Stranglehold

Chowing down with the Xbox Live demo.

Have you ever considered the plight of the humble fruit-seller? No, of course you bloody haven't. It's below your radar, isn't it? You walk right past these brave guys and girls, courageously hawking their Vitamin C-laden wares outside tube and train stations around the nation, without ever giving a thought to the dangers they face.

For example, did you know that the average fruit seller has his entire stock of watermelons shot up by a gang of heavily armed Chinese triads four times a week?

Did you realise, as you bit into that apple and felt incredibly smugly healthy for buying it rather than chomping into a Mars bar for the fourth time today, that the man who sold it to you will probably have a renegade cop on a mission for revenge dive through an entire table of peaches and oranges in the next ten minutes?

Did you, quite frankly, have the slightest idea that the single largest hazard to the fruit seller's largely uninsured and deliciously succulent inventory is not fruit flies, or black mould, but Chow Yun Fat?

So spare a thought for the humble fruit seller. In fact, perhaps you could take a moment to consider their anguish this very evening, while your Xbox 360 sucks down Midway's own freshest produce - yes, ladies and gents, it's time for you to get your grubby paws on the playable demo of John Woo Presents Stranglehold.

Bruised Plums

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The joys of next-gen - everything breaks. Walls break, pots break, fruit breaks, people's heads break.

Today's demo shows off the entire first level of the game, bringing Chow Yun Fat through the astonishingly mean streets of a Hong Kong market area. As you probably know by now (and if you don't, you could always swot up with our in-depth preview), Chow reprises his role as Inspector Tequila from Woo's 1992 action classic Hard Boiled. In real terms, this translates into two things - paper thin plot, and a hell of a lot of slow motion, dual-fisted action.

As such, we'll forgive the game for throwing wave after wave of pistol-wielding maniacs at us with no explanation - other than a text box informing us that this is a "rough neighbourhood". The conceit of the demo is that you run through this rough neighborhood, learning the ropes by capping a bunch of bandits en-route, and then get ambushed in a busy marketplace. Cue plenty more fighting your way through elaborate set-pieces as you head for a final showdown at a bustling tea-house (where none other than John Woo himself is the bartender).

The whole experience is about 20 minutes long at the outside, but unusually for a demo, there's quite a lot of replayability built into the code. Playing through this section in the full game, we only got handed one of Tequila's special powers ("Tequila Bombs") - a superb slow-motion zoom which allows you to pick off a distant enemy, and showcases the locational damage and astonishing range of death animations.

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Once you've acquired the zoom power-up, the debate can commence - what's more grimly satisfying, the throat shot or the crotch shot?

However, in the demo, completing a play-through unlocks harder difficulty modes - and also unlocks additional Tequila Bomb powers. Play through twice, and you'll have access to all four powers (healing, which is unlocked from the outset; zoom mode, barrage mode, and spin attack). It's a nice mechanism for showing off everything the game has on offer, and means that there's vastly more meat on the Stranglehold demo than you'd expect from the usual Xbox Live demo offerings.

As for how the game is actually shaping up, well, you'll be the ultimate judge of that once you get your paws on the code this evening. However, having played through a significantly larger chunk of the game last month, we can confirm that the first level seems a pretty solid indicator of where Stranglehold goes in subsequent stages.

The demo, like the rest of the game, is essentially built as a series of arenas - each new area you walk into has a certain number of enemies, a certain number of explosive objects or destructible scenery components, and of course, a certain amount of cover. (In this demo, there's generally also a certain amount of fruit to splatter all over the place.)

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