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.
Large stone fountains, barrels, dinosaur skeletons and of course, melons are all destructive and in some cases, even explosive. In fact the only true enjoyment that can come from the games low middle-point is the tragic beauty of a destroyed casino after a shooting spree.
Speaking of shooting, how can one talk about a true John Woo game without discussing bullet ballet? Slow-motion dives, table slides and cart slides all come together as Tequila’s dance of death, the cornerstone of game play. If used correctly, you’ll be able to take down multiple adversaries while avoiding a barrage of bullets… but if you’re not careful and over use your dives, you’ll quickly find yourself backed into a corner. Things get even worse as the game progresses and diving becomes a suicidal move due to a massive flaw in the game’s design.
When Tequila comes face-to-face with an enemy, he plays it smart and performs a melee attack. His enemies, given the chance, will do the same. The problem is that Tequila can be melee attacked while in the air or on the ground for anywhere from 65-95% damage. That means if there’s a high number of enemies in a small area, say Chapters 3-5, diving is purely suicidal.
The problem is compounded even further by the game’s ridiculously tight camera that makes it nearly impossible to see what’s behind Tequila. Often you’ll get hung up on a low wall or run/dive into a series of deadly melee attacks without even realizing it.
As the game progresses Tequila gains several special abilities called, “Tequila Bombs” that help make it easier to combat the onset of Triad soldiers and Russian mobsters. Precision Aim allows the player to zoom in, and take aim at a distant enemy while Barrage makes you temporarily invincible with unlimited ammo, and
Spin Attack, takes out very enemy in sight. They’re simple in design, but highly effective and make it much easier to complete the game.
Unfortunately for all the effort put into single player campaign, the game is brought down by its rather lackluster multiplayer. With long load times, ridiculous latency and worse balance issues than a drunk, Stranglehold’s multiplayer is not only not fun, it’s downright disgusting. Sure it’s seems fun the first time you realize Spin Attack is an instant kill, but it’s far less fun when you realize that including Tequila Bombs in MP reduces every round turns into a mad dash for paper cranes and powering up your style meter.
Slow-motion is shared amongst all players in MP and only can be triggered when the bar is full. It completely defeats the purpose of using slow-mo and offers no real advantage to either player. In fact, because it makes aiming easier, using slow-mo really only makes things worse.
Stranglehold has a great story and solid achievements that offer solid fan-service, but as far as offering a deep, meaningful experience it’s a few bullet’s short. If you love mindless shooters, don’t need care about the plot and can justify paying full price for a 5 hour experience, then you’ll love the game. If you’re a John Woo or Chow Yun-Fat fan, then it’s probably a must buy. But if you’re just looking for a good quickie, rent this one, get your jollies and send it packing.
John Woo Presents Stranglehold is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood, Drug Reference, Intense Violence.Powered by Sidelines