retrospective: st ranglehold
How the once-maligned videogame sequel to 1992 movie Hard Boiled ultimately put a Stranglehold on its critics
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.