Stranglehold (video game)

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John Woo Presents Stranglehold
Developer(s)Midway Chicago
Tiger Hill Entertainment
Publisher(s)Midway Games
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment (
Director(s)Brian Eddy
Producer(s)John Woo
Terence Chang
Designer(s)Neill Glancy
Programmer(s)Steve Ellmore
Artist(s)Jason Kaehler
Writer(s)Tony Peterson
Composer(s)Jim Bonney
Sascha Dikiciyan
Cris Velasco
Jamie Christopherson
EngineUnreal Engine 3.0
Platform(s)Microsoft Windows
PlayStation 3
Xbox 360
ReleaseXbox 360
  • NA: September 7, 2007
  • EU: September 14, 2007
  • AU: September 20, 2007[1]

Microsoft Windows

  • NA: September 18, 2007
  • EU: September 18, 2007

PlayStation 3

  • NA: October 29, 2007
  • EU: November 30, 2007
Genre(s)Third-person shooter
Mode(s)Single-player, multiplayer

Stranglehold is a third-person shooter developed by Midway Games' Chicago studio, released in late 2007 for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It is Midway's first game to use Unreal Engine 3 and was developed in collaboration with John Woo. Stranglehold is the sequel to Woo's 1992 Hong Kong action film, Hard Boiled and stars Chow Yun-fat in a reprisal of his role as hard-boiled cop Inspector "Tequila" Yuen. Stranglehold is the first project on which Woo and Chow have collaborated since Hard Boiled.[3][failed verification] A sequel to Stranglehold, entitled Gun Runner, was in the works prior to Midway's financial demise but was ultimately cancelled.[4]

Warner Bros. re-released the Windows version of the game through on November 26, 2019.[5]The game sold more than 1 million units worldwide[6]


In Hong Kong, three Triad crime syndicates are fighting for territory: Dragon Claw, the Imperial 9s (I9s) based in Tai O, and Golden Kane. After a police officer goes missing, the Hong Kong Police Force receive a ransom call from an unnamed source. Despite orders from the police chief to send a squad of officers, Inspector Tequila Yuen decides to obey the ransomer's request to go to a Kowloon market alone. After being ambushed by triad members, he finds evidence that the officer has been killed. Tequila's search leads him to a teahouse, where he unintentionally interrupts a business deal between Golden Kane and I9 members. Following a tip that the I9s killed the officer, and that the gang is working under Dragon Claw, Tequila heads to Tai O to investigate further.

In Tai O, Tequila learns that Dragon Claw leader Jimmy Wong is currently on a boat somewhere in the area. Wong and Tequila have a complicated history: the inspector dated Wong's daughter Billie, and the couple had a child named Teko. The inspector tracks down Wong and is introduced to his henchmen: Dapang, and Tequila's ex-partner Jerry Ying, who is now working undercover. Tequila learns from Wong that the police officer's death is part of a larger plot by Golden Kane to gain more control of Hong Kong. The triad gang pinned the officer's death on the I9s to bring unwanted police attention onto them. Additionally, they partnered with the Zakarovs, a Russian mafia group based in Chicago, to kidnap and hold Billie and Teko ransom in exchange for part of Wong's territory. When Golden Kane attacks Dragon Claw's Tai O base, Tequila promises Wong to find his family, and helps the crime boss escape by blowing up the base using C-4 charges.

Tequila heads to the Golden Kane-owned restaurant Mega, where their leader Yung Gi is holding an Internet teleconference with Damon and Vladimir Zakarov. Impressed by the Zakarovs' philanthropy and social standing, Yung heads to Chicago to see how the Zakarovs run their organization, as well as to facilitate ransom negotiations. Tequila and Jerry work together to travel to the Zakarovs' penthouse in Chicago, splitting up to cover different penthouse floors, but are spotted by Vladimir. Tequila works his way to the top floor, encountering Vladimir in a helicopter and armed with a rocket launcher. Tequila shoots Vladimir, causing the Russian gangster to blow himself up, and tends to a wounded Jerry.

