Format Played: XBox 360
Current CEX Price: 50p
It’s fair to say that, once John Woo left Hong Kong in the early 90s, his movie output struggled to match the quality of his previous films. Though his first US film – the Jean-Claude Van Damme action vehicle Hard Target (in which Van Damme has the most spectacular wet look mullet) – has its moments, the film which followed (Broken Arrow) was a huge disappointment despite having two big name leads in John Travolta and Christian Slater. Face/Off contained some of the most Nicolas Cage moments in Nicolas Cage’s career (and again featured Travolta), but Mission Impossible 2 was a further letdown. Windtalkers and Paycheck barely even registered as John Woo movies and have sunk without trace in terms of pop culture impact.
So, despite a reputation as a superb action director at least in his early career, by the time the Midway Games title Stranglehold – which Woo was heavily involved in, and is credited as a producer of – was released, Woo’s name wasn’t the guaranteed seal of quality it once was.
That said, there were a number of genius moves involved here; the masterstroke was to enlist Chow Yun-Fat, star of Woo’s biggest Hong Kong movies, to star in the game – a sequel to Hard Boiled, arguably Woo’s finest hour as an action movie director (The Killer probably being in competition for that honour too).
It doesn’t hurt that Stranglehold leans heavily on Woo’s trademark style either – shots of doves, plenty of dual-wielding, slow motion and scenery destroying gunfights. The plot is secondary to the chaotic but carefully choreographed action and each area you enter on your journey through the game is filled with destructible objects and scenery, with a satisfying physics engine lending a properly tangible feel to each environment.
Your character – Inspector Tequila, portrayed, as mentioned, by Chow Yun-Fat – is a joy to control, sliding over surfaces, running up and down banisters and diving through the air in homage to the balletic shootouts often seen in Woo’s movies. It feels great and the almost superhuman abilities of Yun-Fat’s character are brilliantly handled in interactive form, with some scenes slowing down even further during standoffs, adopting a more cinematic view than the standard third person angle and seeing you dodge bullets as you take out bad guys from a fixed position. It’s a hugely compelling translation of the Hong Kong cinema tropes favoured by Woo.
It’s another one of those games that didn’t seem to get much love upon release, but has plenty of fans even now. It’s hard not to see why; the kinetic, gun-based ballet – though beaten to the punch in game form several years earlier by the Woo-influenced Max Payne series – is still an intoxicating and brilliantly implemented form of play.
Worth a punt? At less than a quid – currently – the answer is undoubtedly yes. Along the lines of The Wheelman – another Midway Games title that featured a Hollywood heavy hitter, and yet another that was unfairly compared to already established game franchises upon release – Stranglehold’s strengths have only become more apparent with age. Speaking of which – and despite some wonkiness in the in-engine cutscenes – it’s aged gracefully, faring way better than every single one of Woo’s US movie productions. If you haven’t given Stranglehold a try yet, I’d urge you to seek it out and give it a go, especially if you’re a fan of John Woo’s non-US movie output – which it’s a perfect adaptation of.
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