During a time of economic instability, relatively high prices for new games and a number of high-quality games to choose from all major platforms, the market doesn’t really show much love to decent or middle of the road games. You can be an avid gamer on any system and own 30 games; all of which are AAA titles. If a game is not on the level of a Modern Warfare 2 or Halo, gamers nowadays with discriminating wallets can easily leave your game to rot in the bargain bin.
Stranglehold was one of Midway’s last attempts at creating a AAA title. It featured fast-paced third-person shooting, was inspired by John Woo’s “Hard Boiled” and even starred Jet Li as the protagonist. However, in a market crowded with great shooting games, not even John Woo and Jet Li could save Stranglehold from being a mediocre game at best and a sales flop.
In spite of its shortcomings, my experience so far with Stranglehold gives me the impression that this is a pretty decent video game equivalent to a B-movie. It has its flaws, but for the right person at the right price it could still be a good time.
At its core, Stranglehold tries its best to capture the beautiful gun combat that is the calling card of a John Woo film. I give Midway props for their vision behind the combat. On paper, the game seems to have all the right elements to emulate the John Woo style of combat. You have the ability to activate “bullet time” almost any time you want. You can dive at any time. You can use the environment in a number of different ways to take out your foes. You’re rewarded for stylish kills and even have special abilities that you can earn, such as the ability to slow down time to a crawl to make a precision shot or the ability to shoot with unlimited ammo for a few seconds.
Some of these ideas work better than others, but the combat is the best thing Stranglehold has going for it. If you’re looking for a game to mindlessly shoot dudes in a cool manner, this game could possibly be fun for you all the way through.
With that said, it’s not hard to find a myriad of faults with Stranglehold’s combat. Most of my complaints regarding the combat center around the video game conventions its tied to. The ability to dive at will is really helpful in combat, but it also has the inverse effect on immersion. It’s hard to imagine Jet Li jumping into a Superman dive every single time he goes to shoot someone, but it’s often the best way to go about killing enemies. Watching someone repeatedly spam the dive move makes for combat that doesn’t look nearly as elegant as John Woo would have envisioned.
The enemy AI doesn’t help, as they’re dumb as doorknobs on the normal difficulty setting. They don’t take cover or do anything remotely smart. Maybe in that sense they capture this style of movie perfectly in video game form. These bad guys are more or less targets in an elaborate shooting gallery. As if the enemies weren’t easy enough to mow down, they always seem to be standing too close to a ridiculous number of played-out environmental hazards, such as exploding barrels, hanging signs or boulders suspended by a well-placed log.
Stranglehold is by no means an ugly game, but the art style doesn’t do itself any favours and hasn’t held up. At the time, Midway’s goal was to make something very realistic. Since then, other games have done realism better and this just looks a bit dated. While it lacks in looks, it sort of makes up for in destructibility. Much of the environment will break very nicely into little pieces, though even that wasn’t done just right. Certain items are too brittle and really break the illusion of realism. I know this game’s goal isn’t necessarily realism, but it’s hard to not scratch your head when you slowly walk into a chair and it shatters.
I still have a ways to go in the game, but Stranglehold so far has proven to be a game with a big vision that fell well short. Thanks to a myriad of technical and design problems, you would not be wrong in calling this a bad game. However, it also features flawed, but fun combat, which makes up 95% of what you’ll be doing in this game. If you go into Stranglehold knowing and accepting these faults, there’s a mindless third-person shooter here for you to enjoy.