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Stranglehold (Xbox 360) artwork

Stranglehold (Xbox 360) review

"Stranglehold is about shooting people. Shooting people in slow motion as you dive through the air, shooting people as you swing from a chandelier, shooting people as you glide around on a serving cart...there's just a lot of shooting. "

Stranglehold is about shooting people. Shooting people in slow motion as you dive through the air, shooting people as you swing from a chandelier, shooting people as you glide around on a serving cart...there's just a lot of shooting.

But given that Stranglehold is the videogame sequel to John Woo's Hard Boiled, a ridiculous amount of gunplay goes with the territory. Stranglehold sees Chow Yun Fat reprise his role as Inspector Tequila, maverick cop and renowned firearm discharger, who finds himself embroiled in a plot packed with Hong Kong gangs and Russian mobsters. The story twists and turns without being particularly deep but it serves its purpose: throwing lots and lots of guys with guns your way.

To help balance out the odds, Tequila has a couple of tricks up his sleeve. The most obvious is 'Tequila Time', which is Stranglehold's version of the ever popular bullet time. Target an enemy while you're diving around and the world slows to a crawl, giving Tequila the chance to blast multiple baddies in one dive. Obviously, a renegade cop who leaps around in slow motion isn't anything new and it would be churlish to deny that Stranglehold owes a debt to Max Payne. But Max Payne itself owes a large debt to John Woo's oeuvre, so it's less of a rip off and more borrowing what had already been borrowed.

Tequila Time may not be a particularly novel concept, but the way Tequila can interact with the environments he's blasting through certainly is. Tables can be slid over, banisters ran up, Brachiosaurus backbones skied down, serving trolleys ridden upon; if a piece of scenery glints it can used in some over the top way, even if it's just dropping a neon sign on some poor sap's head.

Tequila's abilities are what makes Stranglehold fun. Sliding down a banister then leaping onto the top of a serving cart while blasting away in slow motion is hilariously entertaining. Even just diving around blasting in slow motion is a hoot. The game rewards stylish play; the more spectacular the kills, the quicker the Tequila Bomb meter fills. Tequila bombs are nifty special moves ranging from a small health boast to a screen clearing spin attack. The Tequila Bombs are rarely necessary but have a suitably cinematic look to them. And they add some much needed complexity to the game.

You see, Stranglehold is a remarkably old school game with a few modern trappings. Baddies spawn and you shoot them. There are no squad tactics, no stealthy sneakery, no button pressing quick time events, it's all point and shoot, point and shoot. From the first level to the last, the gameplay doesn't change; Tequila enters an area, a ton of bad-uns appear and many bullets are fired. Stranglehold basically boils down to intense fire fight after intense fire fight. Well, almost. Occasionally Tequila will be surrounded by half a dozen or so goons and engage in a standoff. During the standoff, the camera takes up an over the shoulder position with the left stick used to dodge the bullets flying your way (in slow motion, naturally) and the right stick used for aiming. Taking a leaf from the 80s martial arts film book, the baddies choose to attack one at a time, as if to give Tequila a sporting chance. The standoffs are mildly diverting, but too infrequent to really help break up the run 'n' gun sections.

There's a bizarre enjoyment curve at work in Stranglehold. The game peaks early, with the sheer joy of the gun play keeping the flaws in check for awhile. After an hour or so, the repetition starts to grind, the incredibly unfair way that enemies spawn around you begins to irritate, and the awkward camera that sits too close to Tequila making baddies tough to spot grates. But then, something clicks. It may be sliding down the bones of a dinosaur in slow motion picking of baddies, it may be swinging from a chandelier as you take down a helicopter or it may just be how satisfying the gun play feels but at some point your brain switches off and you begin to enjoy Stranglehold for what it is. Unfortunately, just as the game hits its stride, you're gunning down the last boss and it's all over. While there's something to be said for not out staying a welcome, Stranglehold is firmly on the short side.

Aside from the single player mode, there's not all that much to Stranglehold. The multiplayer modes are just too limited to offer any long term appeal. The only online modes are deathmatch and team deathmatch, both of which recycle levels from the single player game. The levels feel too cramped and claustrophobic to be any fun. The bullet time and environmental stunts had the potential to fill the multiplayer with over the top gun fights but that potential is never realised. Most matches boil down to the players diving around constantly, which combined with how long it takes to whittle down an opponent's health makes the multiplayer fairly dreary.

Regardless of which mode you're playing, Stranglehold looks phenomenal. The environments in particular look incredibly and watching them be torn apart by gunfire is particularly impressive. None of the locales are particularly original but they are nicely varied, ranging from a derelict slum to glitzy casino. The character design doesn't quite match up, with the main characters looking weirdly shiny and the regular grunt have a look of permanent confusion on their faces, but they're minor blips. Aside from occasionally stilted delivery in the voice acting, Stranglehold's audio is as bombastic as you'd hope.

Stranglehold is short, repetitive, and occasionally infuriating. It's also an incredibly fun and cinematic game filled with intense fire fights. Its appeal varies with how willing you are to turn off your brain and enjoy one of the most straight forward, uncomplicated shooters of this generation. Stranglehold undoubtedly suffers from a lack of depth but as an attempt to cram John Woo's style of gun combat into a game it almost works.

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Featured community review by Spoonful (November 11, 2007)

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