Monday, June 30, 2008

Tech: Stranglehold

John Woo is one of the world's most famous action movie directors, and for many, his magnum opus is "Hard Boiled" (AKA "Hothanded God of Cops"). Woo has done work in other media, though, and he lent his name and his creative style to "Stranglehold," a video game:

While "Max Payne" was the first title to really ape the Hong Kong blood opera elements (acrobatic leaps, slow-motion/bullet time effects, and a grizzled but purehearted protagonist), "Stranglehold" does a good job of upping the ante. You play as Tequila, the maverick cop Chow Yun Fat brought to life in "Hard Boiled," and, as you might expect, you're faced with an army of anonymous bad guys to dispatch in each level. There's a story here, but it's pretty thin, and the weak voiceover work and iffy character models suck all the life out of the cutscenes.

At its best, "Stranglehold" does manage to evoke the heroic bloodshed films Woo is famous for. Each level can become like a playground, with railings, chandeliers and strategically placed rollcarts providing ample ways to kill enemies while flying around. At first it's strange to see Tequila sliding around on tables and countertops like his butt's coated with Astroglide, but it soon becomes second nature. And, like the "Devil May Cry" series, as your moves become more and more stylish, your damage and end-of-level score go up.

The big problem here is repetition. You often are forced to fight through environments that, while good-looking, have little variation. You'll be fighting the same hapless mooks throughout the game, and the developers didn't include enough character models - when you're slaying the same bandana-wearing M16 wielder for the 15th time, it starts to get old. Finally, the game isn't all that deep - once you've finished the fourth level or so, you've pretty much seen all the gameplay mechanics there are. Still, I think "Stranglehold" deserves at least a rental.

Rating: 78/100


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