Crispy Gamer

Stranglehold (Xbox 360)

Rhetorical question: Why are all these room service carts just lying around?

With John Woo's famous name prominently displayed on the box cover coupled with the game's cool-looking slow-motion, bullet-ballet-style gameplay, Stranglehold has a tremendous amount of "curb appeal," as they say in the real estate business.

Translation: It makes a terrific first impression.

The idea of doing a sequel to Woo's 'Hard Boiled' not as a film but as a videogame is an intriguing one. And Stranglehold, especially in its opening moments, looks like good fun.

The first time we dove towards a series of enemies, our handguns chugging away, all in glorious slow-motion -- or "Tequila Time," to use the game's vernacular -- and we took out not one, not two, but three bad guys, our reaction was this: Let's do that again.

The second time feels just as good.

But the 10th time? The 20th time? The 100th time?

Stranglehold proves once again that age-old adage that no matter how fun something is to do, do it enough times and it begins to feel a lot like work.

Actor Chow Yun Fat reprises his role as Inspector Tequila, the toothpick-chewing supercop who possesses the ability to dive/roll/slide/jump through waves of bad guys, leaving their corpses in his wake.

What Tiger Hill and Midway obviously set out to do withStranglehold was to recreate, in spirit, those jaw-dropping action sequences from 'Hard Boiled.' But instead of merely watching Inspector Tequila, gamers would now be able to step into his penny loafers.

It's certainly an admirable task. Woo's films, with their wild, stylish shootouts and paper-thin plots, make for great game fodder.

Stranglehold is built around the aforementioned concept of Tequila Time. Pull the left trigger on the 360 controller, and the game screen turns to a pinkish hue. The world slows to a crawl around Tequila, giving him the upper hand against multiple enemies.

The concept of slowing time dates back to 2001's Max Payne. While it's clearly in peril of achieving clich&eacure;-status, Stranglehold manages to make the concept feel relatively fresh by allowing Tequila to do more than simply dive to and fro while in slow-motion.

We maneuvered Tequila onto a banister, and as he began to slide down, the game automatically shifted into Tequila Time, allowing us to dispatch several henchmen during our descent. We made Tequila swing from chandeliers, slide on his hip across tabletops, cruise down ziplines, and yes, bellyflop onto room service carts, all in Tequila Time.

The more stylish our maneuvers while shooting at bad guys, the more style points the game awarded us to fill up our Tequila Bomb meter (the red circle in the bottom left corner of the heads-up display).

'Tequila Bombs' are the game's oddly-named special maneuvers, and they come in four varieties: Health Boost (it's exactly what it sounds like), Precision Aim (let us shoot enemies from a great distance), Barrage Attack (let us go bananas and become invulnerable for a brief period of time), and finally Spin Attack (we spun in a circle in slow motion while, no kidding, doves flew around us; this kills every enemy in the area).

All four moves came in handy at various points during the eight or nine hours we spent working through the single-player campaign.

The other notable gameplay moment is the Standoff. Occasionally in the middle of a level, we found ourselves suddenly surrounded by enemies. A mini-game kicked in, giving us a chance to miraculously survive these guns-pointed-at-us-from-all-angles encounters. We used the left analog stick to dodge out of the way of incoming bullets, and returned fire by using the right stick to aim our own bullets. These moments were consistently exciting, and worked well to break up the monotony -- if anything, we wouldn't have minded a few more Standoffs in the game.

The concept of a third-person action game that has us "tricking" our way à la Tony Hawk's Pro Skater through waves of bad guys is interesting in theory. But in practice, it falls short of the mark.

For every awesome diving-backwards-while-jacking-up-people moment the game offers, there is a stumble-trip-I-didn't-mean-to-do-that-why-isn't-Tequila-Time-working-aiiiieeeeee-now-I'm-dead? moment. In the end, Stranglehold's Inspector Tequila suffers from a chronic case of Lara Croft Syndrome: He's elegant and nimble, doing all of these wonderful moves -- and then, seconds later, he seems to be tripping over his own shoelaces.

That's a shame, because Stranglehold probably has more potential than any other release this year. Sliding to a halt across a tea house floor while shooting the shins out from under a bad guy, then rolling over and peppering a second henchman in the chest -- it was in these moments that the game made us feel like Chow Yun Fat starring in a John Woo movie; it showed us, in these moments, the kind of potential it has.

But then the camera would get stuck behind a wall, someone would start firing at us from off-screen, and suddenly, we were lying on the floor, dead, realizing that we are not Chow Yun Fat. We are not starring in a John Woo movie. We were back to being a bunch of jackasses, sitting around a gaming console, who dared, for a moment, to dream a little dream.

This review was based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.