At first this seems like it might become a tad annoying, but it reveals itself as a reasonably neat idea. If you string together such moments you receive rewards in the form of “Style” points on your Tequila Bomb Gauge, which enable you to access your next wave of special abilities. As such, it encourages “stylish” play where you could probably get away with more mundane real-time shooting. It pushes you into being cool, choosing to ride on a trolley like a child pretending to be Superman, rather than walking down a corridor. Such lavish behavior fills the Tequila Bomb Gauge, letting you choose between Health Boost (healing yourself a bit), Precision Aim (a splendid slo-mo snipe mode that lets you target specific body parts), Frenzy (a short period of invulnerability with infinite ammo), and the Tequila Bomb, where you spin around in circles killing everyone nearby... while somehow producing doves. Like a 1970s magician on the day his mind snapped. Mostly you’ll be getting wounded, and so to make sure you’ve got an emergency supply of life force, it’s always worth playing for the pretties.
The auto bullet time gets a bit more frustrating in moments that require more finesse. While Tequila is nowhere near as manically clumsy as his brother-in-slo-mo Max, the auto-controls cause trouble when, say, negotiating tight corridors of laser-triggered bombs. Once an animation has been initiated, he’s going to see it through, no matter how grisly the impending death might be. “Stop SLIDING!” we shouted, but the stubborn cop refused to comply. But beyond this, it’s always lots of fun to be in Tequila Time (there’s an option to enter it at will, with a strict time limit). Another niggle - why does the world go sepia-toned in this mode? It makes things more difficult to see, which surely is the opposite of the point. Not a huge issue, but odd.
About halfway through their game the developers seem to lose spirit, and it devolves. The whoops and cheers fade. Most of those inventive moments of manipulating the environment to destructive ends disappear. Shooting out a rooftop blockade to drop exploding barrels into a drug den, then exploding the whole lot in one massive paroxysm of fire, is just a memory. Instead you’re often stuck in large rooms, fighting off wave after wave after wave of enemies, with no checkpoints to stagger the battle should you die. When outdoors, it’s simply a case of shoot everything, move on, shoot everything.
The comparisons with Max Payne are impossible to ignore. In fairness, that’s in large part due to Payne’s developers Remedy having based their game on the films of Woo in the first place. Where that game had joyfully over-blown noir, Stranglehold goes for action movie grunting. Every line in every cutscene is such a cliché you wonder if it’s meant to be a parody. The straight po-faces portrayed throughout deny this, however.