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Developer: Midway Chicago / Tiger Hill Entertainment
Publisher: Midway Games
Platform(s): Windows, PS3, Xbox 360
While it might not seem like it but the Xbox 360 is now eleven years old and while most gamers have all but moved onto the next generation, there are still a large number of overlooked titles on both the 360 and the PS3 which make them still a lot of fun to hunt down. Titles like Stranglehold, much like Enslaved: Journey to the West, is one of those games that were greeted with much enthusiasm on its release only to drop under the radar shortly afterwards.
One of the early titles for the console, Stranglehold was for a period considered a key game to pick up, especially with its Max Payne inspired gameplay, let alone its connection to Hong Kong action cinema fans and John Woo’s classic film Hard Boiled, for which it provided a sequel to. Here the film’s hero is police Inspector Tequila and voiced by Chow Yun Fat, this time taking on the triad gang “Dragon Claw”, lead by Jimmy Wong.
Anyone familiar with the original film will no doubt lap this game up just on that connection, let alone the fact it plays like pure fan service with players not only getting to take control of Tequila but also getting numerous opportunities to recreate many classic John Woo moments as Tequila dual welds pistols, slides down banisters and generally reduces any environment he enters to rubble as the player is constantly thrust into explosive shoot outs.
Despite being directed by Brian Eddy who is probably better known for his work on Midway Pinball machines than video games, a department he was moved to when Midway decided to close their Pinball team. That being said, John Woo’s fingerprints are all over this game including a surprise cameo in the menu screen which rewards the player with an easy achievement point upon discovery. Unsurprisingly, with Woo’s involvement the plotting of this game, much like his films, is convoluted while at the same time dripping in his usual brand of melodrama, which really is laid on heavy during the cut scenes.
The game play is undeniably similar to Max Payne, which might raise grumbles from some players as to this game trying to pass itself off as some kind of imitator, despite the fact that the Max Payne games original drew this style from John Woo’s movies in the first place, so it’s kind of fitting to see it all come full circle here. That being said, the game still brings its own twist to things as the focus is clearly on trying to give the player the John Woo experience as Tequila is armed with a pair of handguns as his primary weapon and in typical Woo style never have to be reloaded because reloading, unless it can be done with flair or artistry, only slows down the action. Seemingly this theory applies to the video game world as well.
Once more, Bullet-time makes a return here, rebranded as “Tequila Time” which kicks in only when you have an enemy in your target sights. At the same time, environments are fully interactive as they are destructible, meaning you can slide down banisters, slide over tables and even roll around on a handcart with all these moves playing out in slow-motion, enabling you with ease to blast away at enemies in only the most stylised and ludicrous ways possible.
Equally as fun are the environmental elements which can be used to even out the odds from neon signs which can be dropped on your enemies through to the usual exploding barrels there is an unquestionable sense of fun which can be found in basically blasting everything in sight to bits and more so when the player is rewarded for such actions as they are for pulling off stylish moves and filling a meter which gives you access to “Tequila Bombs”. These “Tequila Bombs” can be used to replenish health through to performing a room clearing spin (complete with Woo’s trademark doves) and generally serve to add to the action and often help to level the playing field especially when the game likes to make sure that Tequila is constantly outnumbered at all times.
While the gameplay is hardly the most complex as it consists of working through each level blasting waves of enemies and trying to ensure that you cause maximum carnage possible as subtly is very much an afterthought here. That being said it still manages to keep things constantly fresh as Tequila can pair up a variety of weapons from assault rifles and shotguns through to heavy machine guns and grenades each coming with their usual strengths and weaknesses though the player is leaned towards whatever is the most powerful. The plot also takes Tequila through a variety of interesting environments from the opening marketplace and docks through to a casino and museum which help to ease any sense of repetition that the game could easily have been hampered down by.
There is an option for multiplayer but good luck at this point finding anyone to play it with as this was one aspect of the game which sadly never took off. This however is a minor inconvenience to what is otherwise a highly enjoyable game though at the same it’s largely linear structure means that it leaves little to explore other than trying to track down those last few paper cranes and making replays an unlikely prospect unless your just looking for some mindless fun in which case this game truly delivers in spades.