Wednesday, August 6, 2008

John Woo Presents Stranglehold (Xbox 360)

Given the reviews I knew that Stranglehold (sorry, "John Woo Presents Stranglehold") probably wouldn't rock my world, so I guess I wasn't too disappointed when it didn't. It's not bad, but I certainly wouldn't recommend it over all the other games out there. The premise is solid: a shooter with crazy destructible environments and a combo system that awards you for taking dudes out with style. But the execution of that premise left something to be desired.

The first style system I remember was from Project Gotham Racing. It had these challenge modes where the goal was to string together longs stretches of flashy moves while keeping up a fast pace and not bumping into anything. If you were really good you could keep one combo going for the entire circuit and get a crapload of points. Stranglehold tries to integrate a similar thing into its shooter mechanics, with you being rewarded for stuff like making a headshot while leaping through the air dramatically. Instead of getting points you fill up a meter that lets you heal yourself or unleash devastating barrages. Unfortunately the game has overly simple rules for detecting how suave you are, resulting in your best performances going by unnoticed while some sloppy mishap gets you tons of points. The adrenaline is there keeping you gunning for a longer streak, but the inability of the system to correctly gauge flair makes the whole experience feel slightly disconnected. It becomes clear pretty early on that the best way to get style points is to game the system, not to actually have any style.

It doesn't help that the weapons are uninspired. There's a long stream of guns that mostly feel identical. I know I'm spoiled by games that have the luxury of inventing death rays and plasma rifles, but realistic weaponry doesn't have to be so spectacularly generic. My advice: concentrate on fewer weapons but make them feel like they pack a punch. Anyway, from a game about gunplay I expect more.

The plot of the game is generic action movie fluff. You're a cop who doesn't exactly play by the book, and at some point I think the chief asks you to turn in your badge, although I could be confusing it with a dozen other action cop flicks. For a video game a generic plot is the norm, so he plot is perfectly satisfactory. The audio leveling, however, is not. This isn't the first time I've complained about being unable to hear story sequences in a game. It felt like I was watching FOX, where the commercials are many levels louder than the program you care about. Each time a story sequence came up I had to crank the volume, and then I had to remember to turn it down again as soon as the action started again. If they were looking for an efficient way to break my immersion, then mission accomplished.

Thankfully the destructible environments mostly distracted me from the lackluster gunplay and varying sound quality. While the bullets are whizzing by whatever area you're in gets torn to shreds. At the end of large fights I often found myself stopping to admiring the carnage I had wrought. Graphically the game looks pretty decent (if a bit too shiny), and it looks its best after everything's been blown to hell. If there's one complaint I have in this department it'd be that each level is a bit too long, extending well after you're sick of seeing the same scenery.

Stranglehold isn't bad. I mean, I played it through to the end. But it's definitely one of those rentals where I contemplated sending it back halfway through.

No comments:

Post a Comment