By HandsomeDead 8 Comments
No, it’s not some Frank Miller inspired reboot of the franchise, it’s a quick blog of my thoughts on the game after a few hours play. I’d give a spoiler warning but I assume anyone who would actually be spoiled by anything here has already played the game or, wiser, watched some kind of YouTube playthrough. As I’m looking forward to the sequel, I’m trying to be as positive as I can about the whole experience and not succumb to the fanboy bias that still hangs round the soon-to-be-franchise’s neck. I also only paid £3, so I can’t really be too negative.
I was going to split this into bullet points about what I thought was good and what I thought was bad but the split is so clear and obvious that it can be summed into into I really like everything apart from the fact I have to play it. The opening where both Kane and Lynch are busted out of the prison van is done really well with the Kiefer Sutherland sound-a-like narration immediately setting the tone of the game. In fact, he sounds so much like Kiefer in that one scene and so unlike him everywhere else that it had me wondering if maybe he was first attached and then dropped out. As a tutorial level, it works well enough but already, things feel broken.
The second set piece resets the tone entirely. Between the start of the bank heist to the escape on the train, I went from wary and interested to interested and disappointed. Crushingly disappointed. You start storming a bank as Kane to steal a macguffin while Lynch guards the hostages then having him go mental, wipe everyone out and then, on top of that, going up against police until the getaway van arrives. The getaway is then chased by the police and you have to shoot out the back to keep them off your tail but in all the rumpus, the driver loses his way and in an attempt to get back, the van goes off the road and you have to guard it from police assault until it can be fixed. When back on the road, the police are in hot pursuit leaving the gang little option but to board a train and escape from the law, who now have both helicopters and SWAT on their side.
It sounds exciting and it’s drawn out well. While it is the Heat sequence before it became Three Leaf Clover in GTA IV, it’s still a cool sequence and a good way of explaining Lynch’s blackouts without the need for flat exposition. But as soon as you start playing, you’re fucking hindered. Having the A button do everything fails completely. I tried to CQC a pig and instead, picked up someone else’s gun giving him enough time to blow me away. Then you get to the scenes where there’s more than a handful of guys shooting and it turns into a hard R version of The A-Team: You can’t hit a fucking thing. The bullet spray is all over the place meaning you need to use short controlled bursts at all times and that, while awkward, works on stationary opponents but when someone is running, it’s a waste of time. Not even the AI can do it.
The tension goes as fast as the immersion and I’m just sitting there seething. The worst, up to that point, is the train station as you get pincered by SWAT with no cover, which is fine on one side as they run in a straight line allowing for shots to be lined up, but then you turn round and they’re too far away to hit. I died maybe 4 or 5 times on this one 30 second section and at no point did it ever feel like it was my fault.
The next part in Tokyo again starts off well but ends in disaster. Walking through the crowds of people in a busy nightclub gives this section the most interesting stealth mechanic I’ve seen in many, many years. It’s so loud in there and everyone is so busy having a good time that they don’t hear your neckbreaking or the gunshots from the security guards. It’s genius. But then, it all falls apart. When leaving, the security come to find you and it starts well enough by mimicking Collateral and having them come through the crowd to get you but as soon as they start shooting, it dissolves into the same broken shooting that the last level had only this time, Lynch can’t fire back as he’s carrying the hostage making it an escort mission as well. I died a good few times here simply because he’d wander into gunfire.
This is also the first part of the game where I realised what the problem is. Just like when I played Gun and saw the jump animation was the same as the Caveman move off Tony Hawk and realised they’d used the same engine to build the game, when I saw the neon lights of the nightclub, the pulsing sounds from Jesper Kyd and the masses of poorly cloned civilians, I realised this was an action game forced into the Hitman engine. The shooting in those games was bad because it’s meant to be a last resort, the lighting can go both pitch black and blindingly bright to give you places to hide. Both of those worked fine in Hitman but when you’re put in a game where you’re shooting all the time and then can’t see what you’re trying to hit because of the extreme shadows, it’s a game killer.
No clearer was this than on the stage after where you go to a meeting in a traditional Japanese garden during the dead of night. Sure, I can see the flashlights the goon squad have, but I can’t actually see the goon that I’m trying to kill. There’s a section where there’s a sniper up a flight of stairs and he killed me many times as the game has a gimmick where you can see the sniper’s scope in the corner. It lets you see them aiming for you and gives you time to hide and lets you know where they are to shoot back. During this one section, it was so dark that the circle was completely black and, yep, I got gunned down by him many, many times. I have no idea how this got released, or even beyond the stage where someone, somewhere, is meant to say that it doesn't work.
Having just got to the start of Revenge Part I, I ended up ragequitting because I got killed again, numerous times by the dump truck and I have a feeling this may be where I give up. Unless there’s something I’m missing, to kill the driver, I have to shoot into a small window while it’s moving. Kane doesn’t seem like he’d be able to hit the Hindenburg with the Hammer of Dawn so I don’t know how I’m going to pull this off and, like I said, it doesn’t annoy me, it just makes me disappointed.
IO are obviously a bunch of talented guys, as seen by the Hitman games and they took a huge chance with Kane and Lynch, story wise at least, and for me, it worked. I remember in the infamous review from Jeff that he said the game was ugly but that makes a real welcome change for how other games play out. From the start, it’s clear that neither Kane or Lynch are good guys and this gives IO more room to maneuver and make things interesting. Lynch killing all the hostages in the bank changes the dynamic of that section completely and, in a better game, would have given the game a far more violent and sinister tone, something you don’t get anywhere else. The same can be said with the nightclub scene: When Yoko doesn’t want to negotiate, Lynch punches her in the face, puts tape round her mouth and and carries her out as a hostage. It’s blunt, brutal and very refreshing.
Kane seems to be given some kind of redemptive through line with his family being the driving force behind his actions but this is just as sour as the rest of the game. His wife hates him, his daughter doesn’t even know he exists and his motivation is guilt and regret for fucking their lives up rather than because he wants to be a family again, he knows better than that. It’s grim but at least he’s not a bald space marine or an American soldier and as a motivation, it works. I was drawn into it far more than I was for John Marston in Red Dead Redemption, though that’s laid out very differently so it’s not really unfair to make comparisons. Marston ended up as a well rounded person while Kane almost definitely won't.
Talking about the characters has got my mood turned all around from when I started writing this and I’m glad I’ve given the game a try. And then I realise where I’m up to in the story and realise I have to play it. There may not be a Day Two.