Review: Stranglehold

“John Woo + Chow-Yun Fat = An Action Packed Video Game!”

In the early 90s, an internationally critically acclaimed director named John Woo directed an action movie for the ages. This movie would become a cult-hit and an adrenaline rush for any action junkie after its release. The name of this movie is Hard Boiled, which starred critically acclaimed actor Chow-Yun Fat. Why is this history lesson important? Well, Midway’s Stranglehold is the sequel to this movie.

The story isn’t too captivating, but what do you expect from a game based solely for action? You play as Tequila (Chow-Yun Fat) as a hard-as-nails cop who is incredibly skilled in fighting with guns. He “volunteers” to find the fate of a captured cop, which sends him to the Hong Kong underground. After finding out what had happened to the cop, he continues his travels of mass destruction after hearing that his former love and daughter were kidnapped by gangs who were trying to take over Hong Kong. With extreme vengeance, Tequila will have kill random unknowns in two countries in order to save the ones he loves, uncovering a few twists along the way. Like I said before, it doesn’t seem to be something to be hooked on, as it takes a backseat to the action, but its enough to give the game a purpose.

Visually this game isn’t up to par with other Playstation 3 greats such as Ratchet and Clank, Uncharted or Heavenly Sword, but it is good enough for maximum enjoyment. One of the reasons why this game’s graphics can be considered to be good is the massive amounts of destructible environments, and when I saw destructible, I MEAN DESTRUCTIBLE. Almost everything can be destroyed. Explosions (which look well done) can destroy walls, bullets destroy pillars and walls, and destroyed items can kill people. It’s like a circle of destruction that works well together. So even if you admire the architecture of the levels, it will probably get destroyed anyway. The detailing on some of the structures and statues doesn’t look like a lot of time was spent into it, but I guess since you destroy the structures anyway, it doesn’t really matter.

Another thing is that Chow-Yun Fat and John Woo (who makes a cameo in the game) are instantly recognizable. Other characters look vibrant and there is some detail in the faces to show age or any deformities. The animations are nothing that will blow your mind but they are well done nonetheless. An effect that our protagonist has is the ability to slow down time. I have to say that it is pretty satisfying to see bullets fly right beside your head. Level design help create a good ambiance to the game and add an effect to the storyline that only helps supplant it.

The sounds in this game are also above average. Starting off with the voice acting, as Chow-Yun Fat reprises his role as Tequila in this game, his voice acting is pretty top-notch. That can’t be said for the other characters. Though they do not do a bad job, they lack any sense of urgency or emotion in a lot of their speeches making the characters suffer. Next up we have sound effects. Well, there are some good and some bad. First off, the explosion effects are marvellous. The gunfire effects, not so much. All guns do have their own effects, but they aren’t as good or seem very realistic at all. My most hated sound effect is the sound effect when you acquire style points for killing a guy. This effect will occur every time you kill any foe, immediately becoming very annoying.

Now the gameplay. It is a third-person shooter with very linear levels, so you won’t get lost trying to find any of the action. Of course, as a shooter, you’ll do a lot of aiming and firing guns. Occasionally you will be close enough to an enemy that Tequila will use his super punch of death in which one punch immediately knocks out a non-boss foe (for most of the game anyway). You’ll have a myriad of weapons to employ for your work of vengeance such as pistols, machine guns, shotguns, rocket launchers, etc. All non-bosses require a shot in the head to kill. A couple more shots in the chest should send your enemies to their deaths, except for a couple of armoured ones.

As Tequila you will have an assortment of acrobatic moves that help you dispose of your foes. Tequila can dive from side to side and front to back and vice-versa. He can take cover or even crouch down to avoid gunfire. The cover system isn’t as good as Gears of War or Uncharted, but its still effective, at least until the item you are using for cover gets blown to bits. In some instances Tequila will engage in a Mexican standoff, which is one of John Woo’s trademark scenes. You will be surrounded by a few enemies and you will have to use both analog sticks to aim at the culprits and dodge bullets (Tequila’s highly developed reflexes allow him to dodge bullets from four feet away).

Tequila does have a few more aces up his sleeves, namely the Tequila Bombs. The Tequila Bombs are four special manoeuvres mapped out in the d-pad that give Tequila a little boost in battle. The first is for health regeneration. The second is an accurate shot the gives Tequila the ability to zoom into a target and aim wherever he wants to. This little perk is great because the camera follows the bullet until it hits something. If your aim was true, you will see a very bloody animation that corresponds to where the bullet hit. The third power-up is the rampage mode. Tequila for a short time becomes invincible and has unlimited ammo. His attacks also damage a lot more. It is great for killing bosses or groups of enemies. Tequila’s last move is a spin move in which shows an animation of Tequila spinning around and shooting every enemy in the stage at that moment. This will also damage bosses. These manoeuvres are governed by gauges that can be refilled by killing people or finding cranes that are scattered all over the map.

The game also rewards stylish kills. The more stylish the better. Now what does this mean? Well in this game you can climb up stair railings or slide down them. You can jump onto dim sum carts or hang from a chandelier. You can even blow up propane tanks or like previously mentioned, destroy the environment. When killing a person, all these actions give out things called style points which can be used to unlock material. Kill combos increase the amount of style points you get in one sitting. So it is encouraged to slide down a railing and then diving onto a dim sum cart killing everyone along the way.

Now all of the things Tequila can do sound cool but there comes one major flaw in the gameplay. It is repetitive. Really repetitive. There is really nothing else to do than kill people. After doing a couple of missions, you’ll begin to realize that you’ve probably done all the actions that can be done in this game thousands of times already. Also, sometimes the aiming isn’t really very accurate. You will find yourself unloading a lot of bullets at an enemy even when the reticule is turned red and still missing. The single player campaign is very short as well. There are only seven missions, with each lasting 45 minutes to an hour. If you are really good at the game, it could be less.

There are a few incentives to keep replaying this game. First off, you can replay levels to try to beat your previous scores for that level and earn more style points for unlocking extra content. The unlockable content includes costumes for online multiplayer or some pictures. If you haven’t had yo
ur thirst satisfied the first time playing through a level and you aren’t turned off by the repetitiveness, then you will find a lot of satisfaction here. There is also online multiplayer in this game. I have yet to try it, nor do I have any inclination to do so. From what I have heard, it is very hectic and not very fun to begin with. Sorry for not being able to describe this section of the game well enough.

In the end, this video game is an action junkie’s wet dream. Despite all of the repetitiveness that this game suffers and the short campaign, this game still provides an adrenaline rush every time you play it. Even If you happen to see the Collector’s Edition of the game, and this game sounds interesting to you, I suggest you buy it. The chance to own Hard Boiled on Blu-Ray is worth the price tag itself. If not, this title at least warrants a rental for being able to play as Chow-Yun Fat!

Praises:
– Destructible environments
– Character likenesses and voice-acting
– Lots of action

Criticisms:
– Repetitive gameplay
– Some framerate drops
– Short single player campaign

Story: 8/10
Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 8/10
Gameplay: 7/10
Replay Value: 7/10

Score: 7 out of 10

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