Back in August, I gave my impressions on the Stranglehold demo and claimed it had potential to be the best licensed game ever made. Oh, how wrong I was. Like so many games to come before it, Stranglehold falls victim to short playtime, artificial extension and tacked-on multiplayer.
The opening two chapters of the single player campaign are phenomenal and quite possibly the best action levels you’ll ever play. You’re constantly running, dodging, diving and taking cover behind easily destroyed concrete while swarms of enemies unleash a torrent of bullets in your general direction. Occasionally you’re given a remedial task like blowing up drug labs that slows the pace down, but for the first few chapters they’re few and far between.
Unfortunately the game comes to a crashing halt in Chapter 3 when suddenly you’re no longer engaging in huge open battles, but instead fighting in small arenas where you have to kill wave after wave of enemies until the exit finally opens. It’s not so bad for few rooms, but when it continues into Chapters 4 and 5, it becomes easy to get frustrated and even bored.
It’s clear that the developers had a good idea of where they wanted to take the game story wise, but it’s even clearer that they got lazy when it came to translating that story into actual levels. Like so many action games before it, Stranglehold tries to justify its price tag by stalling the plot to buy time rather than building upon it to produce a deep and truly engrossing experience. Thankfully things pick up again once you return to Hong Kong in Chapter 6.
A lot of effort went into the game’s level and art design, especially when you’re in Hong Kong. Perhaps this is because of John Woo’s involvement and a predisposition for his homeland, or perhaps it’s because the dev team spent so much time researching the environment, but either way the city of Kowloon is gorgeous, vibrant and wholly destructible. Like Murphy’s Law for pottery, ever thing that can be destroyed, will be destroyed.