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PLATFORM: Xbox360, PS3, PC
ESRB RATING: Mature
DEVELOPER: Midway Studios, Chicago
You’re Chow Yun Fat in a John Woo flick, before Hollywood face-raped them!
15 years after Hard Boiled was released, we finally have a sequel. Yes, Inspector Tequila is back as the most bad-ass cop of all time, ignoring his chief and making his own rules. He sets out to stop a bad guy from doing bad things such as killing cops, kidnapping young women and hiring hundreds of goons who have never spent a day at the firing range.
But honestly, does anyone care about the plot of this? Can anyone tell me the full plot of Hard Boiled? No, you can’t- no one saw those classic Woo flicks for any other reason than to see well-orchestrated, gratuitous violence.
Tequila’s back as a renegade cop to fuck people up with any and all weapons available, that’s all you need to know.
Max Payne with a twist. That’s how it plays. It’s becoming clichéd to bring up that title whenever there’s a game with bullet-time in it, but fact is that Payne did it first, and Payne it best. Stranglehold does manage to up the ante here, mostly with the clever use of the environment.
For example- see a little food cart with wheels nearby? Jump on that sucker and blast some people on your mobile death platform. See a chandelier? Jump to it and swing like Tarzan while bucking fools with the submachine gun. Slide down rails, dive over anything. If something could be found at fault with the system it’s that there aren’t enough ways to interact with the environment. For example, why can’t you lean against a banister and pop everyone like in Hard Boiled? But that’s just splitting hairs. The game controls well, and you’ll soon be knocking back headshot after headshot on the (literally) thousands of enemies that swarm you.
The environment is also one of your best weapons. Your stupid enemies tend to stand underneath things that like to collapse and crush them after being shot, like neon signs and air conditioners. Shooting the wall apart near an enemy causes them to fling their hands up to protect their eyes, allowing you a few seconds to aim and pop off a few shots. You’re able to hide behind pillars and walls to dive out and shoot people, but be careful that your cover doesn’t get destroyed….
The way the world blows apart is fantastic, thanks to the Massive D physics engine in place. Practically every object in the game is destructible, which leads to a lot of fun when you’re going after enemies with a shotgun. The casino level in particular is a blast, as the machines spark and blow up, spitting out coins after being hit. Making things better, the environments stay as messed up as you leave them, so after a firefight you’ll walk around and just smile at all the destruction you hath wrought. Or maybe that’s just me.
You’ve also got a bunch of special moves called Tequila Bombs. You get them by killing lots of people or collecting Paper Cranes. Cute, eh? They give Tequila the power to heal himself, aim precision shots (which take out enemies spectacularly. Check the screenshot below), become invincible and shoot a barrage of bullets at your foes, or do a spin move. The last one’s the most effective for taking people out, as it’ll kill everyone in the immediate area. Every once in a while when you spin around in slow motion, doves fly around you. It’s a nice touch.
But the main problem with the game? It’s the same thing, over and over and over again.
Anyplace there’s a door, someone will pop out of it and shoot at you. The game runs basically like this- you travel through hallways and alleys while shooting people. You get to a large room. Kill people till there’s none left. Wait for new wave of enemies. Kill them. Wait for next wave of enemies. Kill them. Then either move on or keep killing guys till you fight a boss.
It does get monotonous. They try to change up things a couple of times but fail miserably, such as the annoying levels where you have to plant bombs on a ship. The bosses are tricky as hell, especially if you play it on the hard setting (or the Hard Boiled setting, aka the Anal Rape setting) but it’s satisfying to take those guys down, even if it does sometimes take 20 direct headshots. The game also takes a pause here and there for a standoff, where you’re facing off enemies one on one and have a limited amount of time to shoot them and dodge their bullets. It’s fun the first few times you do it, but later on in the game you’ll be annoyed and just want to skip it.
But besides that you’re just killing the same enemies over and over in places that have just been made to look different. The game doesn’t have much length to it either. If you play it in Casual mode, I’d guess you could get through it in a few hours. Hard mode doesn’t take much longer, except for you the time it takes to restart over and over because there’s a lot more enemies that do much more damage.
The graphics are beautiful, courtesy of the ever-popular Unreal 3.0 engine. There’s a level near the end where it’s raining that it looks straight out of Gears of War. Beautiful stuff. You’ll initially be overwhelmed by all the smoke and sparks during the gunfights but soon get used to the chaos of the gunfights.
The music unfortunately is hardly memorable. I’d suggest ripping some Wu-Tang to your hard drive to make things more exciting.
Once you’ve seen everything to do there’s not much of a reason to go back and play through it again, unless you’re trying to get more points. You get Style Points by killing people in creative and cool ways, and you can go to an Unlock shop in the menu that’s staffed by John Woo, who’s apparently taken it up after realizing that his career was in a shambles. There you can buy new characters for multiplayer and concept art and videos, which like in most games you’ll look at once and immediately forget.
There is a online multiplayer mode, but hardly a robust one. You’ve got a 6-player max game for Deathmatch or Team Deathmatch, with a leaderboard in place for those of you that care about that kind of thing.
There’s a ton of problems right now with connecting to games. Games quit out on you out of nowhere, it’s tough to connect to anything, and there’s occasional lag here and there. One silly problem now is that there’s an achievement for hosting 10 games on each level, which leads to a lot of suckers sitting in their own games without anyone playing with each other. Trust me on this. Sign on now and you’ll see nothing but rooms with one guy sitting in it, hoping against hope to get those 15 achievement points.
Friends-only games seem to fare much better as far as smoothness of play, and once you get the hang of the levels it is a helluva lot of fun, and I’m surprised they managed to make the bullet-time work well online. Still, like the main game, there just ain’t much to it. Levels are fairly small for the most part, and although they retain damage like the single player game, once you’ve played each a few times it’s doubtful that you’ll go back to it.
Quite a bit of fun, and a must-play for fans of Woo, especially considering this is the best thing he’s been involved with since Face/Off. But worth a purchase? Possibly not for most people. Ironically enough, the game is more like Woo’s American films; pretty enough, but shallow as hell.
That being said, I hope we haven’t seen the last of Tequila. They could take this concept and improve it a helluva lot, and I don’t know anyone that wouldn’t mind stepping into Chow Yun Fat’s 6’1" shoes again.