When I think Hong Kong action movies, my mind immediately goes to the incredible film duo that is Chow Yun-Fat and John Woo. This duo is responsible for arguably the greatest "heroic bloodshed" movies, notably The Killer and Hard Boiled. The 2008 Chinese reunion of Woo and Yun-Fat has been canceled as Chow dropped off John Woo's upcoming Chinese film "The Battle of Red Cliff" over contractual issues, so this game is the closest we get for now. John Woo Presents Stranglehold is two important things: John Woo's first game and the sequel to the legendary Hard Boiled. But there is a third thing it must be to live up to the pedigree, it can't just be fun, it must be poetry in motion. Inspector Tequila is back, but does he still have it?
Players are quickly introduced to John Woo's style of action, even before they gain access to the Tequila Bombs (the game's stylish special moves). As in any Hong Kong Woo film, there is a lot of interaction with the environment to gain an advantage over the game's overwhelming swarms of enemies. The most obvious example of this is the variety of things that can be shot with vary results to kill enemies, this includes but is not limited to propane tanks, barrels, whole drug labs, signs above foes, a wide variety of statues, the platforms the enemies are standing on, boulders on hills above enemies, and the list goes on. Inspector Tequila makes use of much of the environment for positioning; the most prevalent interaction is running up and sliding down elements such as railings and dinosaur skeletons. As you maneuver on these surfaces you can engage enemies with a useful height advantage. If you find yourself on a multi-tiered level look up, there is probably something to swing from, whether it be a chandelier or something more ancient in the museum level. This is useful not only to pick off foes taking cover below but also to quickly traverse across a room. There are a few other less common elements that are no less fun, such as diving onto a fully steerable cart and rolling through a crowd guns blazing, kicking up a table for cover or sliding one handed down a zip line dealing out punishment. The shooting interactions require you to pull the left trigger when you see the object you want to interact with glow.
Getting these interactions to work isn't perfect however; a small sliver of the attempts you make to interact will fail. Luckily it is far too uncommon to be an issue. One of the interacts that works 100% of the time is the table slide, every time you bump into a table or bar you automatically slide over it on your ass, problem is that you aren't always going to want to slide on every single table, but again this is a minor issue. If you kill someone while doing one of these interactions you get bonus style points, these points are the game's high-score system. It's interesting to see how big of a combo you can build, and you can also use the points to unlock things in the main menu.
One thing that never fails to work though is the ability to cause massive amounts of damage to the surrounding environment. As you dive from cover to cover unleashing a never-ending barrage of bullets, the environment around you quickly disintegrates, spend too much time crouching behind a pillar for cover and the opposing forces will quickly shoot through it ensuring that you can never stay still for long. There are of course parts of the environment that have to remain indestructible, it would not make sense to allow you to bring the whole level to the ground or take out a staircase that is crucial to progressing in the game. This however doesn't mean that after a fire fight that levels everything in the room there is going to be spotless walls and an oddly untouched staircase in the middle of the kill zone. All the indestructible objects take enough cosmetic damage to make it look like a few more shots would have brought everything down. If the post level summaries are too believed, a player causes millions of dollars in damage every level.
In years past one would expect a game such as this to take a graphical hit in order to run smoothly, but with the power of the Unreal 3 engine and the Xbox 360 this is not at all the case. While it's certainly no Gears of War, and the enemies tend to be reused and have limited animations, John Woo Presents Stranglehold still looks good. Little touches add to the experience: as you or your foes take damage blood begins to show on clothing, blood splatters nicely from wounds, and Tequila looks wet when it's raining. The most subtle thing, and maybe the best thing, that they've done with the Tequila character model is how when he's firing, or being fired at, he squints and grimaces just like in his movies.
John Woo Presents Stranglehold does more than fully realize environmental destruction and nicely execute interactions to distinguish it from Max Payne, it adds to Tequila Time with what Midway has named "Tequila Bombs." These special abilities are mapped to the D-pad and run off a meter that is slowly filled by scoring stylish kills (or quickly if you find the paper cranes scattered throughout each level). The first bomb you get is the heal bomb which is exactly what it sounds like, giving you about a 1/4th of your health back when you use it. Next to be unlocked is precision aim, this slows down the surrounding world and zooms in on whoever you were looking at when you activated the bomb. You then get one shot to put him down in slow motion. This mode is particularly brutal, as the target reacts realistically to where ever you shoot. Yes kids, you can execute a crotch shot and watch your foes clutch his crotch and wither in pain. This bomb is pretty much a necessity in later boss fights.
When Midway announced that they were going to develop the world's first John Woo video game we had our doubts. How would this video game company ever be able to match the excitement of Hard Boiled or The Killer? Now that the game is out it looks like our worries were for nothing, because John Woo Presents Stranglehold is a fantastic action game. Unfortunately it's not a perfect action game, but we feel it's still worth your time.
This product was submitted by the publisher for review. As a rule, Defunct Games does not review games we spent money on. However, that does not always apply to classic/retro games. This specific product, however, came straight from a PR guy for the purposes of being reviewed!