At heart, the game is about your reaction times, and your ability to take stock of the environment on the fly, working out the optimal way to dispose of your enemies. Shooting overhead objects so that they crush your foes is a key tactic - but even more important is learning to use the slow motion system in the game, called Tequila Time.
You can trigger Tequila Time manually using the right bumper, but you also go automatically into slow motion when you've got an enemy in your sights during a particularly cool manoeuvre. Diving sideways, forwards or backwards counts; sliding over a table or counter (which is triggered simply by running into it) also counts, as does running up or down a railing. The result is that you find yourself looking for the most dramatic route through an arena, since that will give you the most slow-motion carnage opportunities.
A couple of further observations. The code in this demo is significantly more polished than the version of the game we played for last month's preview, and we're pleased to note that many of the reservations we had about the game have been put to rest. The framerate is now solid and slick, and the game looks great - for the most part. We're not entirely sold on all of the character art, but the environments are superbly detailed and incredibly enjoyable to lay waste to.
Moreover, it seems that the control system has been significantly tweaked. The fundamentals remain the same, of course, but some problems we encountered previously with the analogue sticks (Tequila tended to barely move at all before suddenly lurching into fast motion at the very edges of the stick's movement) have been ironed out entirely. Navigating the world still takes a little practise to get right, but it's definitely more enjoyable now.
Some other issues still remain, in our eyes. Sliding over tables, counters and other objects is entirely automatic, but sometimes it feels almost too easy - on multiple occasions we simply brushed against a table by accident, only for Chow Yun Fat (who must spend a good twenty minutes each morning greasing up his backside - draw your own conclusions) to slide dramatically across it for no reason. Requiring a little more deliberate intent - a firm push of the stick, say - to slide across an object would probably feel more natural.
However, there's no denying the game's style - and while, yes, it's basically the same system we saw in Max Payne, it's worth recalling just how much Max Payne borrowed from John Woo in the first place. Stranglehold's graphics, the presence of the superbly emotive Chow Yun Fat and the very cinematic approach to its violence may even give it the edge over Remedy's "game noir".
For Xbox Live adherents, a short trailer video at the end for the multiplayer mode may also stoke your interest. It looks like you can play as John Woo in multiplayer. Hell, it looks like you can play as Chow Yun Fat and shoot John Woo in the balls - judging by the sheer breadth of weird porn on the Internet, we're damned sure there's someone out there to whom we've just guaranteed a sale.
Either way, there's a solid chunk of entertainment hitting Xbox Live tonight - it's a hefty 1.28GB though, so you'll want to get your broadband all greased up in preparation. Then it's off to the mean streets of Hong Kong with you - but please, do keep an eye out for the fruit sellers. One man's explosive, pulpy special effect is another man's apples, after all.