Developer: Tiger Hill Games
Genre: third-person action
Rated M for violence and language
Version reviewed: Playstation 3
It's no secret that video games have long been cribbing notes from John Woo's movies. Whether it was Rise of the Triad's dual-pistol wielding action or Max Payne slow-motion "bullet-time" gimmick, game designers have dipping into the well of inspiration from Woo's films for years, to the point now that the parts have become mainstays (and some would say cliches) of action games. So it should come as really no surprise that John Woo formed his own game company, Tiger Hill Games, and their first release is Stranglehold, a sequel to Woo's classic shoot-em-up Hard Boiled.
Stranglehold throws players into the role of Hong Kong police inspector Yuen, who is better known as Tequila -- both for his drink of choice and for his over-the-top and very violent ways that he brings criminals to justice. So when an officer is kidnapped and the criminals demand that a lone cop shows up to drop off the ransom, guess who's sent in? Eventually, Tequila learns that the kidnapping was a ruse to bring him out into the open, and the real victim in the case is his ex-wife, who has been taken hostage by a mobster in Chicago. Or has she?
Like Hard Boiled and many other John Woo films, there are many layers to the story here dealing with both police and gangsters, and the place they occupy in the realm of good versus evil. The cut-scenes before and after the levels are actually done very well for the most part, to the point that the player doesn't feel like they're wasting their time watching them, which is sadly the case with far too many games.
Graphically, Stranglehold still remains a fairly powerful game, even after a year since its' release. The character models are extremely detailed, especially the one for Chow Yun-Fat. At times during the cutscenes, you very well might be fooled into think you're watching a live-action movie. It should also be noted that Stranglehold was one of the first games to use the Unreal 3 engine, which means that most everything onscreen is destructible, which you can do with very eye-pleasing results, especially when some poor sap is on the end of an explosion you induce.
The soundtrack doesn't really do anything extraordinary, but everything's solid enough. The gunshots and explosions will reverberate your sound system with the appropriate amount of bass, and the score -- which, like Hard Boiled, is heavy on jazz and classical pieces -- sets an appropriate mood. If there is fault to be found, it's with the voice acting. It really feels like everyone besides Chow Yun-Fat is just going through the motions and cashing a paycheck, plus the fact that everyone talks in English instead of Cantonese is a little off-putting.
Ai ya! Well, now here comes the big caveat about Stranglehold. Yes, it looks great and has nice cut-scenes, but as for the actual gameplay... eh. Don't get me wrong, it's not horrible by any means, but, honestly, Max Payne came out, what, in 2001? If Stranglehold had come out at that time, it would have been jizzed over. But really, third-person action games have come so far in the ensuing years that Stranglehold's gimmick of dual-fisted gunfire coupled with bullet-time... wait, I'm sorry... Tequila-time just seems so trite now.
Stranglehold does try to liven things up with some special moves that you can have Tequila do if you kill enough people, like becoming invincible for a limited time or getting precision aiming. These are nifty the first couple of times you use them, but soon become old hat and stale. The same can be said for the whole sliding gimmick the game tries to clamp onto the player, ala the famous staircase slide from Hard Boiled.
In theory, being able to slide or launch off of pieces of the the environment should be a really cool gameplay method, but the control is so clunky that it turns out to be useless. It's often much easier just to run down a set of stairs and take a couple of hits, rather than getting half of your life snuffed out so you can hit the perfect jump in order to slide on the bannister.
The game does try and encourage the player to do the fancy moves by giving them points which can be traded in at a bar (tended by an uncanny lookalike of John Woo himself) for bonus content like behind-the-scenes videos, character art, and new multiplayer models. That's right, I said multiplayer -- but don't get excited. If there's anyone actually still playing this online, they're probably the loneliest guy out there besides the one straight dude that admits that he's a fan of Ryan Seacrest.
The Bottom Line
Well, this is where things take a bit of a turn. Despite Stranglehold's myriad of problems, I would still whole-heartedly recommend buying it if you have a Playstation 3. Why, you might ask? Well, kiddies, the "collector's edition" very nicely and smartly includes a Blu-Ray version of Hard Boiled on the same disc as the game.
Don't get me wrong, this isn't the perfect version of the film so many fans have been waiting for by any means. The subtitles are too small and there's no extras. Hell, you can't even fast-forward or rewind -- you're just stuck doing chapter skips. But given the fact that you can pick up the disc for less that twenty bones now, picking a copy up is really a no-brainer if you're a fan of the movie. The fact that you'll get a game that'll at least give you a couple of hours of fun is nice icing on the cake.