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PC Game Review: John Woo Presents Stranglehold

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It’s been a long, arduous journey, but Midway’s bullet riddled, spiritual sequel to John Woo’s 1992 film, Hard Boiled, finally makes its way to the Xbox 360, PC and, in the coming weeks, the PS3 with much anticipation. But now that it’s finally here, how does it fair against other recent, like-minded shooters?

First and foremost, one thing I’d like to get out of the way is that there are a lot of bugs to be found in the PC version of Stranglehold. Although I only experienced desktop crashes, they were frequent enough to be a hindrance to game play. Although the recommended system specs are fairly high, I’m not using a particularly powerful system and I still got fantastic performance out of the game. Some players will, more than likely, dislike the inability to tweak no more than three video options (resolution, shadows and decals), but Stranglehold, according to Midway, was designed to play on aging machines as well, so the textures may already be set at their desired levels to achieve maximum performance.

When you hear the phrase “nonstop action,” Stranglehold should immediately come to mind. There was nary a moment during game play where I wasn’t given an objective that didn’t have me shoot at some thing or someone. Couple that with the ability to pull off insane acrobatics like rail sliding/running, shoot dodging – either in real-time or Tequila Time – and innumerable other cool moves and you got yourself one fun experience. Stranglehold is very action heavy and some may find it repetitious, but if you yearn for no-holds-barred “twitch” with absolutely no concessions made to those seeking an “intelligent” game, feel free to dig right in.

Like many other next-gen action titles, Stranglehold utilizes the Unreal Engine 3.0 and, as expected, it looks fantastic. Not quite as fantastic as a small handful of other games currently squeezing the most out of this engine but solid nonetheless. The bloom used throughout gives the game a very unbelievable feel, boding well for Stranglehold‘s over-the-top approach. The character models, though, are where development time was most obviously focused.

Sadly, however, environments seem to be a general afterthought, though the ability to destroy just about anything in each locale (thanks to the Massive D physics engine) or use them to your advantage (i.e. shooting a sign over an enemy’s head causing it to fall down on top of him, immediately killing him) is quite innovative. If anything negative can be said about Stranglehold graphically, it’s that sections of levels can get visually repetitive due to a lack of variety in environmental textures, but compensating for these deficiencies are the excellent character models & Massive D physics.

When I got word that Chow Yun-Fat would be reprising his role as Inspector Tequila from Hard Boiled, I knew Stranglehold would be much more than a shallow attempt to cash in on John Woo’s name. Not only does Yun-Fat lend his voice and likeness to the project, but Mr. Woo does so as well (watch out for him as the proprietor of the game’s Unlock Shop). Voice acting is generally solid, including Yun-Fat’s, though his emoting could use some work. I won’t fault him for it, though, as English isn’t his first language. The sound effects, however, are phenomenal. Sound design is another major factor in accomplishing the feel of, in this case, a big budget action film, and Midway’s development team shines through in this particular category as well.

Stranglehold‘s online play, though fun, lacks the polish of other recent shooters’ multi-player component. Game modes include only Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, there are only a scant seven maps to choose from and a maximum of six can play on any given map at a time. Those aren’t very impressive figures, but the ability to use slow-mo (when, of course, everyone else is using it as well), the single-player Tequila Bombs and just about every other in-game feature makes it refreshing despite its shortcomings.

Stranglehold promised to be an enjoyable romp through a virtual John Woo film and on that promise, it delivers. Just take it for what it is and enjoy it for the six hours that it lasts. It’s nothing more (and nothing less) than what it hinted at being when the gaming community first caught wind of it. But whoever said that was a bad thing?

John Woo Presents Stranglehold is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood, Drug Reference, Intense Violence. This game can also be found on: PS3, Xbox 360

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About Thomas Steenhagen