by Zackery Cuevas1
Legendary director John Woo is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. In addition to being an acclaimed director and major influence on the action genre, he has also dipped his hand in other media, most notably videogames. It’s been about 7 years since John Woo’s underrated Stranglehold hit consoles, and now, the director has lent his name to Bloodstroke, an action shoot-em-up game with lots of style, but not much substance.
If you’ve seen a John Woo movie, you’ll grasp the story pretty quickly. The game stars Mai Lee, a martial arts badass who lands a job at Phalanx Global Security, where she’s tasked with protecting a wanted man, Dr. Kroose. The story plays out like your typical 90’s action and really just serves as an excuse to have Mai run through the streets, killing people. The game itself plays like the offspring of an on-rails light gun game and a space shooter, complete with a top-down perspective with a dash of escort mission thrown in for good measure. It’s a bit of a hybrid, but it doesn’t get much deeper than that
The gameplay is pretty straight forward. Mai and Dr. Kroose run from point A to point B, killing bad guys of all shapes and sizes that want the good doctor dead. Enemies never really move around and are always planted in the same place every playthrough, so levels can be completed pretty easily by just remembering where enemies spawn. Controls are simple – there’s one button to shoot and one button to move, and that’s all you really need to know to deliver sweet death to your enemies. There’s also satisfying melee attack that’s triggered by running into the enemy, which can be hilarious(enemy corpses just seem to flop over when killed). The game maintains a good balance of difficulty and is never overly hard, though some of the early stages are ridiculously easy, partly due to the game’s brain dead AI.
You can also unlock different weapons for Mai to deal death with and you can upgrade her stats with the money you earn from completing missions and earning high scores.You can even upgrade your escort with body armor and faster health regeneration, a small but useful addition. There are some in-app purchases, but they’re never necessary, and the unlockable weapons aren’t set at incredibly high price points like in many free-to-play games.
Now a game with a title like Bloodstroke is expected to be violent and, well, bloody. Blood spreads over dead bodies like paint on a brush, due to the game’s art style, which looks like a blend of Chinese watercolor painting and the heavy ink of a graphic novel. While this may seem interesting at first, you’ll quickly realize it’s not. The art is hit or miss—sometimes complimenting cut scenes with a stylish afterglow, sometimes leaving environments splotchy and boring. Mai’s red suit does pop on the gray scale background, but this aside, most of the character designs are just kinda…whatever.
After playing Bloodstroke for a while, I started to wonder how involved John Woo was in the creation of this game. Sure, it has an action movie feel, but I never felt the intensity of those gunfights like I would if I was watching a movie. Maybe this comes from the top-down perspective, but the game never achieved the crescendo that it could have. Bloodstroke instead plays it safe, opting to stay at a comfortable neutral instead of shifting its gears and speeding up the action. There were no slow motion dives or funny one-liners. Mai is badass, but pretty one-dimensional, and other characters are mostly there to just show up and reference backstory that is never fully explained. The game is reminiscent of John Woo movies, but nnot nearly as satisfying.
Overall, the game is actually pretty solid, despite the shallow gameplay. It may get repetitious, but mowing down enemies was fun, even if the game never really took off to new heights. For 0.99 cents, Bloodstroke is not too hard to recommend.
Summary: Bloodstroke never really hits the John Woo-quality it sets out for, but there’s still fun to be had.