'Stranglehold' Won't Ease Midway's Pain

The newest title from the video-game publisher won't help save the company as hoped.
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Video-game publisher

Midway Games

(MWY)

may have just sealed its fate.

Stranglehold

, the company's biggest release of the year, debuted Wednesday to lackluster reviews, dashing any remaining investor hope that Midway might halt its descent into obscurity.

Based on 11 reviews from gaming magazines and Web sites, the

Stranglehold

game for

Microsoft's

(MSFT) - Get Report

Xbox 360 gathered an average score of 76 out of 100.

The score means Midway could have trouble meeting sales expectations of 1.5 million to 2 million for the game -- especially during a crowded holiday season for which the lineup includes heavily anticipated titles such as

Activision's

(ATVI) - Get Report

Call of Duty 4

,

Electronic Arts

(ERTS)

and

MTV Networks'

Rock Band

and Microsoft's

Halo 3

.

Stranglehold

has been panned for its weak multiplayer option, lack of pacing and simplistic game play. The game, created in collaboration with Hollywood director John Woo, has been billed as the sequel to Woo's 1992 Chinese action flick

Hard Boiled

starring actor Chow Yun-Fat.

Critics seemed to appreciate the collaboration but have busted the game for its lack of complexity and ability to hold players' attention.

"While the story and writing are reasonably solid, they're not nearly riveting enough to outweigh the too-simple, occasionally glitchy nature of the fundamental game," says video games site

1UP

in its review.

Brian Sozzi, an analyst with independent research firm Wall Street Strategies, agrees the game has fallen short of expectations. "The game is not as in-depth as I had hoped," says Sozzi. "It's a short six- to seven-hour game, and it appears to get stale after a while."

"I just don't think it will move the needle for Midway, which is unfortunate," he says.

Midway's shares were off 1.4%, or 7 cents, to $5.13 Friday. The stock is down 4% this week. The company's largest shareholder is

Viacom

(TTWO) - Get Report

Chairman Sumner Redstone who holds an 87.5% stake -- individually and through Viacom parent National Amusements.

Midway had been counting on

Stranglehold

in a big way.

The Chicago, Ill.-based company has talked up the game during its quarterly earnings conference calls for the last three quarters. It has had a larger staff working on

Stranglehold

than on any other title.

Stranglehold

, which released on PCs, Xbox 360 and

Sony's

(SNE) - Get Report

PlayStation 3, was also supposed to be a showcase of Midway's prowess when it came to developing games for the newest console systems.

But with

Stranglehold's

stumble, the outlook for investors could turn bleak. Poor game sales could kill hopes that the company may turn the title into a franchise. Midway still has its long-running

Mortal Kombat

and

Unreal Tournament

franchise

Analysts polled by Thomson Financial expect Midway to post a loss of 22 cents a share in the third, or coming, quarter on revenue of $51.7 million. For the fourth quarter, consensus is earnings of 14 cents on revenue of $123.4 million.

Midway's next original release is a first-person shooter game called

Blacksite: Area 51

. Sozzi fears that game could do worse than

Stranglehold

. "The previews for

Blacksite: Area 51

are not encouraging," he says.

"The graphics aren't stellar, the AI is lacking and your main weapon works like every other gun from every other FPS

first-person shooter you've ever played," said gaming blog

Kotaku

last week. The blog, however, did credit the game with being "fun as hell" and not a "cookie-cutter" title.

Fun alone won't cut it for Midway.