Stranglehold (video game)
|John Woo Presents Stranglehold|
Tiger Hill Entertainment
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment (GOG.com)
|Engine||Unreal Engine 3.0|
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.[failed verification] A sequel to Stranglehold, entitled Gun Runner, was in the works prior to Midway's financial demise but was ultimately cancelled.
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In latter-day Hong Kong, a policeman goes missing. The department is dumbfounded by the disappearance until they receive a ransom call from an unnamed source. The kidnappers request that a single officer appear at Kowloon market. Lee, the chief of police, believes this is a trap and plans to send in a squad. One officer, Jerry Ying, disqualifies himself from this role, claiming that an appearance as an officer will blow the cover he's used to infiltrate a triad group called Dragon Claw. Instead, Inspector Tequila Yuen decides to go to Kowloon alone, despite Lee's order for him to bring a team. Once in the market, Tequila is attacked by a number of triads, proving Lee's hunch correct. After dispatching the attackers, he discovers the missing officer's badge, only to find a bullethole through the center and a photograph of the dead officer. While engaging in a standoff with the triads, Tequila receives a tip that the officer was assassinated by a group called the Imperial 9s, located in Tai O. While in Kowloon, Tequila stops in at a teahouse owned by the triad group Golden Kane, where he orders his usual tequila. At one of the teahouse's tables, the Imperial 9s are making a deal with Golden Kane regarding forged passports. Upon the Golden Kane representative's revelation that the man sitting at the bar is a cop, the I9 representative panics and shoots the Golden Kane representative. Shortly afterwards, the I9 is dispatched by Tequila. Enraged that the cop had broken up the deal, the Golden Kane bouncer Kwong Fang attacks Tequila, only to be gunned down. After emerging from the teahouse, Tequila informs his superior that he's going to go to Tai O to investigate further. He also mentions that during the deal he overheard that the Imperial 9s are working under Dragon Claw.
Upon arrival in Tai O, Tequila asks a local fisherman if he knows anything of the triads' activity. The fisherman responds that Tai O is under I9 control, but that Golden Kane is trying to capture it. He also says that the Dragon Claw leader, Jimmy Wong, is currently residing on a boat in Tai O. Tequila tracks down Wong and is introduced to his two top men, Dapang and Jerry, the undercover officer who Tequila had personally trained and worked with in the past. Wong reveals that the Golden Kane assassinated the officer and pinned it on his I9s. Tequila, knowing Dragon Claw to be one of the oldest and largest triad groups, asks why Wong hasn't struck back. Wong's reasoning is that Golden Kane has allied with a Russian mob group based in Chicago, the Zakarovs, who have kidnapped his daughter Billie and granddaughter Teko. The Zakarovs plan to hold them for ransom for a slice of Dragon Claw's territory in Hong Kong. Since Wong can't directly move against the Zakarovs, he asks Tequila to go retrieve his family. He needs a man who isn't affiliated with Dragon Claw but cares enough about Billie and Teko to risk his life for them, and who else but Tequila, the husband of Billie and father of Teko. His hands tied, Tequila agrees to go find them. Immediately after the deal is settled, Golden Kane strikes against Dragon Claw's base in Tai O, and Wong charges Tequila with blowing the place to pieces so he can escape. Since this is in police interest anyway, Tequila agrees, planting C-4 charges on his way out of Tai O.
Tequila makes a stop at the Golden Kane-owned restaurant Mega, where their leader Yung Gi is holding an internet conference with Damon and Vladimir Zakarov. Seeing that the Zakarovs are recognized as philanthropists while still maintaining high standing in the criminal underworld, the relatively young and inexperienced Yung plans to head to Chicago himself in order to see how Zakarov's organization is run. He also mentions retrieving Billie and Teko, as Golden Kane is to be the middleman between the Zakarovs and Dragon Claw in their exchange. During the conference, Yung's right-hand man Ty Lok receives a call that they've got unexpected company, and offers to stay and deal with him while Yung escapes. Exasperated that Tequila is still alive after all of Golden Kane's attempts to eliminate him, Yung agrees and exits. Shortly afterward, Tequila arrives in the conference room and is attacked by the muscular Lok, who wields an oversized gun and a belt full of grenades. Despite Lok's superior constitution, Tequila emerges victorious.
In the Zakarovs' penthouse in Chicago, Yung receives word of Lok's death and the destruction of the Mega restaurant. Enraged, he tells the messenger to do him a favor and kill himself. Following the phone call, Yung is approached by Damon Zakarov, who offers to show him his history museum. Uninterested, Yung agrees to go along with it since it is a part of the Zakarovs' operation. As Damon and Yung leave, Vladimir Zakarov glances at a nearby surveillance screen and notes that two men have arrived in the penthouse's parking garage.
As Tequila and Jerry pull into the parking garage, Jerry pulls out his phone and texts Wong with the current information, telling Tequila he needs to keep Wong thinking he's working for him. The two split up, with Tequila covering the lower floor of the penthouse and Jerry covering the upper floor. This plan goes awry, however, when the voice of Vladimir Zakarov booms through the penthouse's PA claiming to have dealt with Tequila's friend. Tequila fights his way to the top floor, eventually coming face to face with Vlad and a gauntlet of trip mines. Vlad makes his way to a helipad, where a chopper picks him up. As Tequila makes his way to the Zakarov's glass-windowed office, Vlad opens fire with a rocket launcher from the chopper, hovering just outside. Tequila shoots Vlad, causing him to fire a rocket into his own chopper and blow himself out of the sky. On his way out of the penthouse Tequila discovers a wounded Jerry and helps him out.