Tequila buys a ticket to the Zakarovs' museum, finding Damon and Yung negotiating the exchange of Billie and Teko. The gangsters agree to let Yung take Teko back to Hong Kong, and let Damon bring Billie. Yung leaves with Teko, leaving Damon to be pursued and killed by Tequila. After tearfully reuniting with his lover, Tequila gets ambushed by Jerry, who kills Billie with dual pistols. Confronted by the inspector, Jerry confirms that Wong paid him to murder Billie. Tequila kills Jerry, and takes his former partner's cell phone. Text messages reveal Wong's motives for killing his own daughter: Damon has the names of several Dragon Claw associates, and if Jimmy doesn't agree to the Zakarovs' demands, Billie will expose the names in court to prevent the Zakarovs from executing Teko, resulting in Wong getting convicted. Tequila texts Wong using Jerry's cell phone, claiming that Jerry successfully killed the inspector.

Tequila confronts Yung in his office to strike a deal with the gangster. Yung refuses to let the inspector's daughter go, as he can now directly trade Teko to Wong for territory in Hong Kong without the Zakarovs. Scoffing at his naivety, Tequila shows Yung text messages between Wong and Jerry that prove that Dragon Claw will betray him during the deal. Tequila convinces Yung that in order for both of them to get what they want, Yung must tell Wong to change the meeting location to Yung's old neighbourhood in Kowloon, and let the inspector interfere on the gang's behalf.

In the slums of Kowloon, the exchange goes down seemingly as planned. The only difference—Tequila isn't on time. Yung is forced to improvise, and is unable to stall Dragon Claw until Tequila arrives. As his men bring Teko out of a nearby temple, Tequila bursts from an alleyway and shouts at him for being unable to hold them off. A startled Wong escapes with Teko while Yung, Tequila, and Dapang are locked in a standoff. As Tequila breaks the standoff by chasing him, Dapang guns Yung down and escapes.

Tequila hijacks a nearby car and chases Wong to his estate. After he shoots down one of Wong's helicopters, it crashes through the locked front door of Wong's main stronghold. Tequila enters Wong's estate to find that the crime boss and Dapang have taken Teko hostage. After a tense standoff, Tequila relents and tells Wong to let his daughter go. But when Dapang takes the tape off Teko's mouth, she warns her father that it's a trap, and as she runs to safety, she is shot in the arm. With newfound fury, Tequila guns down Wong's men and goes after Wong and Dapang. Tequila takes down Dapang, but Wong pins him down with a high-powered sniper rifle. As Wong adjusts his aim, Teko moves behind him and shoves him over the balcony, killing him. As father and daughter reunite, Chief Lee arrives on the scene and returns Tequila's badge, which he had earlier confiscated for insubordination. Tequila and Teko leave the scene, leaving Chief Lee to gripe about how long the paperwork will take.


Stranglehold attempts to translate the gun ballet aesthetic popularized by director John Woo, used in films such as Hard Boiled and The Killer, to an interactive media format. Although the game has drawn comparisons to Remedy Entertainment's Max Payne franchise, which was influenced by Woo,[7] a more accurate account of both games' creative provenances traces the games to Woo's lengthy, balletic shootouts.[8]


Stranglehold is a third-person shooter game. Players control Inspector Tequila Yuen as he fights various gangsters throughout Hong Kong and Chicago. Players can traverse each level by walking around, diving, and taking cover behind walls. They can do all of this while using a variety of weapons, including pistols, submachine guns, shotguns, assault rifles, rocket launchers, heavy machine guns, and grenades. Jumping in any direction or interacting with any object while aiming at an opponent (or pressing a certain button) will slow time, creating a short window during which Tequila can shoot at targets.[9] This technique—called Tequila Time—generates a cinematic effect that mimics Woo's. Tequila Time is managed through a meter which drains with use and regenerates with time. Tequila can also make use of his environment, moving up and down railings, swinging from chandeliers and sliding across tabletops and riding on carts while shooting at enemies.

