Monday, 4 October 2010

Game Review: Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days

Format Played: X-Box 360
I'm going to just get it out there straight away – I am one of the two people who enjoyed Kane & Lynch: Dead Men. To me, it was a slightly clunky cover-based shooter wrapped up in an extremely attractive package. I'm not specifically referring to the graphics, although they had a certain clean shine to them. It was more that the game was distinct from the generic tales of jingoistic military adventure or battling otherworldly monstrosities that clutter up the shooter market. IO Interactive produced a grim and nihilistic tale around two sociopathic criminals, and the thing that stuck with me about Kane (utterly amoral mercenary) and Lynch (lonely and lost schizophrenic) was how very, very pathetic they are. From the beginning of their Michael Mann-inspired, swearword-swamped crime thriller to the violent and unpleasant end in the jungles of Venezuela, they did nothing but constantly fuck up every attempt at resolving the awful situation they had gotten themselves into.
That's endearing in a very peculiar way (just like Lynch's dynamite mullet), and it was a decent stab at writing and mood pushing a shooter forward, even if the mechanics of the cover-based combat against cops and robbers alike could have used some finetuning. So the good news about this ‘reinvention’ of a sequel? Well, they're still fucking up. Badly. Set entirely in Shanghai, the plot revolves around the unfortunate duo attempting to escape the city after a poorly judged case of shoot first, ask questions later. The plot itself is one-note but somewhat satisfying, and confusingly the characters show some signs of retconning. Kane's daughter is mysteriously alive again, and Lynch's status as a 'medicated psychopath' (touted as a major selling point on the back of the box) is somewhat in doubt since he shows no signs of being either throughout the course of the game. Well, beyond the usual psychosis of gunning down everyone to cross his path – but that's par for the course in the world of TPS. And while the story maintains pace adequately, it is ticking along rather than crashing into your cortex. The original was bleak and mournful. The sequel is violent and grim. That can be enjoyed too, but when the original was carried by a more subtle atmosphere it's hard not to judge the sequel harshly in comparison.
What really marks Dog Days apart from the pack is the 'found footage' graphical style. The camera is held as if by an unnamed third party, grain and lens flare throwing up visual artifacts and blur as the action sprints from one shootout to the next. It's an impressive and unique effect, and is remarkably satisfying in the slight edge of realism it adds. The first time you headshot a random gangster only for the bullet's impact to be dissolved in pixellation as if you are watching news footage, you will feel slightly uncomfortable. This feeds the edgy angle that Kane and Lynch thrive on, but it also helps to mask the slightly sub-par graphics that mar what would otherwise be striking presentation. The character models in particular suffer from a roughness that is incongruous given the grungy but beautiful Shanghai street environments that make up the first half of the game. In addition, the constant strobing and similar effects do wear on the eyes after protracted play. I'm usually immune to such things and could probably tolerate a 24 hour Cloverfield viewing (though I might lose control from the endless preppy squealing), and still found myself saving and quitting a bit sooner than usual from mental fatigue.
The gameplay itself has been slightly tweaked, with the cover controls improved but not perfected and the gunplay less awkward but almost totally weightless. There is no element of squad command that the original did a fair enough job with, but it's not overly missed. The real problem lies in repetition, which becomes noticeable very quickly. A whole story revolving around running through various parts of Shanghai while enemies run into rooms just before or after you do is spreading a nice idea far too thinly, and in these days of elaborate setpieces a player can expect more from a purported high-profile title than a series of grey and brown rooms with some spluttering neon off in the distance. It's the nature of the world of Kane and Lynch that there were never going to be massive displays of mindless explosive action, but something more than a half-hearted, awkward helicopter ride nearing the end of the game might have been a way to break up the growing tedium. Too little, too late. Speaking of too little, the main campaign is somewhere between 3-5 hours worth of play - this is simply not good enough for a full price title in 2010. It means the repetitive nature of the run-and-gun doesn't get too old by the time the credits roll, but how much that could be credited as a plus point is debatable.
In addition to the emaciated main campaign, there is both arcade and multiplayer modes based around the heist-style multiplayer of the first instalment. Playing as part of a team of nefarious ne'er-do-wells, you can choose to be a team player or a traitor sniping your buddies in the back and stealing all their cash. An additional mode allocates one player as an undercover cop, leading to all kinds of crazy betrayal shenanigans. Both offline and online, these have the potential to pad out the package a fair amount. Again, an intriguing take on a regular formula. But if you aren't taken with the central gameplay, there still isn’t enough joy to be had to recommend it to doubters.
Having said all this, it is perhaps surprisingly easy to enjoy Dog Days for what it is. The graphical style is innovative and well-executed, though I can't help but feel that other developers will pick up on it and implement it in a fashion that will cause a lower amount of blunt force trauma on my eyeballs and a higher level of satisfaction in my reptile brain. As a visual curiosity, or a way to burn away a few hours gunning down Chinese mobsters and policemen, the game succeeds. But it falls short of the mark in too many other ways to recommend as anything other than a rainy day purchase.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds quite interesting, especially the graphical enhancements and the multiplayer, but yeah, not quite convinced it's worth shelling out for either. Love the idea of them using Lynch's psychopath status as a selling point though: 'NOW WITH ADDED NUTJOBS!'