Friday 3 September 2010

Game Review - Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days

Formats: PC, Xbox 360 & PlayStation 3.

Mario and Luigi; Ratchet and Clank; Ryu and Ken. These are the double teams that will live on forever in gaming history. Now with two games under their collective belts, can Kane and Lynch hope to reach the same heights as these dynamic duos?

Warning: ADULT rated trailer.

Following on from the decidedly mediocre Kane & Lynch: Dead Men, Io interactive had a lot to prove when crafting a sequel. Their previous game, while rife with great ideas, suffered in its execution and was considered by many to be a flawed experience. With this in mind, you can see that Io went to great efforts to overhaul the visual style and presentation of K&L2: Dog Days.

Indeed it is this aspect that impressed me the most. From the photo-realistic menu screens to the YouTube/Handycam camera style, Kane & Lynch 2 exudes a gritty realism that goes beyond simple graphics. The environments you progress through are exquisitely realised, from the grim and grimy halls of a greasy apartment block to the sweaty neon-drenched streets of Shanghai. Even a quiet moment spent sprinting across an abandoned building site conveyed a heady feeling of sleepless twilight. The combination of environmental detail, lighting and cinematic filters, while if taken individually do not astound, become collectively convincing. Even the neat finishing touch of 'censoring' particularly gruesome head shots and, erm, body parts adds to the realism. Even more confusing then is Io Interactive's choice of making white 'X' markers appear on your enemies when hit, shattering their carefully constructed reality. Unfortunately, the same can be said for K&L2's game play.

By now you will all be familiar with cover-based third person shooters, and this game does nothing extraordinary with the concept. For practically the entire game you will be asked to clear room after room of bad guys, with few options beyond stay in cover and shoot from afar or dart across open ground and risk getting shot. The enemy AI seems to have the same dead-eye auto-lock-on as Sniper: Ghost Warrior, and has no scruples killing you within seconds of being exposed, or even while you are still in cover.

The controls for movement and shooting feel spongy, and lack the precision and snappiness of more refined shooters. Throughout most of the game, you have access to an assault rifle type weapon and various kinds of shotgun. I had a hard time figuring out the differences between most of these weapons, as most of them seemed to do the same amount of damage. However, since none of these guns were even remotely accurate, and the AI prefers to stay in cover at least 30 metres away, I spent the entire game wishing I could get my hands on a more precise weapon. Towards the end of the game you do get to handle a sniper rifle or two, but the ammo for these were so few and far between that I was almost too afraid to use it. Ultimately I found the single-player campaign grindingly repetitive, and while it only lasts around 6 hours, entirely too long.

Happily the same innovative multiplayer modes from K&L Dead Men returns, with a few new additions. Rather than a bog-standard deathmatch, the game type 'Fragile Alliance' has you and a team of criminals committing a heist, killing any AI controlled cops that get in their way and escaping with the loot. The twist is that at any point, you can turn on your allies and kill them, making your getaway with their share of the swag. Anyone killed in this fashion re spawns as a police officer, making everyone else's escape all the more difficult. Conversely, anyone who betrays a team-mate is marked as a traitor and a reward is offered for his head. This sets up a tense guessing game on who, if anyone, will crack first, and makes for an interesting multiplayer experience.
There are several variations on this game type, but the basic idea remains the same, with players sometimes controlling the cops, or even as an undercover agent within the group. What I found while playing is that while team killing is common in games where it is prohibited, the people I played with were incredibly well behaved and unwilling to betray each other, even though such behaviour is encouraged. I guess that goes to show that there is honour among thieves!

While Kane & Lynch 2 excels in its presentation, it lacks in gameplay and even fails to tell a compelling story. The clich├ęd tale of greed, betrayal, revenge and escape frame the two principle players whose characters bleed into each other (literally) until I had trouble telling them apart. Which one was supposed to be the psychotic one again?

Ultimately, I can only really recommend this game on the strength of its visual style and multiplayer. However, upon visiting the forums, even they don't seem convinced that the community will last. Perhaps it's best to leave sleeping dogs lie.

Lukao gives Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days 4 You Tube comments out of 10
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