Preview: Stranglehold (PS3, 360, PC)

John Woo. John Woo. John Woo. I hate John Woo. Heâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s a terrible director who has no sense of storytelling. Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve hated John Woo for years as he seems to be only concerned about visceral thrills and gun fights then telling a story. Itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s almost all action with him. He never gives time for the story to set in ever. Film just isnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t the right medium for someone whoâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s all about shooting and all things visually aesthetic. Wait a second. John Woo the Video Game would be the perfect medium for him and his work. If only some game developer would reach out to him and meet him midway on this idea. Wait another second. Midway! Midwayâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s â┚¬Å”John Woo Presents Strangleholdâ┚¬Â has all the elements to be the best shooter of 2007.

Stranglehold picks up right where arguably John Wooâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s best film of all time, Hard Boiled ends. You play as Inspector “Tequila” Yuen (Chow Yun-Fat) in a game that owes quite a bit to Max Payne which owes quite a bit to The Matrix which owes a lot toâ┚¬Â¦ um John Woo films. Inspector Yuen runs through the Hong Kong and Chicago underground looking for his kidnapped ex-wife. Yuen is the only returning character from the original film, but that largely has to deal with the fact that there arenâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t a whole lot of people left at the end of Hard Boiled. The story sounds easy enough to get into without having seen Hard Boiled but with enough homage to the original film that Woo fans will be able to geek out over it. Plus Chow Yun Fat is doing all the voice acting in the game, and Midway has worked hard to capture every nuisance of the actorâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s expressions, something that is only really now being realized in gaming.

Yuen has a few tricks up his sleeve to get his wife back though. What would a John Woo game be without the ability to slow down time? â┚¬Å”Tequila Timeâ┚¬Â is Strangleholdâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s way to slow down the action when things get a little intense. In Tequila Time, youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ll be able to do a variety of dives and other acrobatics to pick off enemies left and right. Considering that each level in Stranglehold scores you on how much style you have mowing down waves of mobsters. Furthermore, these style points arenâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t just for show. You can use them to upgrade Inspector Tequila with a variety of new moves. Beyond simply diving, youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ll be able to run along railing, slide down staircases and leap from moving objects all in glorious slow motion. Furthermore, once you enter into Tequila Time swarms of doves fly out. Remember, this is the spiritual sequel to a John Woo movie folks.

Perhaps what gamers will be most impressed with is the sheer amount of demolition that can be wreaked on the surroundings. Stranglehold takes what Max Payne did to Jerry Lewis levels of destruction. Midway has also said that reloading Tequilaâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s dual Berettas will be done automatically to keep the action and explosions flowing (unless of course heâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s tossing them aside his weapons which will trigger mini slow motion cut scenes for added coolness). Stranglehold uses a feature called â┚¬Å”Massive Dâ┚¬Â which essentially means the entire world of Stranglehold is destructible. This is part of the Havok physics engine which really ups the ante of rag doll physics that weâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve been seeing in so many games recently. Built upon the Unreal Engine, Stranglehold core gameplay sounds like thereâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s a bit depth to all of the pretty smoldering debris that the game promises.

In more good news for shooter fans, Midway has an experienced group of developers crafting this title. The team that made the cult hit Psi-Ops is in charge of developing Stranglehold. For those of you who didnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t play Psi-Ops, you missed out on one of the most over the top visceral thrill rides ever released anywhere. To hear that theyâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re in charge of making this game should put a smile on action fansâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ faces everywhere.

Thereâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s still a lot thatâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s up in the air with Stranglehold though. Midway has been rather quiet on the multiplayer. They also have said theyâ┚¬â”žÂ¢d like to include some downloadable content, but once again this is still not 100% confirmed to be in the game yet. Midway still has some surprises up their sleeve with Stranglehold.

Stranglehold looks to be one of the best shooters of 2007. With a release on the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC in the near future (Midway says Winter 07 so far so January-March), itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ll be one the most talked about shooters until itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s released. Like I said, Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve never been a fan of John Woo, but if Stranglehold lives up to itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s potential I may stop trying to get my money back from him for paying to see Broken Arrow.