Stranglehold: Rediscover the gun ballet classic from the legendary John Woo

After years of dwelling in obscurity, the Stranglehold game is back in grand style, thanks to GOG.COM and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.
For some, this is a true gem among third-person shooters. Others will enjoy discovering the game’s pure action formula straight out of a Hong Kong action flick.

A living legend

Among many action moviemakers, only a few have reached the prominence of John Woo. The Chinese-born director gave us cult-classics like The Killer, Better Tomorrow, and Face/Off. Those titles are so action-packed that even the Fast and Furious movies seem slow-paced in comparison.
The “gun ballet” mentioned in the title is a perfect description of action sequences in John Woo’s movies. Highly-stylized and full of slow-motion scenes, they resemble some kind of death dance that is both thrilling and fun to watch. The movie Hard Boiled (1992) contains all of these things and to this day is considered a near-perfect John Woo title. It’s also the film that gave the director’s career a much-needed push and a Hollywood debut just a year later.
It took John Woo another 15 years to tell a new story about the fearless Hong Kong Police Inspector Yuen, nicknamed “Tequila”. And when the time finally came, the sequel, Stranglehold, turned out to be… a video game.

A strike from shadows

How did it happen? First of all, John Woo, director of high-tech films like Mission: Impossible 2, has always been open to exploring new media. He even founded his own video game company, Tiger Hill Entertainment, in May 2003. Around that time, the famous filmmaker learned that developers from the Midway Company (known mainly from the Mortal Kombat series) were planning to make a game based on one of his movies.
John Woo was enthusiastic. Soon, his Tiger Hill company started to work alongside Midway on a new project, called Stranglehold, which was widely announced in May 2005. Many fans of Chinese cinema were thrilled to hear that the game’s plot would be a direct follow-up to the Hard Boiled storyline. Adding to the excitement was the news that the original “Tequila” Yuen actor, Chow Yun-fat, would reprise his role from the film. Needless to say, expectations for Stranglehold were very high and the Midway creators made the best out of it.

Hard Boiled and hard developed

The story of Stranglehold takes us to latter-day Hong Kong, where the deadly fight between the police force and criminal Triads never stops. One of the best law enforcers in the city, Inspector “Tequila” Yuen, catches the trail of the Dragon Claw gang. What begins as typical police work ends up as deadly combat between “Tequila”, numerous Triads, and the Russian Mafia in which no amount of ammo is spared. Worst of all, the Inspector’s family is also dragged into the war…
To keep up with the Hard Boiled movie’s immense dynamic and aesthetics, developers from Midway used Unreal Engine 3.0 and tweaked it to get the desired results. One of them was a so-called Massive Destruction physics engine which allowed gamers to destroy almost every object in the main character’s sight. It also included a hit-detection system where enemies would react differently depending on the body part they were shot.
Last but not least, the creators gave the main character “Tequila Time”. It is a slow-motion mode in which Inspector Yuen could utilize environment elements such as tabletops to gain an advantage over enemies and shower them with bullets. Using “Tequila Time” wisely was essential for earning points and bonuses in the game.

More than a game

The goal of creating a perfect action-movie experience for the gamers didn’t end in the developing process. Stranglehold’s marketing strongly focused on the connections to John Woo’s work. In 2007, a contest for amateur filmmakers called “True to Woo” was held where the best John Woo-inspired short movie would win 25,000$ and wide publicity.
The director himself was personally attached to the Stranglehold project and even intervened a few times during its developing process. For example, he supervised the storyline and paid attention even to small details, like the way game characters dressed.
All in all, production and marketing for the game would end up topping 30 million dollars, six times more than the original Hard Boiled film! It was no secret that the Midway staff was eager to see Stranglehold perform extremely well in sales. John Woo even announced plans for the game sequel (called “Gun Runner”) and a film prequel to Hard Boiled. The game HAD to be a success, no matter what.

Pyrrhic victory

Upon its release, Stranglehold was well received by gamers and critics alike. It sold well, but not well enough to recoup its huge budget. One of the reasons for this lackluster performance was the competition the game had to face from titles like Halo 3, which was released at the same time. Other factors included Midway’s financial problems and bankruptcy in 2009, which sealed the fate of any planned sequels to the game.
But the title was not forgotten. For years, Stranglehold became something of a legend, not only for Chinese cinema fans but all gamers who loved action titles. Its cult-following grew steadily, only to be stalled by the fact that the DRM version of the game did not support the newer Windows versions.
Fortunately, in 2019, thanks to GOG.COM and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Stranglehold returns to PC in all its gun ballet and action-packed glory. Now you can once again join Inspector “Tequila” Yuen in his all-out war against the criminal world.