FBT goes Woo for Fat in the sequel to Hard Boiled. Cue the doves and slo-mo.
Ever since ET almost destroyed the game industry trying to phone home, games based on movies have been generally lame. For every decent ‘based on’ like Mad Max or The Warriors you get something like 007 Legends; Tie-Ins are always without question, shit. And then there’s the game-sequels. Alien Isolation might have made a good go of it, but then Colonial Marines ruined it, as did Robocop (2003), Ghostbusters the Video Game, even Wreck-It-Ralph; a sequel based on a movie based on video games? The game sequel genre isn’t littered with greats. But this is Stranglehold, exec’ed by John Woo, who’s atheistic shooters have attempted to emulate since Max Payne. We’re ‘Tequila’ Yuen, a cop who, in slow-motion, burst onto our screens dual-wielding his way through Hard Boiled. It’s got slow-motion doves in it. That’s a movie I can play.
The setting, Hong Kong. The case, a missing policeman. The Captain’s orders, send a team. The Tequila, goes alone. After surviving the trap, Tequila get sucked into a Triad war while dealing with police corruption and a personal reason to go rogue.
Stranglehold does call to mind Max Payne. They’re similar cops with the same outside the law reasoning that justifies killing endless hoods along with bullet-time and shot-dodge mechanisms. But while Max Payne was inspired by John Woo, this is John Woo. Literally, he’s in it, reprising the bartender in Hard Boiled. But Stranglehold soon surpasses Max Payne for cinema references. There’s so many it’s hard to keep track; vendetta-driven cowboy cop trapped by an offer he can’t refuse, involved with a bad girl from the wrong side of the tracks that’s connected to the larger plot and used as leverage? Check. Double-crossing panto villain with a revenge-connection to Tequila who has an infinite source of bag-men and wants Tequila DEAD, check. A surprise betrayal followed by regret before they die, contemptuously dropping guns when they run out of ammo, ignoring orders from an Alka-Seltzer guzzling shouty captain? Check. Awesome cool? Check.
Once Tequila’s on the case, our 3rd person view does everything it can to make us believe John Woo is going to yell ‘cut’ at some stage. You name it, we can cinematically interact with it – surf down bannisters and on trolleys, leap over boxes, slide across counters, shoot things to create runaways or creative ways to take out hoods, crash through practically anything and destroy the rest. The problem is, if something can be Tequila’ed, it shimmers or glints and there’s so much of it you’re distracted by the epileptic fit it all triggers. The art design is really detailed but it’s covered in white lines demanding you leap, slide, roll or jump on them or repeatedly flashing shoot me. There’s nothing like shooting a neon sign and watching it swing around and take out a bunch of baddies, but you end up looking everywhere at once, wondering what’ll happen if you shoot this or activate that and is it really going to help if I – by the time you've decided to run up a wall or just shoot the guy, you’ve been riddled with bullets. It becomes one big overwhelming novelty like an arcade rail shooter; leaping and sliding along firing is great unless it happens to take you in the opposite direction or you slide along a counter into the face of a crouching mobster and you’re stuck with your legs in the air getting pummelled. You have to trigger Tequila to get on and then to get off again but he’ll only do it if there’s room for a cinematic roll or leap so you wind up yelling at Tequila like a parent in a park; ‘get down from there!’ The villains are top notch hard work, fast and unforgiving; but they must be wondering why you’re pirouetting on a lamppost instead of returning fire.
Of course, Tequila has more than enough ways to return his own fire; while he only carries two at a time, there’s pistols, uzis, machine guns, heavy machine-guns, grenades, rocket-launchers lying about everywhere and the smaller weapons he can dual-wield naturally. Once a weapon is spent he’ll drop it and auto-pick up anything nearby which more than once saw me smugly switch to the heavy machine gun only to see him pull out a puny sidearm, having not noticed the switch during the mayhem.
As he progresses, Tequila unlocks more opportunities to give it the ol’ razzle-dazzle; Tequila-Time is standard Bullet-time but the real killers are the Tequila Bombs; Precision is bullet-time from the point of view of the bullet, while Barrage just lets Tequila have a bullet-fuelled tantrum and Spin lets him twirl and fire while doves fly. Then there’s Stand-Off; when Tequila gets surrounded there’s a moment where they all eye each other and grip triggers, then the bullets start flying. You can shift Tequila from side to side to avoid bullets and return fire – it’s all charged by the destructive antics Tequila gets up to, so the more you break, slide and generally make like an action star the better.
So, we’re Chow Yun-fat in a John Woo film, how is that not the coolest thing ever? Because although you’re leaping in slow-mo through flying debris with a gun in each hand, you’re also in a constant state of frown, trying to see through the wreckage, distracted by the highlights, working out if the flashing thing will help; it takes you out of the moment by giving you pre-set moments and never lets up, it gets exhausting; meanwhile, Tequila insists on new things to be cinematic about; at one stage he’s swinging from chandeliers. It’s to frenetic and busy, the infamous 2min 42seconds from Hard Boiled extended into some seven hours game play. Once you take a breath you realise Stranglehold is a very thin shooter, trading style over substance; Stranglehold is a new example of why movies don’t work as games; if, on the big screen I saw Chow Yun-fat take out a posse in slo-mo while swinging from a chandelier, I’d go ‘cool, wish I could do that’ but when I do it I end up looking like a four-year-old on a swing with no one to push him. It’s too staged, I feel like Chow’s stuntman. It doesn’t feel natural the way parkouring about in Assassin’s Creed does; games are supposed to let me live vicariously but Stranglehold just reinforces why I’m not an action star popping up for five minutes in the latest Expendables movie.
As if the sheer amount of destruction and QT moments weren’t enough to prove how incredible the Unreal engine is, the work done to make Tequila look like Chow Yun-Fat is brilliant, in both the cut scenes and the action, and he’s voiced by the man himself. The locations are great looking too; an island that’s been turned into a drug factory, dirty back-streets of HK, a museum (bye-bye antiquities), and a restaurant with panicked extras running between the bullets; this is a very faithful game that tries hard to put you in Tequila’s shoes, but I’m the wrong shoe-size. It's so busy being Hard Boiled it forgets to be a game; Max Payne knew when to pull back, to be cinema when it counted and game when it needed to be. Stranglehold makes you realise movies and games are mutually exclusive. An hour with Tequila is great fun but any longer and it gives you a hangover.
2007 | Developer Midway | Publisher Midway Games
platforms; Win | PS3 | X360