Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days PC, Xbox 360, PS3
So, here we are. The first linguistic ventures onto DarkZero land this reviewer a copy of Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days. Not being especially familiar with the series, my first assumptions were that it would be some sort of cheery pet-based fare. Either that or something akin to Mick and Mack: Global Gladiators.
As a result, it was with a degree of apprehension that I viewed the grim Shanghai backdrop of the title screen and bloodthirsty intro sequences. Mick and Mack this definitely wasn’t. To briefly set the scene for any other newcomers, you assume control of self-medicated psychopath Lynch, a man who has found peace in Shanghai following the events of the first game in the series. Like all good psychopaths however, his head is turned by a fat deal where the pay is “beyond his wildest dreams and nothing is going to get in his way.” Enlisting the help of former series protagonist and partner Kane, he sets about securing this nirvana.
Before any actual play commenced, I considered this a good time to brush up on the technical aspects of game number one, and read through a number of reviews and forum discussions on the title. The general consensus appeared to be that there were fundamental control problems, and that it was paced particularly awkwardly. I can testify almost immediately that the latter has been dealt with, almost brutally so. From very early on in this play through it became apparent that whatever structural and plot issues existed before have literally been erased, MS Paint-style.
Starting with the opening stage, the deceptively cheerily titled “Welcome to Shanghai”, you bulldoze your way forward, onwards, upwards, around and across, murdering by the dozen. Gunfire rips across the screen at all times. Explosions, screams and your understandably narked boss, telling you to protect his limo from being “blown up“. Indeed the second stage, where said boss makes his appearance, is a perfect example of an almost Time Crisis-like approach to gameplay. A Shanghai freeway is turned into an ambush point where more angry men hurl profanities and dispel their leaden loads into anything that moves.
Your role – murder and move on. Murder and move on. Protect the limo. Murder and move on. While I grant this is sounding increasingly cynical, it isn’t necessarily a bad gambit; I personally found it particularly refreshing to be hurled into the action so forcefully so early on. You literally have one short cut sequence, the two old comrades meeting up and then BAM. Straight into the melee. This personally marked a significant difference to overblown intros such as the one in the oft-referenced Metal Gear Solid 4, where your first act of gameplay after a cut sequence is to crawl under a van. And then view another cut sequence. Not so here.
This also has the rather neat double edge of getting you acclimatized to the mechanics of the game and its controls particularly quickly, out of necessity more than anything else. Or rather, this would be a neat double edge had the controls and their responses been perfected. What you get instead is sadly more of what was referenced as the main problems with the first game. ‘Cover’, in particular, needs a lot of work. It feels leaden, jerky and unresponsive, which when given the approach they have taken with the gameplay is only highlighted further than it would have been with the original title. This is because the game does not let up in its approach at all, and when you are pinned down from all sides by gunfire and trying to execute complex cover-fire-cover-reload manoeuvres, it becomes irritating quickly.
These response issues resurface periodically, which is a shame; as apart from there still existing the problems that apparently dogged the series debut, the game is not without its charms. Graphically it is suitably murky and evocative, if at times a little rough round the edges (literally) and disorientating. The voice acting, music and sound effects are generally immersive and well realised; personally I get bored very quickly with the flimsy scripts that make up police/gangster games but this manages to both intrigue and affect the player.
Where the game sustains the majority of its longevity is in its multiplayer mode. The Fragile Alliance mode returns from the first game, along with two new variant modes, Undercover Cop and Cops and Robbers. Where in Fragile Alliance the aim was to grab as much money as possible while escaping police forces and traitorous ranks, Undercover Cop will randomly assign one of the players to prevent the team from escaping. Cops and Robbers does what it says on the tin, with a group of player controlled police officers pitted against likewise criminals.
There‘s fun to be had here, and these are ideas that should be strong enough to hold a modicum of attention. But it’s all too easily undone by the aforesaid gameplay gripes and an omnipresent reliance on smashing your way through everything. This insistence on doing away with all other structural devices and struggle to perfect a flawed control system is everywhere you turn, and it undermines the drama of the narrative. What’s the point in having an attention-grabbing dramatic cut scene if it’s going to be followed by the video game equivalent of Phil Mitchell smashing up his front room?
It creates an imbalance, and it’s one that is sadly to the game’s detriment. In summary, Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days is a missed opportunity. Had they transferred the same obvious energies they put into restructuring the game into the control system, they would’ve had both a technically rewarding and stimulating title. As it stands, it all feels a bit lopsided. Maybe third time’s the charm?