Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days
Game sequels are funny things, especially if the first game of a franchise is disappointing. When a follow-up is announced you’re really left hoping that the developer has learnt from its mistakes, is focusing on correcting them and is elevating any good points the first game happened to have.
Few would argue that the first Kane & Lynch game from Io Interactive was anything less than disappointing (especially coming from the team that gave us Hitman), but under the dross of its half-baked third-person shooter gameplay, one thing stood out: its two lead characters, the titular Kane and Lynch. They arguably had a certain ‘earthy’ and realistic quality to them – one a hard-nosed Death Row mercenary, and the other a psychotic murderer – and were the kind of antiheroes that you almost felt a little dirty playing. So it’s a good thing IO Interactive seems determined to tap into that dirty, gritty vibe for Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days.
Playing Kane & Lynch 2 it feels almost like it’d been filtered through the tarnished souls of its characters, and the first thing that strikes you is its distinctive visual style. Gone are the usual clean-cut videogame visuals, replaced by fuzzy mobile-phone-camera-on-YouTube-style footage – it’s like watching a cheap documentary crew trail a pair of crazies on a twisted ‘day in the life’ program. The grainy camera shakes, wobbles and cuts out all over the place, often stumbling as you run around a beautifully stylised (read: dirty, grimy and mostly low-rent) Shanghai as Lynch, with an initially reluctant Kane in tow.
While we don’t have many story details yet, it looks like that poor camera crew will have plenty of grimy action to film, as Kane and Lynch are reunited in the seamy underbelly of Shanghai and recruited to do a job that requires their particular twisted skill set. But given how this is Kane & Lynch, nothing goes as planned, with Kane and Lynch driving the frantic ‘from the frying pan into the fire’ crime story forward with their expletive-filled banter as much as their trigger-happy fingers. Shanghai is an interesting choice for the game’s setting too, with its arguably schizophrenic cultural mix of old Chinese, communist and now neo-capitalist influences (all viewed from within the cracks in the walls) resonating nicely with the mentally tortured Lynch. And it appears that Io is imbuing its lead pair with a bit more depth – Kane wasn’t all bad in the first game, and now Lynch is getting more rounded as it appears part of his intent is rescuing a mysterious young girl.
We got the chance to see a few levels of the pair’s new adventure placed in the middle of its narrative as the pair bickered over their rescue plans before doing an escort mission in which we had to protect a mob boss after his car was rammed off a highway. Kane and Lynch (or should that be Lynch and Kane now that Lynch seems to be the principle?) had the task of taking out a swarm of attacking gangsters. That done they suffered through the scathing attitude of the ingrate boss, proving once again that no good deed goes unpunished.
Under the visual and stylistic make-up, this is still very much a third-person shooter with the kind of cover system combat you’d expect, but it’s impressive how genuinely claustrophobic and desperate the visuals make you feel. This is a violent, bloody and profane experience and it starts to get to you. During another mission where the pair was being stalked by a SWAT team, we kicked in a door only to be confronted by a SWAT gunman, who knocked us to the ground. Panicked by the attack and the low camera angle, we wildly opened fire. When the smoke cleared the SWAT was down, but it took a few moments for us to calm down, so caught up were we in the moment.
If we have any troubling concerns about Kane and Lynch at this point, it’s ironically around the level of polish on the look and feel of Lynch himself. Even under the rough camera veneer he doesn’t look quite right, seemingly stiltedly animated and with a rough texture to him that has nothing to do with the game’s gritty edge. But we expect that those issues, together with things like occasionally dodgy death and rag-doll animations will get fixed before the game ships.
Overall, Io Interactive seems to have a grasp of what was very much missing from the original in Kane & Lynch 2 – a real sense of vision. We had feared that its unusual visual approach would jibe with its more traditional gameplay mechanics perhaps becoming annoying or distracting, but for the most part they blend nicely, creating a ton of atmosphere.
Very often, as one of our favourite philosophers was fond of saying, creation is an act of will, and Io Interactive seems determined to recognise and correct the mistakes of the first Kane &Lynch, imbuing this one with real character. The last time a developer made a commitment like that we got the gem that was Assassin’s Creed II, and if Io Interactive can pull off a similar coup we’re in for a dirty, nasty but satisfying treat.