Another form of gameplay comes from the style and grace associated with Woo's balletic firefights. By taking out enemies, the player earns stars. The more stylish the kills performed, the more stars received. Taking out enemies in quick succession, or interacting with the environment when taking down opponents, will earn the player the optimum number of stars. As an incentive to interact with the environment, Tequila receives a bonus to his attack power and defense during interactions.

Tequila also employs several iconic techniques from Woo's movies, referred to as Tequila Bombs.[10] Tequila Bombs require energy to perform. The player gains energy by defeating enemies (equal to the Stars obtained) and by collecting paper cranes hidden about each level.


John Woo, director of Hard Boiled
Director John Woo agreed with Midway Games to create a game based on his film Hard Boiled.

Stranglehold was developed by Midway Games and Tiger Hill Entertainment. Following the release of 2004's Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy, Midway was looking to make a new game based on an existing brand license. Due to a Midway employee's connections, the company was able to get in touch with John Woo about a possible video game collaboration.[11] Woo himself had co-founded Tiger Hill Entertainment in May 2003, and through his collaboration with Midway, Stranglehold was to be his studio's first video game title.[12] It was also intended to be Midway's first step into developing for the seventh generation of video game consoles; the company wanted to release the game for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.[13]: 32[14] After Woo verbally agreed to a deal, Midway began working on the game in the summer of 2004,[14] and the project was first announced in May 2005.[15][16]

The development team for Stranglehold, led by game director Brian Eddy, was the same one that worked on Psi-Ops.[17] This was initially a group of 30 people, that ultimately grew to 50 over the course of the game's development.[18] Eddy states that the team's goal was to make the player feel as if they were the one directing the action in a John Woo film.[13]: 32[18] To prepare for the project, the developers watched many of Woo's films, such as Hard Boiled and The Killer, to figure out how to emulate Woo's style of film making.[17] According to Eddy, this research resulted in the team focusing on making player movement feel smooth and fluid, and building in-game environments that were destructible.[11]

In order to bring this vision to life for next-generation consoles, the studio licensed Unreal Engine 3. However, Unreal Engine 3 was still actively in development at the time, and was missing features that the team needed. In order to prototype Stranglehold's gameplay, Midway used their existing engine from Psi-Ops to make a prototype version of the first level, with most of the player's mechanics present in the final game.[13]: 34 Once the gameplay had been prototyped, the development team began porting their work over to Unreal Engine, modifying its source code to build in the missing systems. According to Eddy, the team first started customizing the game engine in early 2005, adding the Havok physics engine and other tools throughout development.[19][20] Among these modifications was Massive Destruction (also known as Massive D), a set of physics technologies that allowed players to destroy nearly every object in a given level.[21] Stranglehold also incorporated a body swapping technique that randomized parts of enemy character models, producing varied characters rather than repetitious clones.[21] For realism, the development team incorporated location-based damage, where the AI responded in different ways to different hit locations. This allowed the team to vary enemy reactions with damage-mapped impact points.[22] This feature was integrated throughout the game, but especially apparent during the second of four Tequila Bombs: Precision Aim.[23] Also, while targets took time to recover from flesh wounds, they will eventually revive (even if unable to stand) and continue to fire until passing out from simulated blood loss.[24]

For the visual direction, art director Jason Kaehler worked with Stephan Martinière, the game's creative visual director, to create concept art in pre-production that was reminiscent of the movies the team watched in their research. The environments that were eventually used in the game came from the thematic goal of creating a fusion of Western and Eastern elements that was present in Woo's films.[17] In-game levels were first sketched out and iterated on using Unreal Tournament 2004.[13]: 34

