The original Kane & Lynch from IO interactive was met with a very lukewarm reception on its release back in 2007, save the whole now infamous Gamespot – Jeff Gerstmann. debacle, and was far from the smash hit people had hoped for. With a distinctly Michael Mann feel to it, and a couple of superbly crafted lead characters, the title looked promising.
Sadly, the game itself couldn’t live up to the larger than life characters, and stale gameplay, wonky AI, and a dodgy cover system couldn’t save it from being distinctly mid-table.
A couple of years later I find myself playing Kane & Lynch 2, and with a palpable sense of déjà vu, it’s like living the original all over again, almost.
Set in Shanghai, Kane & Lynch 2 centres this time on Lynch, leaving Kane in a supporting role. Lynch has invited Kane to the Chinese metropolis in order to help with a big arms deal, promising a ton of cash for one last big job. As you can probably guess, this seemingly simple plan is anything but, and soon both antiheroes are thrust into a crapton of trouble.
Taking control of the heavily medicated psychopath, Lynch, for the majority of the single player campaign, players are sheep herded through several linear and repetitive locales, from back alleys and shopping malls to train yards and corporate skyscrapers, while indulging in third-person shooting and cover hugging.
It’s all familiar stuff, and it has to be said, the actual central shoot and cover mechanic works very well, indeed. It’s no Gears, certainly, but the controls are good, aiming is solid, and the cover system, barring a few instances of being hit even behind solid cover, is spot on, especially now that IO has done away with the god-awful sticky cover system seen previously. Now you have to press X to stick to cover, which is a far better option.
You can perform all the usual moves such as popping up to aim, blind firing and SWAT turns, but there’s noting innovative here at all. The one, supposedly, original feature is the knock down system. If you take too much damage, Kane and Lynch are knocked to the floor, crawling on their back. In this state you can crawl to cover to heal, and can also return fire. You can get right back up, though, if you wish, but you risk a final bullet to the head.
It’s an interesting feature, but one that’s been hinted at before in Army Of Two, making it a little less impressive. It also only works about half of the time. Often you’ll be shot down, and instead of having time to recover, you’ll be killed instantly if cover isn’t close enough, especially on harder levels.
One of the most impressive features of Dog Days, however, is not with gameplay, but instead with presentation. The whole game is presented as a kind of webcast, as if it were filmed on a standard, if oddly portable, webcam. This means that the camera jumps and shakes realistically as you run around and take cover, and, most impressively, the whole image is affected by an array of filters, such as grainy, dark video in low light, image artefacts and even breaking up into a pixellated mess during a lot of action.
This may sound like a bad idea and. indeed, simply looking at screenshots makes the game look bad, but, in motion, it’s an impressive and original effect, even if it does cover what are clearly dated visuals. I applaud IO for doing something different, and it’s a visual style most won’t have seen applied before.
The single player campaign is entertaining enough, and packs in some satisfying gunplay, but it has two major flaws. First, it’s devoid of any form of variety. Unlike the original game, which featured car chases, bank raids, jungle warfare and so on, Dog Days is about as straightforward and simple as they come.
This time, save a jaunt as a gunner in a chopper, you’ll simply run and gun from one location to the next with no change in gameplay style at all. The forced stealth sections of the first game are gone, but there are clearly optional stealth sections here (as indicated by Kane telling you to be quiet and to take guards out silently).
The problem is, it’s nigh on impossible to be stealthy, and no matter how hard you try, either you, or Kane’s dodgy AI (just count how often he stands in front of you in a fire fight) will spark a full-fledged fight.
IO has also removed the admittedly poor squad commands featured in the first game, and Kane is fully AI controlled, accepting no input from the player. This isn’t a problem, though, as the first game didn’t really benefit from this feature, and as the sequel stars only Kane and Lynch, with no backup squad, you won’t miss it.
The second, and without doubt, major flaw is the campaign’s length. Even on a hard difficulty, I can’t imagine the game lasting more than 4-5 hours for most experienced players, and for a title with an RRP of £49.99 that’s simply not on. In fact, it’s just plain wrong. So much so that now, only a week after release, you can find the game for around £20. That’s quite a price drop after a mere few days on sale.
Luckily, Dog Days does feature multiplayer, and includes the cool betrayal mechanic seen in the original. The Fragile Alliance mode is where this sits and, working as a team with other players, you have to steal money and escape. At any time, however, you can turn on your allies, kill them, and steal more money. It’s a great idea, and one that makes the multiplayer stand out from the crowd.
This time there are more features to multiplayer, though, including Cops and Robbers and Undercover Cop. The first of these is similar to the original game, but sees two groups of players take on the roles of cops and robbers, kind of like a team deathmatch.
By far the most interesting offering is Undercover Cop. In this mode, one player assumes the role of an undercover cop and must carefully kill his robber ‘team mates’ without raising alarm. It’s a very intriguing game type, and one that deserves some attention.
As well as the online modes, there’s also an arcade mode. This is basically an offline Fragile Alliance which can be played alone versus bots. It consists of several rounds that get harder and harder as you progress. You still need to steal money, and can betray your foes (who will also betray you), and you have to reach the goal and escape with the most money. It kind of works, but isn’t a patch on the online modes, and it won’t take long to become bored of the meagre selection of maps.
Still, all in all, it’s good fun, and if you’re looking for a different online shooter, it’s worth a punt, but there’s still no overlooking that Kane & Lynch 2 is, at its core, a single-player story-based title, and with a campaign this short, you can’t overlook the anorexic length. Even the multiplayer’s legs are limited, with only a handful of maps, making a full-price purchase difficult to recommend.
Game length aside, though, Dog Days is a fairly solid, if uninspired shooter. It’s a shame that IO seems to have decided to strip out all of the variety this time around, but this has resulted in much tighter core gameplay, and if you liked the first title, you’ll probably enjoy this.
If ever there was a case of rent, don’t buy, though, this is certainly it, although various price drops have made it a little more attractive. Just don’t shell out £30-40.
Time to get ready for the upcoming movie then I guess. Hold on… Jamie Foxx as Lynch?! Eh?
Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.