Perhaps 6pm was a wee early to get things started. Maybe Midway didn’t realise it was up against stiff competition – Uwe Boll’s screening of Postal. Or journalists tipped off to the headliner’s absence, the Stranglehold multiplayer hands-on session, couldn’t be bothered to show up. The thirty or so attendees barely occupied the modestly-sized Mezzanine. An odd turn for a club that recently hosted Mos Def.
But Midway did try to throw a swank soiree (despite the club’s eerie mood lighting). Twin bars and plenty of cocktail hosts per capita ensured drinks were circulating through the crowd. Servers would occasionally pushed lettuce wraps or Niman ranch burgers (i.e. hippy meat) upon the crowd. With the handful of game kiosks pushed to the perimeter, it was clear this was meant to be a social engagement.
It was disappointing that there wasn’t much new to see. Midway was as surprised as we were at the foiled multiplayer debut. Apparently The Mezzanine failed to order a T1 line for the evening, a rather essential component. Midway was left with four Xbox 360 stations equipped with the E3 demo of BlackSite: Area 51, and about a dozen 360s and a few PCs sporting single player Stranglehold.
On to John Woo’s actiony action game.
This wasn’t the demo. It was the complete game (minus multiplayer). If you really wanted to, you could jump straight to the end. For anyone who has downloaded and played the Xbox Live demo, which happens to be the first level, you’ve had a fairly good taste of the game. The main difference between Stranglehold’s seven chapters is the local and enemy density. Gun play is occasionally interrupted by mission objectives. At the start of the second chapter you’re tasked with finding drug stashes.
At it’s best, Stranglehold is an adrenaline-pumping shooter. There are endless streams of bad guys to kill. And nothing beats grinding down the back of the Chicago Field Museum’s T-Rex while squeezing off rounds from twin sub-machine guns. Easily overwhelmed, Tequila Time is a constant life saver (although you can occasionally trick the system into prolonging your intoxication by statically standing on railings). Barrage is helpful in tight spots because you’re free to move about the environment. The spin manoeuvre automatically targets and eliminates surrounding foes. Quite helpful if you need to catch your breath. Midway has done a nice job with the interactive environments. Pillars crack and crumble. Boxes splinter. Melons explode.
Stranglehold also defies all spatial relations. Since all actions are context sensitive, you’re constantly struggling to find your bearings. You’ll inadvertently slide backwards across tables. You’ll get trapped by objects. You’ll wind up in alcoves and corners uncertain of how you got there. Set pieces feel overly staged. The game is just begging you to take that dining trolley for a ride. It’s an illusion of creative freedom. It’s also really freaking hard to keep track of enemies. I swear, sometimes they just materialise.
So if you’re interested in Stranglehold, play the demo. Based on my quick fly-through a few of the later levels, It’s representative of the final product. It’ll be interesting to see how it holds up to a straight play-through. Will still have adrenaline pumping after a few solid hours? We’ll find out closer to September 17th.
Now where the hell are those tequila shots?