|Ambitious third-person shooter that partnered with famous Hong Kong action director John Woo to make something of a sequel to the movie that finally earned him western attention on a large scale: "Hard Boiled," which starred Chow Yun-Fat as an unflappable Hong Kong detective capable of wading through extraordinary amounts of highly choreographed gunfire.|
Recreating Hard Boiled's balletic gunplay and frenetic pacing in a video game seems like a real challenge, especially for a western developer, and I was surprised with how much of it Stranglehold gets right. They got Chow Yun-Fat's voice and digital likeness, which helps a great deal, but they also captured the dense feeling of the sets and sprays of bullets felt in those old Hong Kong movie shoot-outs, and came up with some clever ways to convey Woo's sequences of alternately high-speed and slow-motion gunplay.
As Chow's inspector "Tequila," you blast your way through a somewhat brief but quite varied series of levels. Many of these take place in the East, but some have Tequila hopping over to the States, and all of them have a distinct feeling of place. Parts of them look really spectacular, with memorable boss fights taking place in penthouse skyscrapers, or incredibly ornate hotel or restaurant lobbies packed with twisting Chinese dragons.
Tequila can interact with many of these surfaces, sort of "grinding" down railings while shooting, for instance, or diving on carts and rolling across the room...while shooting. Shooting's the important part, and admittedly a lot of the interactive grinds, flips, and slides he can do are kind of gimmicky, but the basic dive move he can do, where he jumps forward, backward, left or right while splaying himself vertically, with the game going into slow motion as his crosshairs converge on a valid target, works very well, and really does give the game an exciting, dynamic, and graceful feeling.
The game also gets the "dime a dozen" feeling of the old Hong Kong action flicks right, sending bucketfuls of goons at Tequila from every direction. This gets a little out of hand in later levels, where the game traps you in rooms with doors on all sides, and then keeps ambushing you by sending goons in through the door right behind you, and particularly in the last level, where it finally just resorts to what looked like unlimited respawns of guys through all the doors. Yeargh.
The other problem that crops up is the game's performance; while the first few areas play at a surprisingly brisk clip, considering the heated gunplay and large amount of environmental detail (the first level as far as I remember is a packed Hong Kong street market, with goods hanging from every available surface, people and livestock everywhere, tons of destructible props, and all the things you'd expect to see in a good old Hong Kong action flick), a few of the levels really bog down. Fortunately it's only one or two that are bad the whole way through.
Oh yeah, another thing that didn't work so well were a few set-piece action sequences that take you out of the usual shooting and moving controls into shooting minigames of sorts. One type is sort of a rail shooting thing, like shooting a machinegun from the side of a moving helicopter; that gets dull, but fortunately only happens once or twice. The other, which happens maybe once per level, is where Tequila inexplicably walks right into a pack of bad guys: everyone draw their guns, and then you have to wiggle your shoulders back and forth to avoid slow-mo bullets while your view camera spins around to each bad guy in turn in a scripted sequence, giving you a few seconds--while shoulder-shimmying--to get a shot into them. Those aren't fun.
And the last level and its endless respawns blow. Other than that, it was pretty fun. Oh, the story is silly, but hey, this is a Hong Kong action flick, after all. The dialogue is actually better than most Hong Kong action flick dub jobs. Hm...so's the acting, when you get right down to it.
The version I have is the collector's edition or whatever, which I got because it said it came with Hard Boiled on the disc. This is true, but it isn't a true Blu-ray version, or even a real DVD version: it's a badly compressed low-res version, with really bad sound quality, that plays back through a custom interface from the game's main menu, which doesn't allow for standard fast-forward, reverse, slow-mo, etc.