Third Person Shooter
Style over realism in this cheerful Max Payne rip-off.
Action movie clichÃ©s, we all know them and we all love them. Exploding barrels, Mexican standoffs ending with the lone hero gunning down wave after wave of expendable henchmen and my own personal favourite, the hero who threatens to quit unless the boss stands aside. Stranglehold manages to squeeze all these and more into the game in just the first ten minutes so off gameplay so you can guess where it goes from there. Aside from pumping Shane Black’s big book of screenplays for every drop of action juice it also enlists possibly the two biggest names in the Hong Kong action genre for help in Director John Woo and actor Chow Yun Fat. Along with practically inventing the genre with the movie A Better Tomorrow and then refining it with The Killer before creating the masterpiece of bullets and carnage Hard Boiled. This was essentially the same as the previous movies but with a ‘good guy’ protagonist, Police Inspector Tequila Yeun who returns here for the first time since Hard Boiled.
When he is not hanging around bars drinking and playing in jazz bands Tequila finds time to shout at his boss and enforce the law via the medium of shooting everyone in sight wearing matching white tracksuits or a shades and raincoat combo. This outing sees him cracking down on Triad gangs in league with the Russian Mafia only for them to go and kidnap his daughter living in America. So there you go a plot written on the back of a fag packet but using the likenesses of Fat and Woo as Tequila and John the bartender come special feature seller.
From the same team at Midway that made the underrated gem Psi-Ops: the Mindgate Conspiracy. Stranglehold uses the king of rag-doll physics the Havok engine and Midways own Massive D software. Both of these features come together to make its best feature, the destructible environments. Interior design in Stranglehold seems to be a combination of balsa wood and soggy beer mats painted to look like metal beams and plaster walls. The average firefight will quickly render your surroundings into matchstick sized pieces of debris with the help of all those discarded gas bottles and exploding barrels with the odd falling sign or collapsed pole helping to dispatch any enemies caught underneath them.
In the few brief moments when you are not blazing away or watching a cut scene you will might be manning a turret for a gunning section or more likely in one of the many standoff sections of the game. Here Tequila is outnumbered by a few to a many goons and proceeds to kill them all by making accurate but crucially time constricted shots while swaying to avoid incoming bullets before quickly spinning on the spot to deal with the next goon along. These are often a chore but only pop up once of twice a stage and handy checkpoints often signpost their arrival.
In combination with environmental kills and just plain shooting motherfuckers stone dead are the various Tequila Bombs, four supermoves that are charged by performing stylish kills. In turn to first perform those stylish kills you use your Tequila Time metre to slow time to a sepia tinged crawl to dive sideways, swing on chandeliers, ride carts or even run up banisters all while killing enemies to charge your Bomb moves. The Bomb moves have four effects with a simple health boost, super accurate shot ideal for killing snipers kneecap or just target non-armoured areas of enemies. The barrage bomb will have you blazing away for a short time without the need to reload regardless of the weapons ammo capacity and finally there is the spin attack that can wreck havoc all around you with a 360-degree volley of shots accompanied by Woo’s trademark white doves flying in the background.
Right… I’m not nearly as subtle as the boy Mark here. This is Max Payne dumbed down for the next generation. That oft-ripped off tequ…sorry… bullet-time mechanic worked in Max Payne because it was new, flashy and was sufficiently balanced so that you had to watch your usage incase you ended up in the equivalent of Wu-Tang Clan video with the reaction speeds of… well… you.
In Stranglehold you can leap about clumsily on the off-chance of hitting a bannister or a table with next to no concern for your tequila time stash (unless you are trying to activate the not-that-useful special abilities). Instead of Max Payne’s measured approach this is an all-out shoot ’em up and that’s absolutely fine with me. Sure, it’s not subtle and it’s not particularly clever but it’s probably the first game since EDF to give that ‘pick up and play’ arcadey feel that got so many of us into gaming in the first place.
Secondary Score: 7/10
Using both your Time and Bomb metres in combination is the key to progressing along with judicious use of any cover not reduced to a fine powder by gunfire. Any other attempt at tactical fighting is pointless given both the enemies and your own lack of stealth capabilities. However having been forced through many a needless stealth section the directness of the combat is refreshing. Add to this the old standby of boss characters who can take ten headshots before dying while riding shotgun on a helicopter shooting the same very slow rockets they used in Virtua Cop.
I have managed to avoid comparing this to Max Payne so far so now let us just have at it. Does this game rip Max off? Sure but then again Max ripped off the movies this games is from so it gets a bit murky trying to distinguish who did what first. For my money, this is better. It does not force you to perform any platform sections and for the rather petty reason that, I find the Max Payne use of cod-noir clichÃ©s hard to take. Something else I find hard to take is the multiplayer mode for Stranglehold. While it is not what I would call bad it is totally inconsequential and almost an afterthought given its obvious lack of depth and failure to integrate the Bomb moves into a multiplayer game in any meaningful or satisfactory way.
Overall if you ignore the multiplayer and just concentrate on the single player story you can have a good time. Not £50 amounts of fun more 2 for £40 kind of fun provided you only play in short controlled bursts and take your time to unlock the various concept artwork, trailers and the like. Over long periods, it can get reparative with the grind of jump-shoot-dodge-shoot-bomb-jump-shot but as a fun brainless way of spending half an hour before or after a long slog on a more weighty game it is almost as good as a game of Bomberman or Earth Defence Force.