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John Woo Presents Stranglehold
Developer: Midway Studios
Publisher: Midway Games
Platform: Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Release date: 08.27.2007
During the 90?s two names became synonymous with redefining the Hong Kong action genre, John Woo and Chow Yun Fat. With movies like A Better Tomorrow, The Killer, and Hard Boiled, this teaming of actor and director delivered a style of action nicknamed ?Bullet Operas,? referring to the films? stylized choreography and over the top gunplay, which has been copied worldwide in countless movies, TV shows, music videos, and of course videogames. Believe me, without the influence of John Woo, The Matrix might never have been made. Now for the first time, an official game based on this genre is finally here to cater to your itchy trigger finger with John Woo Presents: Stranglehold.

Midway Games must be credited for not only making a game based on these movies, but for joining forces with the two men who made them famous (Chow Yun Fat and John Woo) to insure that everything right down to the last bullet shell is authentic. Stranglehold is a virtual sequel to the 1992 film Hard Boiled with Chow Yun Fat reprising his iconic role as Inspector Tequila, a renegade cop going up against the corrupt Triad underworld.

Stranglehold is played from a third person perspective, and there?s an easy learning curve to get used the controls. The left and right thumbsticks control Tequila?s movements, while the right trigger fires weapons and the left trigger enables Tequila-Time, a slow motion effect enabling you to dodge bullets and make accurate shots when you?re surrounded. In addition you will unlock specific attacks that can only be used when your Tequila bomb meter is filled. There?s a precision shot which sets up an extreme close up on your target, and once you fire, the camera travels with the bullet as it hits the enemy with total accuracy (there?s going to be a lot of shots to the groin). Next is barrage, which sends Tequila in a momentary rage as he becomes invulnerable and kills as many bad guys as he can before it wears off. Finally there?s the spin attack, which shifts Tequila in total bad ass mode as he twirls around in slo-mo with white doves swooping all around him just like in the movies; as he fills everyone in the room with an uncountable amount of bullet holes.

One awesome thing about this game is that when the bullets start to fly, not only do bodies fall, but also everything in the path of the bullets is literally blown to pieces. The level of destruction you can cause is insane, with broken glass flying, beam structures shredded, light fixtures shattering, hanging signs and falling paintings; and anything that can explode?will explode. This destruction effect has been attempted in other games, but Stranglehold raises the bar of chaos until it?s a thing of beauty. When Tequila leaves the room after a gunfight, the walls are barely standing.

All those crazy shoot-outs featured in Hard Boiled can be played out for your enjoyment because most objects in the environment can be interacted with. If you?re at the top of a staircase with a group of gunmen down below, you can slide down the banister Tony Hawk style with your guns blazing to take them down in style. If you see a chandelier, you can use it to swing over to the other side of a room to blow some bad guys away. And if there?s a cart in your view, you can jump on it and steer around the room, killing anyone in your path. The stand-off is one of the sweetest features, placing Tequila in the center of a pack of gunmen ready to blow him away. After a The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly scene set-up, bullets come flying at Tequila in all directions as you use the left thumbstick to dodge the shots fired at you, and the right thumbstick to target the enemy. As you kill one, Tequila instantly whips around to target the next gunmen until you?ve finally taken them all down. Feats like this earn you style points, which are represented by stars seen on the left side of your screen.

There is never a moment to breathe because bad guys will constantly pop out of nowhere ready to gun you down. Most may think this is a little too unbelievable, but hey, did you ever see a John Woo movie? Even in his tame American films like Mission Impossible 2 there are endless guys popping up out of nowhere trying to kill Tom Cruise, so the action in the game does complement the movies. Some might find this to be monotonous, because all you?re doing is shooting at enemies who fit into the same four molds, but there are so many ways to do it with flair that will keep you coming back for more.

The main issue clouding Stranglehold is that games like Max Payne and Dead to Rights stole all of John Woo?s stuff and put it out years ago, which may cause many gamers to feel as if they?re just playing one of those games again with a fresh coat of paint over it, which is a shame because a lot gets lost in translation. The game is a total thrill ride, showing off the Unreal engine, but even a fan of this genre such as myself wished for something more. Maybe a more involving storyline (the game?s plot is really bad), or something that links to the movie, like a character believed to have been dead in the movie returns, or some kind of twist to draw you in, because as it is things are really shallow.
What Stranglehold delivers in solid action, it skimps in the visual department. The character models, including Chow Yun Fat, are blocky and not very detailed. Whenever there?s a close up of any character, their face looks like melting wax. There were many times when characters got stuck in structures or just locked running in place; and when there?s a lot of explosive action going at once, the frame rate stalls and chugs. The environments are nicely detailed right down to the dead poultry hanging upside down in the night market, and the massive statues that line the banquet room. The level of destruction is the main graphical feature that stands out, because you?ll be shooting things just to see how much damage you can cause.

Chow Yun Fat provides the voice for Tequila, but he sounds like someone is feeding him lines and he?s phoning in the rest. This game should have been voiced in Chinese with English subtitles to emulate the feel of watching a Hong Kong action flick. During gameplay the music is barely noticeable because there are so many guns being fired and things exploding, that you won?t even realize its there. When the action heats up, this is a loud game.
replay value
You can knock out the single player mode in about 5 or 6 hours, and checking into Xbox Live allows you to play in a deathmatch or team deathmatch with up to six players. Online gameplay is pretty basic, with the only cool feature being that you can trigger slow motion to take down an opponent. Unfortunately, there was plenty of lag, to the point that you may just sign off and replay levels in the solo mode to do some more gun-play tricks to rack up on achievement points instead. Offline extras include entering a bar to meet up with your favorite bartender (played by John Woo). Here you can use the value of those style points you?ve earned to purchase, artwork, test videos, and deleted concepts from the game.
bottom line
If you?re a huge fan of the Hong Kong action genre and miss seeing Chow Yun Fat in a shootout with bullets and doves flying all around him, you will definitely want to play this game. It?s not covering any new ground, but there is so much action and tricks that can be done, that you?ll never be bored as long as you don?t set your expectations too high. Stranglehold features the old school shoot-em-up style of gaming that many of us grew up on. It?s mindless, but damn is it fun.
Review by: Johnny McNair
Posted: 11/30/1999
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