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4 Reviews

Stranglehold

Defying the orders of his pen-pushing superiors, Will Porter nestles a cocktail stick between his teeth and goes to work

A little while ago in all the papers there was a story of a man in a Cambridge museum who accidentally fell down some stairs onto several priceless Chinese Qing vases. Was it a terrible accident? Was there a step that had been buffed into slipperiness and was bereft of a warning sign?

Or - who knows? - had someone who was a tiny bit mad succumbed to the desperate urge that you and I feel on a daily basis; that inexplicable urge to destroy valuable fragile objects simply because, for a split second, it feels good to break stuff?

Making things fall apart rocks - and it turns out that they fall apart even better when accompanied by slow motion, doves and a man with bulging eyes clutching his pierced throat and choking down the last few pints of blood his evil little gangster heart will ever pump. Ladies and gentlemen, please bid a warm, warm welcome to John Woo's Stranglehold - the game that lets those of a destructive ilk have their cake and jump up and down on it.

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A solitary thought will be dancing in your head at this point, and it needs addressing. We have to face the issue of just how much Stranglehold fills the void left by Max Payne. Short answer: it doesn't. It's a very different game - Payne would have you keeping tabs on bullets, being totally aware of the exact position of your foes and using bullet-time to gain a vital edge. Its combat felt weighty and gritty, and was delicately paced to boot. Stranglehold, though... Well, Stranglehold doesn't give much of a shit about all that.

Many levels progress in a similar vein to those of Payne (moving through Hong Kong backstreets and dockside storage areas seemingly reserved purely for flammable liquids and easily dislodged heavy objects), but the true spirit of Stranglehold is made clearer elsewhere. Much of the game has you locked in various chambers housing
an entire collective noun of fragile objects, with bad guys running in from many and varied inaccessible adjacent rooms, while you run round and round in circles, killing whoever you come across in a fashion that's oddly reminiscent of playing Robotron 'back in the day'.

It isn't rocket science, but it's great fun. Tearing around a casino with coins tumbling from broken fruit machines, sliding down banisters in slow motion and shooting gangsters in the face, and watching a central sports car revolving on a pedestal slowly getting taken to pieces by stray shots - for pure daft enjoyment, this certainly takes some beating.

The game really comes into its own when you genuinely fear the bullets madly flying around you, which sadly isn't always the case - above all, in your bullet-absorbent spells in earlier levels. Later on, though, when you're cowering behind shattering pillars in a car park and watching Tequila's gnarled reactions (character design and animation is top-notch throughout) and working out your next act of violence, the blood really does get pumping.

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Firing through the glass of car windows, using your magic cop powers to fuel sniper shots and having concrete turned to powder around you makes for some brilliantly atmospheric set pieces. It's great bullet-ridden nonsense - even if the slightly ropy cover system makes you wish that the developers had been a little more attentive to the tactical weight of a game like Gears Of War, and, indeed, realised that sometimes fewer (and more damaging) bullets can bring greater intensity.

A health-pack system with a logic not far advanced from that of Wolfenstein 3D and a smattering of old-school boss battles, meanwhile, flag up the fact that at its core, Stranglehold is of an extremely traditional blueprint.

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