To get an idea of what Stranglehold feels like, picture the climax of your favorite over-the-top popcorn-munching summer action flick. Now imagine you get to be the one doing that!
Now imagine that you get to do that, over and over again! Countless times! For 30 minutes!
Is "awesome but redundant" an oxymoron? That, friends, is what Stranglehold feels like. You get the ability to pull off some amazing-looking stunts, but to have any hope of survival you have to see them quite a few times in a row.
In the immortal words of Syndrome from The Incredibles, "when everyone's super, no one is." There's something inherently cool about all the bullet time and great stunts, but when you do them so constantly they lose their panache. The moments that you aren't diving sideways in slow-motion, the controls are excruciatingly loose and janky.
It feels like a movie-licensed game without the movie, wherein they predictably put so much work into replicating the film's big set-piece moments that the rest is just average. When you aren't diving sideways with pistols drawn or sliding down a railing, you're left with lackluster shooting controls that leave you looking anything but cool. In reality, standing and getting shot while trying to figure out where the next of the endless faceless badguys is coming from just makes you look dumb.
On the other hand, if you managed to go through a level completing these action moments with finesse, you could potentially look pretty great playing through it. It's almost like the recent Stuntman: Ignition demo in that way, and it nearly makes me wish that you could save a good play through and watch it with cinematic camera angles afterwards.
It also sets up a pretty good precedent for demos in that it includes unlockables, to encourage replay value. My favorite has been the Precision Aim, which really is as precise as its name implies, and gives way to many a cool moment of sniping your enemies' penises. Still, I wonder how often I could do that before I get bored of it.
People seem crazy about this game. Maybe I'm unhip. There's sufficient evidence to support this hypothesis. But as I played through Stranglehold, I kept asking how long I would really have fun with the mechanics.
This strikes me as especially odd as people complain about the lack of variety in the Wii shovelware that's hitting us so often. People say it's just a cool thing you break out every couple of weeks to show your friends. Honestly... what exactly do you think Stranglehold is going to be? Other than showing off how cool it is to precision-aim at a guy's eyeball, are you really going to enjoy playing it for 10 or 20 hours? Are you going to love enacting the same stunts over and over and over again? What we have is a game that suffers the same problems as many recent Wii games, but with higher production values.
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe in the full game, there are a suite of abilities that let you truly experience the full John Woo experience. Maybe there's enough variety that you don't get bored, and maybe there's tons of other action I'm just not catching. Maybe the game has depth, and heart, and a script that doesn't feel like a Uwe Boll movie. Maybe it will be a fantastic experience. Or maybe it will be the frustratingly long 30 minutes of redundant action I experienced here, stretched out over 10 or so hours.