Review: John Woo Presents Stranglehold (Xbox 360)

hard-boiled Although the details are fuzzy, I know for a fact I saw my first Hong Kong heroic bloodshed movie a couple of years ago.

My buddy Dan had invited me over for a few drinks and some general indolence, and we sat down to watch a movie he revered: John Woo's Hard Boiled. I can't remember a damn thing about it, but I know there were guns, and doves, and shooting, and jumping while shooting . . . it was grand.

Today, I asked Dan to remind me of the specifics of Hard Boiled to help me construct this review. But even after having seen the movie dozens of time, there are only four solitary details that he can recall:

  1. A teahouse: dude gets killed from a banister
  2. A warehouse: dude gets nailed by a motorcycle
  3. A boathouse: dude gets shotgunned
  4. A hospital: baby pees on Chow Yun-Fat

It might sound crass or irresponsible to paint the movie in such simplistic terms, but that's really the beauty of the movie. John Woo wasn't setting out to break new ground in character development in the already-crowded cop-action genre; he was only trying to stage the best combination of over-the-top shootouts and exhilarating stunts that could possibly be crammed into a mere two hours. He succeeded.


What Stranglehold brings to light is just how crucial that time constraint was. For all its bedlam and bravado, Hard Boiled wouldn't have worked as a three-or-four hour epic. And that's where Stranglehold misses the mark: it just doesn't know when to quit. It's got all the keys for success -- the thrilling shootouts, orgiastic destruction and appropriately cliché-ridden one-liners from Chow Yun-Fat himself. There's just one critical element from John Woo's tried-and-true movie formula that's missing here: a timely resolution.

It became readily apparent after the game's bombastic introductory sequence, in which Inspector Tequila (Chow Yun-Fat) takes a stroll through a dark, damp alleyway and blows away a few hundred bad guys with gusto. This was all well and good, but after the tenth orgiastic shootout in another identical stretch of the city, I realized an hour had gone by and I was still doing the exact same thing. If this had been a John Woo film, he would have cut this down to ten minutes at most.


Granted, there are different expectations for games. They cost a whole lot more than a movie and they're expected to entertain the consumer for more than a couple hours. Midway was clearly aware of this and sought to extend the play experience in a couple of marginally successful ways:

  • Artificially extend each level (or scene) by requiring backtracking or repetitive objectives
  • Toss in a multiplayer mode

Neither one of these components enriches the product. Instead, they just keep it on life support. And by the sixth hour of play, I knew I was done. I was still only on the third level, but the game had very clearly already ground to a halt hours prior. Despite its flashy explosions and relatively engaging take on the Max Payne bullet-time slow-motion action concept, Stranglehold just doesn't have anything to hold the player's interest in the long-term. The plot's a throwaway, which would be fine if the game actually developed beyond its rudimentary run-and-shoot design.

There was a great deal of potential behind this game; after all, two of the biggest names in Hong Kong action came together to make the ultimate action game based on one of the greatest action films of all time. It's a shame to see the concept failed to evolve from its cinematic roots into an enjoyable interactive experience.

John Woo Presents Stranglehold is available for Windows, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The reviewer played to approximately 50% completion and tried the online mode.

Recommended for:

  • Only the hardest of the hardcore John Woo fans (who should make sure to play the PlayStation 3 version for its exclusive high-definition copy of Hard Boiled that's included on the disc)

Not Recommended for:

  • Its flimsy, two-dimensional design that fails to evolve over the course of the game
  • Stale, uninspired plot that should have been saved by its gunplay, which also disappoints