IO Interactive’s gritty third-person shooter, Kane and Lynch: Dead Men received plenty of publicity when it was released back at the end of 2007. Not because of any widespread high praise or revolutionary game mechanics, but because of a certain high-profile controversy. In reality, Dead Men was an exceptionally flawed game that failed to live up to its potential and the expectations placed on the Hitman developer. Its story might have earned some fans for its brutal tale of two unpredictable psychopaths, but the gameplay was an erroneous mix of clunky shooting, inconsistent cover and some poorly implemented squad tactics. As a result, it was a surprise to see a sequel green-lit so soon after release as Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days entered the fray. It comes packing a striking and risky visual style yet seen in the medium; but the question posed to this sequel is whether improvements to the gameplay can match its unique assault on the senses.
The story has certainly taken a backseat to the comprehensive focus on action this time around. Lynch has settled down in Shanghai with a local girl, and has all the medication in the world to keep his psychopathic tendencies under control. However, a life of crime is still on the agenda, and his old pal Kane is soon brought back into the mix for a simple, big-money weapons deal – or so they think. As always, things take a turn for the worse fairly quickly, and the titular duo soon find themselves on the run from every corrupt law enforcer, criminal and gun-for-hire in this bustling Chinese city. It’s certainly nothing new, but the narrative is fairly light on its feet anyway, used to propel the action forward rather than dabble in any sort of meaningful character development or exposition. It’ll disappoint fans of the original’s story, and Kane and Lynch have certainly become more predictable protagonists as a result; but it’s so difficult to care for their troublesome predicament that the narrative is fairly easy to ignore, leaving you to concentrate on the action and getting the hell out of Shanghai.
And that’s essentially your only goal throughout the duration of Dog Days‘ brief single player campaign. The general movement, shooting mechanics and cover system are now substantially improved over its predecessor, and the clunky squad tactics have been removed completely. With an Uncharted-style one-button cover system and competent shooting with a variety of weapons, Dog Days is your typical third-person cover shooter, and it never thrives to be anything else. You’ll move from room to room, take cover, kill each enemy, rinse and repeat. It never deviates from this predictable formula, and while the action is enjoyable, it fails to capture the imagination and delves into repetition long before its extremely short five hours come to an abrupt end.
What makes it worth playing - for a weekend at least – is the arresting visual style.Dog Days has been designed to look like a shoddy video you’d find on You Tube, uploaded from a mobile phone camera or some cheap digital camera. It’s full of colour separation, light streaks, image pixilation, film grain and noise, and even mosaics to hide away any gruesome details – like an exploding head… or Lynch’s private parts. The camera will even violently bob and sway behind you as though Kane and Lynch are being followed by some sadistic documentary maker. It’s an anomalous style that really has to be seen, as explosions kill the picture completely, crippling the framerate and sound with its ferocity, while the combat is intensified by the added realistic savagery the style exhibits.
And this carries over into the multiplayer suite as well, where you’ll find the return of Fragile Alliance from Dead Men, as well as Undercover Cop and Cops and Robbers. Fragile Alliance has remained virtually the same as before, placing eight players in a competitive/co-operative situation, where you must weigh up the risk/reward of helping the team or becoming a traitor. Essentially, each map contains some sort of bank heist; once you’ve stolen all the money you have to make it to a getaway vehicle. Along the way you can choose to either work together with your fellow peers or go rogue and try to take all the money for yourself and hopefully win the match. It works well but all of its problems stem from a lack of content, once again. There are only six maps in total, and since the AI’s respawn locations never change, each heist remains the same on multiple playthroughs.
There’s no denying its enjoyable, but once you’ve seen each heist there’s no real reason to go back and do it all again; a fatal flaw for any multiplayer mode. Undercover Cop is marginally better, using the same set-up but placing one person undercover at random. Whoever it is will have to kill the rest of the gang unsuspecting of anyone else. Like Fragile Alliance, you’re constantly on your heels, looking for any suspicious activity; but, since it uses the exact same maps, it has the exact same problems. Cops and Robbers, on the other hand, deviates from the plan a tad, offering team deahtmatch-style shootouts. It’s a nice diversion but doesn’t exactly extend Dog Days‘ longevity.
And that’s Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days‘ biggest downfall. With more content, both in terms of brevity and variation, it could have been a much better game and actually live up to its promise. The shooting mechanics are satisfying, the Shanghai backdrop is oftentimes stunning to behold, and the visual style is fantastic, fully justifying the risks IO took in delivering it. Sadly, this is all confounded by a lack of ambition on the gameplay side, as you repeat the same action over and over again ad nauseum. With a few more mechanics and a couple of extra missions, Dog Days could have been easy to recommend. In its current state, it’s the perfect rental.