Release Date: 09/05/2007
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The HD era of gaming was a rough one, especially in the beginning years. Games had to transition from dated aging hardware and design choices that had to work around that and open up more. Bigger levels, better AI, better graphics, and just overall more content. Stranglehold was a AAA blockbuster of a game due to the names attached to the game and Midway’s push to let celebrities in on this new HD era of gaming to bring Hollywood-style action to consoles.
Stranglehold is a successor to John Woo’s Hardboiled Hong Kong cop action movie from the ’90s starring Chow Yun Fat. Both star in this game and Chow reprises his role as Inspector Tequila. I will say that the story is really stupid and this has a lot to do with the 4-hour run time of the game. It’s incredibly short unless you die a million times which can be possible. The story is something lame and typical. Tequila’s daughter and ex-girlfriend get captured and he gets stuck in the middle of two rival Hong Kong gangs, the I-9s and the Dragon Claws. One is new blood and one wants the “old ways” back and Tequila’s daughter is the bargaining chip to get the police off their back. The voice acting is pretty bad, even Chow’s acting is kind of phoned in. The main star of the game is the gameplay, however.
I remember when this game came out it was pretty impressive on a technical level. We finally got an unofficial new Max Payne game. I say that because the entire game is incredibly shallow gameplay-wise. You get “Tequila Time” which lets Chow use bullet-time just like in Max Payne. There’s a meter and everything. However, the difference here is using your environments as well. Certain objects like rails, tables, and carts will have a white line on them if you can mount them. This activates Tequila Time automatically but also gives you a score ranking and boosts your ability gauge. That’s as deep as this game goes. I’m not joking either. You unlock abilities during the first few levels. These allow you to sacrifice one of the four-bar to heal, use a bullet cam that does extra damage, a rampage mode that is a longer Tequila Time, and the last one takes four bars and eliminates all enemies in the area. These actually came in really handy for the most part. The bullet cam ability was great during boss fights as a few of these and they were done.
The issue with all of this is the level design. It’s just too cramped and too small. After the first level the rails become too short, the objects are scattered everywhere, and while the destructible environments are nice, the tables can be destroyed that you need as well. Because of this, I got tired of constantly finding small objects to hop on and off of. The novelty wears off after the first level anyways. I just manually activated my bullet time and ran around shooting everyone in sight. There is a cover system, but it’s a little stuff and is kind of useless in this kind of a game where enemies are designed to come at you in every direction, and because of hit you can’t really hide. So, that essentially makes the ability to rack up your ability gauge and score meter mostly pointless because it’s a chore constantly finding objects to ride on.
When it comes to the actual shooting it’s fine. It works. You get all of your typical weapons. Pistols, sub-machine guns, assault rifles, shotguns, rocket launchers, and heavy machine guns plus grenades. The game is very arcade-like and every enemy has the same amount of hit points. A few shots take them down. There are trigger points to kill enemies with the environment but these are forgotten about mostly after the first couple of levels. As for the design outside of that, it’s actually still last-gen. Enemies pop out of open doors that lead to nowhere, cramped level design, and not to mention that every level looks really bland and boring.
Overall, this was a fun weekend rental and nothing more. It had a lot of Hollywood attached to it but didn’t feel truly next-gen like Gears of War or Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter did at the time. Stranglehold has one foot in the sixth generation door and it shows. The lame story, cramped level design, half-baked “object riding” idea, and the overall generic arcade feeling are very forgettable, but still a fun evening.