Throughout development, the team at Midway worked closely with Woo and Tiger Hill Entertainment. While Midway focused on game development, Tiger Hill primarily worked on the story and the storyboards.[19] Woo liked the developers' approach to the game, giving them plenty of freedom throughout the development process. As recalled by Eddy and Kaehler, the film director stepped in a couple of times to steer its direction: once to object to a potential story idea involving the export of body parts,[11] and once to suggest that enemy designs should have more Western clothing.[17] According to Eddy, Woo "made us understand that he prefers poetic violence over gore-fests", which helped the development team retain their focus on the director's vision.[18] Additionally, there were sections of the game that had to be cut due to time constraints. Driving and boating scenes in the single-player campaign did not make it, and the team had to stop iterating on the game's multiplayer mode in order to make the deadline.[11]

The developers also worked with Chow Yun-fat throughout the process, as the actor reprised his role from Hard Boiled.[25] To capture his likeness, Midway met with Chow in Hong Kong to digitally scan his face and body,[14] as well as have him record voice lines.[18]

Due to Midway's February 2006 partnership with in-game advertising agency Double Fusion, Stranglehold contains dynamic in-game advertising,[26][27] such as posters and billboards for real world products appearing during gameplay.

A trailer for Stranglehold was present as an extra feature in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon.

As part of the game's promotions, a contest for amateur filmmakers to make the best John Woo-inspired short film was held from April 30 to June 25, 2007.[28] The winner of the "True to Woo" contest received US$25,000, the chance to meet the developers at Midway Chicago, their film's premiere on Spike TV, an Amp’d Mobile phone plan, a Hard Boiled poster autographed by Woo, and a copy of Stranglehold.[29]

According to European marketing director Martin Spiess, Stranglehold cost around US$30,000,000 to produce.[30]

Collector's Edition[edit]

Midway released a Collector's Edition for the console versions of the game.[31]

The PlayStation 3 Collector's Edition includes Hard Boiled fully remastered in high-definition and on the same Blu-ray with all the additional game extras and features.[32] The Xbox 360 Collector's Edition includes the same extras and featurettes but on a separate disc without Hard Boiled.

The Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 editions were both packed in a tin case with a holographic cover motif.[31]

Updates and downloadable content[edit]

On December 6, 2007, Midway released a downloadable map pack for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 video game systems. The map pack featured 10 additional multiplayer maps, as well as 21 all-new multiplayer character skins. The Xbox 360 version also included 10 new achievements worth 250 points.[33]

Film adaptation[edit]

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Lion Rock Entertainment is making the sequel to John Woo's Hard Boiled. The film will be based on the plot of Stranglehold.[34] In an interview with Twitchfilm Terence Chang announced that the film will be a prequel to Hard Boiled with a much younger Tequila.[35] Hong Kong actor-director Stephen Fung will direct the film in Singapore and the U.S. with a $20 million budget.[36]

Since the initial announcement of a big-screen version of Stranglehold, there has been no further news on its production. It is presumed that the project was a victim of Midway Games' bankruptcy.


Publication Score
Xbox 360
Empire Online 4/5[37]
Game Informer 7.25/10
GameSpot 7.0/10 [38]
GameTrailers 7.7/10
IGN 8.1/10[22]
Official PlayStation Magazine 3.5/5 stars[39]
Official Xbox Magazine 7.0/10

Stranglehold has a generally positive score of 79% at GameRankings. IGN gave it a rating of 8.1 out of 10 for its cinematic flair and melodrama in the storyline true to the style of John Woo, enjoyable battles, and slick presentation. However, they said that the visuals were lacking, the game was too short, and inauthentic because the characters do not speak Cantonese.[22] Empire Online gave it a 4 out of 5, also praising its "dynamic action", as well its "bombastic soundtrack" and "slick visuals".[37] GamerNode gave the game an 8.5 out of 10, calling it the "ultimate guy's game."[40] GameSpot gave Stranglehold a 7.0 out of 10, stating that although the game is solid in every department, it is repetitive, due to a short seven-hour single-player game and weak multiplayer.[38] Electronic Gaming Monthly stated that Stranglehold was "a game whose movie influences are more than skin deep."


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