ret­ro­spec­tive: st ran­gle­hold

How the once-ma­ligned videogame se­quel to 1992 movie Hard Boiled ul­ti­mately put a Stran­gle­hold on its crit­ics

XBox: The Official Magazine (US) - - CONTENTS - Ben Wil­son

Across the his­tory of this beau­ti­ful medium, few terms have filled gamers with dread so con­sis­tently as “of­fi­cial movie tie-in”. Imag­ine the col­lec­tive global eye-rolling, then, which greeted the May 2005 an­nounce­ment that a se­quel to John Woo’s cult cel­lu­loid smash

Hard Boiled was fi­nally un­der­way af­ter 13 years of fan clamor—but in game, rather than film, form. The news that Chow Yun-Fat was to reprise his ac­claimed role of In­spec­tor Tequila only added to fan cyn­i­cism. Ev­i­dently, Illi­nois stu­dio Mid­way had splashed big dol­lar on bring­ing th­ese two Hong Kong heavy­weights aboard, in the hope of shift­ing copies based on name value rather than game qual­ity.

It was an un­fair as­sump­tion. “Af­ter so many years of work­ing with John Woo as a movie di­rec­tor, I’m thrilled to ven­ture into the world of videogames with Woo and Mid­way at the cre­ative helm,” said Yun-Fat upon the an­nounce­ment of Stran­gle­hold. “Be­ing able to bring movie-like ac­tion where peo­ple can watch and en­joy, to the world of videogames where they can ex­pe­ri­ence the adrenalin-filled ac­tion first hand is a great ex­pe­ri­ence to be a part of.” Dur­ing an era where any rent-a-quote celebrity could be at­tached to a game for pub­lic­ity pur­poses in ex­change for a few quid, which reached its nadir with 2010’s

Get Fit With Mel B, few an­tic­i­pated that Yun-Fat might ac­tu­ally be telling the truth. Hind­sight is a won­der­ful thing.

For bal­ance, it should be noted that some con­cern was jus­ti­fied. Based within a semi-anony­mous, sin­gle-storey grey build­ing 20 min­utes drive from down­town Chicago, the de­vel­oper once famed for Mor­tal

Kom­bat had by this point lost its mojo in the eyes of fans, sand­wich­ing the ex­cel­lent Psi-Ops: The Mindgate

Con­spir­acy with un­der­cooked MK se­quels and half-baked sports of­fal such as Blitz: The League and NBA

Ballers. Again, what few re­al­ized then was how vi­tal a ti­tle this was for Mid­way; it couldn’t af­ford for

Stran­gle­hold to fail, in ei­ther the crit­i­cal or fi­nan­cial sense.

Sure enough, whis­pers soon emerged that this may be more than a hastily as­sem­bled cash-in. Jour­nal­ists al­lowed to go hands-on for the first time at E3 in 2006—al­beit within a sin­gle restau­rant level—re­ported that all Woo’s sig­na­ture el­e­ments were present and cor­rect, from cool-look­ing bul­let time (Tequila Time, to give it its in-game la­bel), to wide­spread en­vi­ron­men­tal de­struc­tion, to his most fa­mous calling card: Doves.

“Mid­way couldn’t af­ford for Stran­gle­hold to fail, in ei­ther the crit­i­cal or fi­nan­cial sense”

All the doves. More im­por­tantly, the level was great fun to play. Sen­si­bly, de­vel­oper in­ter­views sought to an­chor Stran­gle­hold to Mid­way’s most re­cent suc­cess, art di­rec­tor Ja­son Kaehler go­ing on record to call it “the next

it­er­a­tion of Psi-Ops”.

Woo tang clan

De­spite those ini­tial mur­murs of ex­cel­lence, vis­its to the stu­dio it­self a sum­mer later were none­the­less ap­proached with cau­tion. Other re­cent movie off­spring, such as PS2’s King Kong, had also threat­ened to break through the iron cur­tain of medi­ocrity on early playtests, only to regress to the mean once the com­pleted game had been sam­pled. But Mid­way was now open­ing its doors to of­fer full ac­cess to two of its seven lev­els—ef­fec­tively, 30 per cent of the fi­nal game—months be­fore its planned re­lease, sug­gest­ing ut­most con­fi­dence that it was on the

Above Bul­let time was known as Tequila Time, and very cool it was too.

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