John Woo Presents: Stranglehold Xbox 360 Review

May 30, 2010 by Simon Wigham  
Filed under Reviews, Xbox 360

John Woo’s films are all about messy and graceful shootouts. Messy because there’s always lots of bodies and obliterated environments, and graceful because of the directors trademark slow motion effect and the presence of doves. All perfect subject matter for a destructive action game then.

Whilst games like Max Payne long ago copied Woo’s signature style with some success, it isn’t until now that we get a full blown John Woo experience. John Woo presents: Stranglehold was made in collaboration with Midway’s and woo’s own Tiger Hill studios, with the man himself on producing and directing duties.

Stranglehold is a sequel to Hard Boiled, Woo’s 1992 action classic starring Chow Yun-Fat as inspector Tequila, and of course this game sees the return of that particular character, along with the melodrama that Woo does so well.

The game is all about shooting people (don’t tell us, you’re surprised?) in the most stylish ways possible. Just about everything you’ve seen and perhaps whooped with delight over in a Woo film, is a possibility here. Of course there’s the super stylish slow motion dives that games like Max Payne and Dead to Rights have already featured. But there’s also the chance to slide down banisters, go for a ride on a roll cart and swing from chandeliers, all whilst shooting at goons, delightful!

You’re encouraged to chain these moves together, for example, diving and shooting a guy in the noggin will get you some points, but rebounding off a wall, landing on a banister, whilst shooting bad guys, will get you even more. Points will then convert into juice for your Tequila bombs (see what we did there?)

Tequila bombs are the moves to use when you’re in a bit of a perilous situation, which it has to be said is a lot. Health boosts, will provide you with a sliver of health, a real godsend when there are no health packs in your immediate vicinity. Precision aim, will switch the game to a first person view and essentially transform any of your weapons into a sniper rifle, allowing you to shoot people from afar and watch in glorious slow motion as the bullet travels to its target. Barrage transforms Tequila into a walking tank (not literally sadly) granting you unlimited ammo and invincibility for a short time. Finally the spin attack, sees Tequila stylishly spinning around in slow motion, taking out every enemy currently in the area.

Max Payne, Dead to rights and company tried to offer a John Woo like experience but we’ve only really learned now that, whilst they both are good games in their own right, they failed rather miserably at offering an authentic Woo like experience, all because of technical constraints. We’re talking about environmental destruction here. Stranglehold allows for destruction on a impressive scale, pillars, statues and other objects can be shot to pieces, and small buildings can be left in rubble. When the shooting has stopped, it truly looks like the set of a John Woo movie.

Breaking up all of this visceral action, are the standoffs, a rather fun, but slightly contrived mini game, which has you surrounded by enemies, with the idea being to take them out one by one, whilst making sure to dodge their incoming bullets.

Whilst all seven levels are tremendously enjoyable and the action always beautiful, it has to be said that level two is a bit bogged down by object searching. Stranglehold is without doubt at its best, when you are shooting the hell out of people and the environment.

Due to its emphasis on destructible levels, Stranglehold is not the best looking game in the world either, but it’s hardly fell down the ugly tree and hit every branch on its descent either. Tequila’s character model is a brilliant copy of Chow Yun-Fat, and when you are taking cover, he’ll even flinch, when gunfire gets a bit too close. Also, take some hits and he’ll have visible wounds, a nice touch, that. The levels on the other hand have some impressive lighting, but don’t look as impressive as the most beautiful looking new generation games, they do blow to pieces rather nicely though, so we’re not complaining.

As is usual for the vast majority of contemporary action games, Stranglehold features online options. To say these options are somewhat limited is a gargantuan understatement. In reality there is one mode: death match which can be played in both solo and team based variations. As you would imagine, the stylish action and destructible arenas of the single player game translate perfectly to the online arena and as a bonus you can even play as John Woo himself, which is good for a laugh. What isn’t so good is that the online doesn’t function properly, often failing to connect to games and, whilst it will no doubt be patched some time down the line, in its present state, it’s hardly a reason to buy the game.

Stranglehold is a true new generation action offering that effectively allows you to play out the super stylish action featured in a Woo movie. It’s delightful to play and even during some terribly frustrating sections, we found ourselves coming back again and again for more of its messy and beautiful action.

8/10

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