I have always been a big fan of cinematic action games, ones that immerse you with its story and allows you to be a part of the narrative. Today we are checking out a game that follows this path - John Woo Presents Stranglehold, a very cinematic and atmospheric action game from Midway Games for the Xbox 360. The hope for this game was to take anything that was possible in real life, throw it out the window and make an enjoyable story with over the top action. Does the combo work? Or does Stranglehold manage to do nothing right? Read our full review to find out!
Going into this review I actually had a bit of playtime on Stranglehold. In fact, like any other Xbox Live account holder, I played the demo level of Stranglehold on more than one occasion. What made so many people so excited for this game? Well Midway’s goal for this game was two fold. First to make a great John Woo title. Second it was to really make everything in the game interactive, an action game where you can use the environment to your advantage. Is Stranglehold able to accomplish both of these goals?
First and foremost, the story in Stranglehold is based off John Woo’s film, Hard Boiled. Although I have never seen the movie, I have a sneaky suspicion that the game does not do it justice, mainly because the story in Stranglehold is a bit corny and often the cut scenes made me laugh when they probably shouldn’t have. Then again the game does at least create an experience that at the very least engaged the user to be interested in what is going on and to continue through the game.
So if you have heard anything about Stranglehold, then you have heard of Tequila Time, its version of bullet-time effect, no doubt named after the the lead character in Hard Boiled. In fact a lot of what you find in Stranglehold can easily be compared to that of Max Payne, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However where Stranglehold tries to differ itself from Max Payne is that it wants you to use the environment while you’re in slow motion, something that Max Payne rarely if ever did. When I speak of using the environment I am talking about jumping on carts and taking out enemies on the run, or shooting down billboards that then subsequently fall on the enemies making for easy kills. Stranglehold isn’t shy about being over the top, there isn’t a pole that you can’t slide down or a table you can’t slide on.
The game of Stranglehold offline is pretty straight forward. Each level has you taking out a multitude of enemies and gives you plenty of chances to interact with the environments. Some issues I had with Stranglehold was that it seemed to repeat itself over and over again. Much of what you play in this game just doesn’t really re-invent the genre, but instead builds upon a lot of mechanics that have already worked in the past. Sure the game is a bit heavy on the "tequila time", but then again the game doesn’t want you to necessarily take it seriously but instead just to enjoy it for being the over the top action game that it is.
There is online multiplayer but I just never got into it. In fact much of that experience just felt like a forced addition to the game rather then something they really put a lot of effort into. I should say that Stranglehold dumbs down the online multiplayer and makes it a whole lot less exciting then what we saw in the offline content. In the end, this is not a perfect game; there is a lot of repetition, the online play is lackluster, but the overall product is still an enjoyable and fresh experience and one that I felt actually used the John Woo label quite nicely.
More than anything the character models in the game are mostly hit and miss, where you have the main characters who have a great deal of detail and the enemies which really don’t have much personality at all. In fact Stranglehold’s level designs are like that, some seem extremely inspired and well thought out while others just manage to feel a bit dry and missing a lot of necessary elements. In the end, Stranglehold is still not a bad looking game but one that doesn’t wow you either.
The main idea behind Stranglehold is for it to just be a simple fun riding action game that like I have said previously isn’t taken overly seriously. The offline content is a mixed bag of really fun and not very interesting. To me the game’s biggest struggle was to keep you interested. The story was pretty good but nothing that really drove you to say I want to see what happens next. The overall experience is entertaining, but nothing that has that long lasting enjoyable effect that the developers were attempting to achieve.
In the end, Stranglehold is a good solid action game that struggles from being too repetitive and lacking a lot of what you need to have a long lasting action experience. Although Stranglehold doesn’t put all the right pieces together, if you like action games, then I would highly recommend it as a rental.
The owner and editor-in-chief of Darkstation.com. I've been apart of the website since 2002 and purchased the website in 2010. Owning and running Darkstation is a dream come true. I love video games and I love writing and talking about them even more.