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John Woo Presents: Stranglehold Review

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Woo hoo! Inspector Tequila's gone digital

★★★★

When it comes to Asian action flicks, you can bet your ass that videogame geekboys make up the vast majority of the genre’s Western fans; so in developing a game that picks up where John Woo’s kinetic classic Hard Boiled left off, Midway’s Stranglehold is a stroke of genius and shoo-in for chart-shattering success.

But even though the game’s licence alone would be enough to shift copies, Stranglehold’s take on the director’s choreographed ultra-violence is credible, captivating and exceptionally good fun.

Developed in association with Woo - who was present at every stage of development, and was allegedly a harsh taskmaster when it came to the approval process and getting things just so - Stranglehold is billed as a genuine sequel to Hard Boiled.

Moreover, actor Chow Yun-Fat came on board to reprise his role as Hong Kong cop Inspector Tequila, providing the voice and motion-captured moves for his spookily-convincing digital double.

And with a bombastic soundtrack, slick visuals and dynamic action that never lets up, Stranglehold comes closer than any cinematic spin-off in recent memory to capturing the spirit of the movie that inspired it.

Using Stranglehold’s gloriously simple controls, even the most ham-fisted player will look like a gaming god within seconds; leaping through the air in slow motion, sliding down banisters with twin guns blazing, and picking off scowling enemies with perfect headshots. To keep things interesting, new moves become available as the twisted story unfolds, allowing Tequila to zoom-in on remote targets and blow them away with a single shot, or become gripped by a maniacal gun-rage where he unloads a maelstrom of bullets and cuts his rivals to ribbons.

Earning new attacks and maximising the periods you can spend in Tequila Time (read: Bullet Time) is also dependent on earning points through stylish slaughter, encouraging players to use their imagination and rewarding those who use the most daring combination of moves.

Aside from its delirious gun-fu, explosive environments also help make Stranglehold a gripping experience. Almost everything you see in the bustling levels can be destroyed, and during gun battles the worlds become strewn with broken glass, crumbling masonry and other smoking detritus, adding tremendous energy to even the smallest skirmish.

Crucially, the interactive levels also play an important role in completing the game, with players able to blast parts of the environment to trigger avalanches and crush any enemies loitering below, or topple telegraph poles and make bridges to previously out-of-reach rooftops.

Fans of Woo’s work will also be enthralled by Stranglehold as it’s packed with familiar motifs and set pieces from the director’s pictures, including those celebrated dual pistols and incongruous flocks of doves heralding the arrival of climatic shootouts. Woo’s love for Mexican standoffs is also beautifully captured, with the action occasionally switching to a close-up view where players use one control stick to target enemies and the other to dodge the bullets streaking towards them.

If there’s any criticism here it’s that Stranglehold’s combat is relentless and ferociously intense, making the game a stressful experience that will alienate players who want a little more brain stimulation and variety from their virtual escapades. But for kill-crazy gamers who get their kicks from pumping the trigger, Stranglehold is an irresistible, digit-blistering thrill ride.

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