An entertaining action game (sometimes unintentionally so)
By now, you are probably familiar with the controversy surrounding "Kane and Lynch: Dead Men", the latest game from Io Interactive. The studio that gave us Hitman and Freedom Fighters has now given us this Tarantino-inspired, over-the-top, ultra-violent squad-based shooter. The best way to describe Kane and Lynch would be as a retarded and R-rated version of Freedom Fighters. Many of the negative remarks that have been written about the game are true. It is loaded with problems, and at times feels unfinished, like it was pushed out the door for the holidays. Despite its numerous issues though, Kane and Lynch somehow manages to be fun, in spite of itself. It is still worth playing for its huge, chaotic, and over-the-top shootouts that take place in all sorts of exotic locations. It also offers a lot of unintentional hilarity as a bonus.
"Kane and Lynch" follows the wacky hijinx of two death row inmates who are forced to work together, but can't stand each other. Drawing its inspiration from movies like Heat, Reservoir Dogs, and Pulp Fiction, Kane and Lynch get themselves into all sorts of trouble with law enforcement and shady organizations, and then resort to guns and grenades to get themselves out. The game has all sorts of dark humor and amusing banter between the two main characters, who carry a pretty good story despite the script's often juvenile writing. "Kane and Lynch" sets a new video game record for use of the "F" word. The problem with the game's gratuitous profanity is not that it is offensive, but that it seems like an amateurish attempt to manufacture edginess ala "Prince of Persia: Warrior Within". As stories in shooters go, "Kane and Lynch" is still above average, but it could have been a lot better.
The gameplay in "Kane and Lynch", like its script, has the potential to be great, but it is also riddled with all kinds of problems. The game is a squad-based shooter where you play as Kane, and you get to order around Lynch and the other gangsters in your party. The squad mechanics are simple. You have three commands at your disposal: "return to me", "attack him", and "defend here". The game's squad mechanics are actually quite good. The commands are very easy to use, and your squad does a great job of following them while staying alive, using cover, and returning fire at enemies. The AI for your squad mates is strong. (I have read criticisms elsewhere about bad squad AI – I totally disagree). In many ways, "Kane and Lynch" implements a squad better than most games out there. If you liked the mechanics of the game "Freedom Fighters", then you won't be disappointed here.
The highlight of "Kane and Lynch" is its huge, chaotic shootouts. These shootouts can be fantastic and thrilling, provided you aren't expecting any realism. To its credit, the level design is very strong, and the big battles take place in a huge variety of indoor and outdoor locations. There's an office building, a bank, the streets of Tokyo, and many more. Glass shatters, tiles fly off of walls, and cars explode while dozens of bullets fly through the air every second. You can't take much damage and you can't move very well while shooting, so you have to take cover behind whatever you can find and pick off enemies from there. These enemies will often surround and flank you, and sometimes they will try to pick you off with snipers. The enemy sniper mechanic is interesting, since a window briefly pops up at the bottom of the screen when a sniper is aiming at you. Surviving some of the game's tougher moments requires quick aiming and firing, smart use of the squad, and moving quickly behind cover.
You will shoot lots and lots of enemies in this game. By the middle of the game, you will shoot ten at a time and then move a few hundred feet where you will shoot ten more. At least half of the enemies are members of law enforcement. Forget everything that you have heard about the violence against cops in Grand Theft Auto – it's nothing compared to what's in this game. Sometimes, you will see a squad mate execute a mortally wounded enemy lying on the ground. "Kane and Lynch" takes game violence to unprecedented levels.
Meanwhile, the action in "Kane and Lynch" is held back by some annoying issues. Your squad mates might be sharp guys, but most of the other characters in the game are moronic fodder. Whether they are legions of enemy henchmen or cops, your enemies consistently run right at you or stay crouched in your line of fire so that you can easily mow them down by the half dozen. There are often dozens and sometimes hundreds of enemies and innocent bystanders on the map at once, and when they all act like idiots, hilarity often ensues. One scene takes place at a crowded night club, and when the shooting starts, all of the patrons run around screaming in circles with their hands in the air. This chaos all takes place while you exchange fire all over the club with bodyguards as rag-dolled bodies pile up to the ceiling. The number of characters that the game can get on the screen at one time is impressive, but it doesn't keep it from being unintentionally funny at times. "Kane and Lynch" is a game that takes itself too seriously, frequently lacking in self-awareness about how ridiculous it is. Ironically, it sometimes works in the game's favor to make it more entertaining – not how the developers intended, but entertaining nonetheless.
The game also half-heartedly imports the cover mechanic found in games like Rainbow Six: Vegas and Gears of War. Theoretically, your character should snap to cover at the tap of a key, but Io forgot one little detail – the key. Instead, the cover mechanic is fully automated. If you walk up to an object or a corner, you are supposed to automatically take cover. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it will work when you don't want it to work. This is a puzzling design decision, as there are many unused keys in the WASD region. The weapons in "Kane and Lynch" are also pretty disappointing. They are mostly generic guns like the pistol, shotgun, sub-machinegun, and assault rifle. Most of them feel weak and underpowered, and don't provide the visceral feeling of games like Call of Duty 4 or S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
The half-broken cover mechanic is a perfect example of how the game feels unfinished and undertested. At one point in the game, you begin a new chapter already in the middle of combat with no explanation of how you got there. Your first objective is "regroup with your squad". Why do I have to regroup from them? How did I get separated in the first place? It is as if at least one scene was cut from the game at this point, and the problem was never smoothed over. I also had a lot of problems getting the audio to work right. Chances are, you will find a lot of little nagging faults with the game's short eight hour campaign. Kane and Lynch could have used another three months or so of polishing.
The presentation in "Kane and Lynch" is also considerably sub-par. The game uses the Glacier engine, which was badly outdated at the time of release(This is the same engine that powered the second Hitman game back in 2002. Message to Io: please get a new engine). The main characteres look very good and highly detailed, but everything else in the game looks like something straight out of about 2004. Characters and environments are blocky and textured as if they had been made for the original X-Box. The environments deform nicely during combat, but that doesn't make up for how bare and ugly they sometimes are. The audio in the game doesn't fare much better than the visuals. The music, composed by Jesper Kyd, is okay, but for him it's a disappointment. If you were expecting his next great soundtrack, you'll be very disappointed. There is not a memorable track in the entire game. The weapon sounds in the game are competent but forgettable, as is the voice work for most of the characters other than Kane and Lynch.
Kane and Lynch is a game that is difficult to wholeheartedly recommend. If you have no interest in arcade-style squad-based combat and the extremely mature content, then you probably will hate this game. If, however, you are looking for a somewhat fun, intense, Tarantino-inspired adventure, and you enjoy IO's other games, then you might like this one. It is a highly unpolished gem that provides a lot of laughs along the way. It's too bad that the game has been mired by controversy at Gamespot, and it's also too bad that it was released too soon. If you are part of the target audience for this game, then you might find it enjoyable.