By Marty Mulrooney
Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is a video game destined to become notorious not only for its copious amounts of bloody violence and mature subject matter, but for the way it has divided critics upon release. Destuctoid.com gave the Xbox 360 version a scathing 1.0 out of 10 review, whereas Edge – a notoriously tough marker – awarded the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC versions with 6 out of 10 each. Although I never picked up the original game (the demo’s cover system felt far too broken) the aesthetic values of the sequel really appealed to me, so I ignored the somewhat negative reviews and picked up the Limited Edition for less than half the RRP (rather worryingly) only two weeks after its UK release.
Newcomers need not fear: Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is a self-contained story that can be followed even by players who are unfamiliar with these characters and the dark criminal underworld they inhabit. The beginning of Dog Days sees old buddies Kane and Lynch reunited in Shanghai, where they plan to put together ‘one last job’ and then retire. Of course, things don’t exactly go to plan and before long, both men end up fighting for their lives, one shootout at a time. Players control the psychotic Lynch for the majority of the game, with Kane coming along either as an AI controlled ally or as a directly controlled partner, locally on the same television via split screen, or remotely online.
I cannot describe how awesome the visuals of Dog Days are; it actually baffles me how some people are classing them as a negative aspect of the experience. The entire game is designed as if shown through the lens of a cheap HD digital camera. Neon lights strobe across the screen and colours bleed with white hot intensity. Rain mists the camera and trickles down the lens. Headshots are hidden behind a blur of pixels, documentary style. It is a commendable achievement: it looks like nothing else released this year and possesses a unique style entirely its own. My only complaint is that when running, the camera wobbles insanely which can be a little stomach churning. Thankfully, a ‘steady cam’ option can be turned on in the settings to combat this, so it isn’t too much of an issue.
Elsewhere, the controls are mostly intuitive, with clear button prompts negating the need to keep the instruction manual close to hand. The cover system from the first game has been completely overhauled: tapping X puts players behind the nearest form of cover, whereas tapping it again will allow players to detach themselves with relative ease. Couple this with a push of the left analogue stick and players can vault over cover or run around corners like a pro. Sadly, not all of this cover is well implemented. The use of destructible cover is brilliant, adding urgency to fire fights, wooden panels reduced to matchsticks under continuous hails of bullets. However, concrete blocks can often inexplicably become death-traps, leaving players exposed by some unfathomably minute degree as enemies unload entire clips into Lynch and you struggle to understand what went wrong.
Issues such as these are somewhat balanced out by the satisfaction of the core mechanics though. The shooting admittedly feels very solid, each gun having its own unique sound and feel. Players can carry two weapons at any one time and ammo drops are plentiful. L1 allows players to aim down the sights of their weapon, with R1 acting as the trigger. Another interesting feature seems ripped straight from Modern Warfare’s ‘last stand’ multiplayer perk: Lynch can be knocked down onto his back when low on health, but players still remain in control of him. Moving to safety and tapping X to get back into cover works well and can add some very cinematic moments to the gunfights.
However, the lack of a melee attack is frustrating in its absence, close enemies becoming brutally fatal. You can grab an enemy and use them as a human shield, but this is seldom wise due to the repercussions of being so close to an armed opponent in the first place. Therefore, the majority of the game is spent skulking in the distance, taking out enemies from across large open areas or around doorways.
Small bugs irritate as you progress. Kane seems to know he is invincible, running into gunfire and jittering like a madman. Clipping seemed to rear its ugly head whenever the pair tried to occupy the same small section of cover. As well, said cover fails to protect you like it should at times and some sections seem to strongly hint at stealth mechanics that are then completely absent. NPC’s are inconsistent too: sometimes they run from gunfire, other times they just walk around like nothing is happening at all.
The frustrating thing about Kane and Lynch 2’s shortcomings is that it is still quite a well made game overall. The superbly voiced main characters, though vulgar, remain involving even as they plod through a practically non-existent narrative. It makes you pine for more. The game is sparsely sprinkled with standout moments, such as the first level where you are chasing an enemy via Shanghai’s back alleys and rooftops. Later, Kane and Lynch run through the streets naked and bloodied, the rain pattering down on their recently inflicted deep cuts making you wince as you shoot against entire platoons of corrupt cops.
Sadly, set-pieces and innovations such as these are few and far between. The late inclusion of a helicopter section looks fantastic, skyscraper windows shattering into thousands of pieces, but the gameplay itself remains far too basic. The majority of the single player mode’s six hour length is just one long shootout after another, rinse and repeat. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t exactly gripping either. Strip away the visuals and what you are left with is an underdeveloped shooter that takes very few risks. If only the effort put into the presentation had also been applied to the gameplay and narrative, this could have been the gaming equivalent of a Michael Mann film. Instead, it ends with a whimper rather than a bang. Many players will be left staring at the end credits in disbelief, wondering where the rest of their game is.
Which is where (hopefully) the online multiplayer comes in. There are three multiplayer modes, ‘Cops & Robbers’ being the most generic and self explanatory. ‘Fragile Alliance’ and ‘Undercover Cop’ are the modes where things get slightly more interesting. There is nothing that puts you more on edge than when a player from your team who is rated as ‘untrustworthy’ is right behind you and you are carrying over a million dollars. Even ‘Cops & Robbers’ is good fun to be fair, although the small selection of available maps can quickly become repetitive, making the recently released paid DLC to add more maps seem slightly cheeky. Arcade mode lets you tackle these games with AI opponents offline but is really only fun in small doses.
Can an average game be elevated by superb production values? In this case, absolutely. Shooting your way through Shanghai is a raw, visceral experience that is only heightened by the documentary style visuals. A sense of scale and place is beautifully maintained, even if cars are randomly parked together to block off road exits and shutters are blatantly used to control backtracking. The addition of being able to play the entire game in split screen mode and an enjoyable online component makes Dog Days relatively easy to recommend, especially at a discounted price. Just remember: beneath the gorgeously grainy visuals lies a rather plain, pedestrian shooter that could have been so much more.
7 OUT OF 10
All images © 2010 Square Enix Ltd.