Tequila buys a ticket to the Zakarovs' museum, and enters to find Damon and Yung negotiating the exchange of Billie and Teko. Damon changes the plans at the last minute, letting Yung take Teko back to Hong Kong but saying he'll bring Billie himself. After a standoff between the Zakarov organization and Golden Kane, Yung agrees and leaves with Teko. Damon retreats into the museum, holding Billie hostage, and Tequila gives pursuit. He eventually catches up and shoots Damon dead in the fossil section of the museum. He tearfully reunites with his wife once more, and tells her he was sent by her father to retrieve her. The reunion is cut short, however, when Jerry bursts into the fossil room and opens fire with two pistols. Tequila pushes Billie behind him to shield her and fires back, but moves to dodge a bullet which catches Billie in the chest. Firing wildly, Tequila manages to nick his former friend and partner in the shoulder, causing him to retreat. Turning to his mortally wounded wife, he holds her as she tells him that the Golden Kane have taken Teko to Hong Kong and asks him to forgive her. With that, Billie expires and an enraged Tequila dashes through the halls of the museum in pursuit of Jerry. When he catches up, Jerry is standing on a catwalk above an exhibit and firing at him with dual submachine guns. A breathless Tequila demands to know who paid him off to kill Billie, and Jerry responds that it was Wong, the same man who sent Tequila to find her. With that, Jerry takes off running again, and Tequila follows him to a dead end. The two duel each other with very similar moves, with Jerry diving around the room in much the same manner as Tequila. This doesn't prevent the inspector from gunning down his old friend. As he picks up his fallen partner's phone, Tequila finds Damon's ransom message, which reveals a part of the message that Wong didn't show in the first place: Damon has the names of people tied to Dragon Claw. If Wong doesn't agree to his demands, Billie will expose them in court to prevent the Zakarovs from executing Teko, resulting in Wong getting convicted. Now knowing Wong's motives for killing his own daughter, Tequila texts Wong with a message claiming to have shot Tequila in the head. With that, Tequila tosses the assassinated officer's badge onto his former partner's body.
Tequila finds Yung in his office and immediately sits down to strike a bargain with him. He wants his daughter back, but Yung refuses. With the Russians out of the way, he can now trade Teko to Wong for territory in Hong Kong. Tequila tells him he's a fool and shows him a text exchange between Wong and Jerry, where the two mock how stupid the Golden Kanes are and talk about holding a "GK funeral". Tequila further confirms the Dragon Claws' plan by asking Yung if Wong set the time and place for the exchange, to which Yung replies affirmatively. Tequila tells him to change it, and offers to interfere on Golden Kane's behalf. This way, he gets his daughter and his revenge, and Golden Kane can pick up the pieces of what Dragon Claw leaves behind. Everybody wins. Yung agrees to this and calls Wong to change the location of the meeting to his old neighborhood in Kowloon.
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. Wong is startled to see him alive after the text he received from Jerry, but nonetheless maintains his composure. He escapes with Teko while Yung, Tequila, and Dapang are locked in a standoff, and 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, but is forced to deal with Wong's impressive security. Wong's men wield a variety of weapons ranging from rocket launchers to throwing knives to helicopter gunships. After Tequila shoots down a helicopter, it crashes through the locked front door of Wong's main stronghold. Tequila enters Wong's inner sanctum to find the old man and Dapang have taken Teko hostage. After a very 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 takes a bullet in the arm. With newfound fury, Tequila guns down Wong's men and then goes after Wong and Dapang. Tequila takes down Dapang, but Wong pins him down with a high-powered sniper rifle. As Wong lines up what is sure to be a fatal shot on Tequila, Teko moves behind him and shoves him over the balcony. As the 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 Johnny 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, a more accurate account of both games' creative provenances traces the games to Woo's lengthy, balletic shootouts.
During play, 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. The game was first announced in 2005 as a sequel to Hard Boiled.
The development team for Stranglehold, led by game director Brian Eddy, was the same one that worked on Psi-Ops. This was initially a group of 30 people, that ultimately grew to 50 over the course of the project. To prepare for the project, the team 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. According to Eddy, this research resulted in the team focusing on making in-game movement feel smooth and fluid, and building in-game environments that were destructible.
To help with this, Stranglehold used a heavily modified version of Unreal Engine 3. According to Eddy, the team first started customizing the game engine in early 2005, adding the Havok physics engine and other tools throughout development. 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. Stranglehold also incorporated a body swapping technique that randomized parts of enemy character models, producing varied characters rather than repetitious clones. 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. This feature was integrated throughout the game, but especially apparent during the second of four Tequila Bombs: Precision Aim. 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.
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.
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. 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, and once to suggest that enemy designs should have more Western clothing.
The developers also worked with Chow Yun-fat throughout the process, as the actor reprised his role from Hard Boiled.
Due to Midway's February 2006 partnership with in-game advertising agency Double Fusion, Stranglehold contains dynamic in-game advertising, 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. 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.
Midway released a Collector's Edition for the console versions of the game.
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. 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.
Updates and downloadable content
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.
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. In an interview with Twitchfilm Terence Chang announced that the film will be a prequel to Hard Boiled with a much younger Tequila. Hong Kong actor-director Stephen Fung will direct the film in Singapore and the U.S. with a $20 million budget.
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.
|Official PlayStation Magazine|||
|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. Empire Online gave it a 4 out of 5, also praising its "dynamic action", as well its "bombastic soundtrack" and "slick visuals". GamerNode gave the game an 8.5 out of 10, calling it the "ultimate guy's game." 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. Electronic Gaming Monthly stated that Stranglehold was "a game whose movie influences are more than skin deep."
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