo movie: gun sound effects and plenty of them. The gunfire is punctuated by the equally satisfying sound of objects blowing up when you get on a roll. Besides all of the gun-related audio, you'll get an earful of speech during the cutscenes and as you go about your business of shooting everyone up. The soundtrack offers an understated accompaniment to the mayhem, which we're on the fence about; we'll want to hear more before we decide if it works for us or not.

Based on this latest level, Stranglehold is coming together pretty well. The overall gameplay is solid and definitely has appeal. The rough spots we mentioned dull its sheen a bit, but we're hoping they'll be addressed by the time the game ships to ensure the game lives up to its potential. So far, development is headed in a positive direction, so we're eager to see more of the game. Stranglehold is currently slated to ship this summer for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. Look for more on the game in the coming months.

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