Brief thoughts on John Woo’s Stranglehold

Bought this on launch, got half way through it and then got distracted. Decided to finally get it out of the way today. It is ultimately mediocre but holy hell did it give me the horn for some classic 90’s John Woo. It also earns its mediocre status in an odd way, its not as if its simply dull its that some bits are great and some bits are terrible and it all even outs to being ok.

The best things about it are:

1) the level and environment design, even for a seven year old game some of the levels look amazing and the mix of destructible and interactive environments is generally fun.

2) The story and camerwork/choreography in the cutscenes are all strongly reminiscent of John Woo’s seminal 90’s Hong Kong action movies, the games meant to be a sequel to Hardboiled and I think it achieves this

3) This is sort of tied in to the last bit but the special abilities and the slow motion abilities help to make you feel like you’re re-enacting scenes from the movie and really add to the athmosphere.

Things which are just average – the music, it works but its fairly innocuous, the game could also do with subtitles. Some of the mechanics, while reminiscent of the source material and the feeling the game wanted to evoke, were simply annoying or over-used, particularly the spanish standoff mechanic. It was used too much and the slow speed of the aiming reticle made it a pain, but it also felt cool so Im calling it average.

Things that are bad:

1) The game does not hold up well, I dont remember it being quite this rough back in the day but apart from the environments and some textures/models the game looks rough as fuck and the animations are often a bit janky

2) The game is most fun when you’re banging through levels and thugs being a badass – so of course the game decides to work against itself here by sending wave after wave of increasingly tough minions against you, theres too many of them and theyre so tough you have to take cover and this makes it boring

3) The controls are sloppy, an odd mix of too slow (the shooting) and too precise/finnicky (the movement)

4) The camera is far too close to your character and frequently limits your field of view to disatrous effect, as well as making the game feel annoyingly claustrophobic

5) Limited weapon selection and limited variety in enemies, the latter wasnt a huge issue but considering how many different guns Tequila uses in Hard Boiled alone I felt the lack of variety in weapons was a problem

6) Not a fault with the game per se but I feel it should have had unlockables which allowed “cheat modes” so you could just bang through levels using special abilities non-stop

I’d actually be interested in playing an updated sequel that addressed the issues mentioned above. I suppose I should have listed length as a negative factor but to be honest the game felt “complete”, the pacing was quite good and to be honest the action was already wearing a little thin towards the end. I tried the online back at launch at it was fun if messy, though the servers have been offline a while so I couldnt revisit it. Sans some kind of “Godmode” I dont think I’d bother replaying the game again.

Time to complete: ~6 hours
Completed: 19/02/14

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