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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Stranglehold (Playstation 3)

It should be no surprise that John Woo Presents Stranglehold for the Playstation 3 offers a stylish gaming experience with plenty of action and violence. What's surprising is the amount of depth and challenge the game offers. This could have been another mindless shooter but the amount of style and strategy involved makes the adventure surprisingly deep. Using the unique bullet-time movements allows you to perform stylish attacks on foes like slow-motion sniper attacks and the ability to dodge your way out of gunfire. Stranglehold's levels offer a relentless barrage of action and violence in a stylish package that shows off some very impressive production values, making for a brilliant title that blends first-person shooters and while delivering cinematic flair and style.
Loosely based on the classic John Woo movie Hard Boiled, John Woo's Stranglehold gives the infamous Hong Kong Detective Tequila a new lease on life as he battles against a sea of bad guys on the dangerous streets of Hong Kong facing off against a dangerous gang that isn't above killing police officers to keep their turf safe. They have infiltrated the streets so deeply that they can call on dozens of members to attack Tequila from every angle. Luckily, he's got some very good friends on his side, his twin pistols. Players can make Tequila perform some pretty incredible stunts, most of which are embodied by his trademark dive maneuver, which allows him to slide out of danger's way while attacking any one nearby. Performing these dives only requires players to press a single shift button, which makes the game easy to play. These dives help to get you out of the way of gunfire while also allowing you some cover to attack foes. It also gives the game a unique sense of style that makes Stranglehold feel like an action movie. It's a very cool effect that's used quite effectively and helps to bring the action to life. In addition to sliding across tables and surfaces or diving off them, your techniques also include the ability to slow down the action using a cool variation on bullet time.

One of the really cool features in Stranglehold is that the game allows you to slow the action down using the Tequila time life bar, which allows them to target opponents in an amazingly quick and elegant fashion. In the early stages, this means you can hit opponents before they have a chance to react. However, your Tequila is limited so you need to be careful not to waste this on average foes. In later stages, you'll also earn the ability to perform slow-motion sniper attacks, where you can shoot a single bullet in slow motion and aim its trajectory in slow motion for a devastatingly accurate single shot that can take out an opponent with a single shot. This makes for some fairly elegant gun battles that offer a quite sophisticated approach to the genre, not unlike the slow mo scenes in other games. As you increase your accuracy and string together attacks, your star ranking rises which increases Tequila's star ranking. Earning high score in this ranking, makes his targeting abilities more accurate. This is very important when facing off against multiple enemies at the same time and allows him to shoot them without taking too much damage. Throughout each level, players will find medical cases, which increase his life, which gives him an almost superhuman strength in certain sections of the game. This makes the normal enemies surprisingly easy to defeat, even when they gang up on you from different directions at the same time.

In addition to attacking these enemies with your guns and ammo, the game's environments are fully destructible and interactive, which means you can use them against your opponents. For example, if you see a large neon sign, you can shoot it and it will take out any enemies standing beneath it, giving the player another strategy when taking out enemies. Stranglehold's enemies are fairly smart, but you'll also have to face off against a series of boss characters, who usually have very strong weapons and a posse surrounding them who'll attack you as well. In order to survive these stages and defeat them, you'll have to use your special attack abilities and dodge their fire while picking off the smaller adversaries. The game's pacing and flow is fairly predictable, but the relentless action means that most players won't really notice the somewhat pedantic gameplay. What you will notice is that the game becomes slightly repetitive after awhile, since you're basically wiping out waves of forgettable enemies that don't change noticeably. However, the game's special moves, bullet time and diving features help to keep things interesting throughout.

Stranglehold's levels are quite impressive in terms of detail and environments, and show a remarkable level of realism throughout. The levels set in Hong Kong and its harbor area good examples of this approach, with an appropriately cluttered, gritty appearance that makes you feel like you're in the middle of the action. An excellent set of special effects, such as lighting and sparks gives the gameplay a lot of punch, lending the action an effect sense of hyper-realism that fits the style of play. Since the game is based on one of the great cult-classic movies of the past decade or so, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention that many of the actors from the original Hard Boiled movie, including lead actor Chun Yung Fat are present here in impressive digital form. Each character has been motion-captured and rendered in a remarkable level of detail, which makes you feel like you're not just playing a game, but watching a movie. Stranglehold's plot moves at an excellent pace throughout and the engaging storyline will have you at the edge of your seat, with many unpredictable moments and twists to keep things interesting throughout. As you might expect, the game's production values are slick overall and this makes for quite an immersive experience. The cinematic approach and its implementation is superb, and the two types of approaches form a seamless experience that makes Stranglehold one of the more impressive technical examples to date of the long-promised synergy between Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

Despite the glossy production values, there are a few problems that keep Stranglehold from achieving the heights it aspires to. While there are some really good special effects, these tend to be over-used and there comes a point when they seem to get in the way of the game itself, serving as a gimmick to some degree that attempts to gloss over the repetitive gameplay. Unfortunately, facing endless waves of mindless enemies becomes monotonous after awhile, and the game slowly loses its impact the longer you play. However, its not an overly difficult game to get through and it offers some enjoyable aspects aside from the game itself. On the Playstation 3 edition, you can watch the original Hard Boiled movie in a full-length presentation, which makes an excellent primer if you aren't familiar with the storyline and characters. You can also switch the action and play online against other players that makes things more interesting. Overall, while Stranglehold does a somewhat solid job in recreating the look and feel of an action movie, it's somewhat constrained play mechanics undermine the Hollywood gloss in the end and make the shooter feel less revolutionary than it should have. 

- Michael Palisano

Grade: C-

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