Unique style is something that I really haven't been noticing much of in my last few years of gaming. Sure, there have been games that have innovated in the way of gameplay, but as far as style goes, games just seem to be bleeding together for me. While there's no doubt that the Halo games look amazing and have some interesting set-pieces and enemies, they just don't seem to break away from the same stylistic conventions we've been seeing in sci-fi games for years. This is not to say that I dislike the games as I feel Halo 3's multiplayer is some of the best there is. Recently, I've just found myself wanting something more than just solid gameplay when I'm in the market for a new game.
This is where Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days comes in. If there's one game that has been on my radar ever since I first caught a glimpse of it, it's been Kane & Lynch 2. Having played the first game when it launched, I know I'm not the only one who felt rather indifferent towards it. One of the things that bugged me most was that the whole game, including its style just struck me as extremely bland. Now, looking at its sequel, the two games couldn't seem more different, but does that mean that this iteration may fare better than the original did? Read on to see if there's enough substance here to complement the style.
While the plot here may not rival that of Palahniuk novel, that's not to say that it doesn't fit the game like a glove. Two escaped convicts - Kane and Lynch - end up in Shanghai some time following the events of the first game. You take on the role of Lynch, a medicated psychopath who is no stranger to brutal violence and murder. It turns out that he's come upon a job that he believes will pay off more than he could ever imagine. It is at this point that his partner and the playable main character from the first game, Kane, shows up. Needless to say, when these two murderous psychos are reunited, things don't go as planned, leading to an incredibly angry crime boss who wants the two convicts dead. This means that Kane and Lynch will have to fight through all of Shanghai's hired men and police if they hope to survive the next 48 hours.
Throughout the game, I can't say that I was incredibly interested in the story as it just felt like a simple thread holding together each of the separate action sequences, but I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't pulled in by the two main characters, particularly Lynch. Where the story itself struck me as uninteresting, I just loved seeing Lynch's reactions to everything going on around him. There just seems to be a level of realism in his character that I rarely see in games. Yes, it's not every day that you run into a medicated psychopathic murderer, but Lynch behaves exactly as you'd expect one to behave and, despite his penchant for murder, he still remains an extremely likable character. While it feels strange to feel comfortable being in control of this clearly unbalanced man, there's just something human about him that I wasn't able to shake while playing through the game.
If there's one thing that really struck me about this game, it was its unique presentation. If you've seen any footage of this game, then you will know what I'm talking about. While some may look at stills of the game and dismiss it as just another third person shooter, they'd be missing a lot of what makes this game unique, with the first of which being the quality of the images.
What you're seeing is not some sort of video encoding error. Kane & Lynch 2is supposed to look pixellated and grainy as if it's being shot from a portable camera or cell phone., complete with over the top light flares and the auto-adjusting brightness of the camera that help to disorient the gamer. Like all the other design choices in this game, this may deter some potential buyers, but give it time and you'll see that there's a reason for every seemingly strange choice that was made in the game's development. As a game taking place in an extremely dirty environment and in the slums of Shanghai, the developers are not trying to show you the environment through rose-tinted glasses. Instead, they want you to see the area for what it is and hopefully align you with the protagonists. In other words, they want you to feel disgusted and want to get out of the city as quickly as possible. While this design choice will definitely push some people away, I love that developers are starting to use techniques seen in the film industry to better convey their narrative and characters in-game.
The next thing you may notice is the camera itself. Unlike a traditional camera which generally seems tethered to the protagonist, it seems to have a life of its own in Kane & Lynch 2. Complementing the handheld camera look, you also get the handheld shake. Even when your character is not moving, the camera will bob in and out behind the character as if someone is following you around documenting your every move. Like the gritty look, this helps to create a sense of uneasiness in the player, further creating a disconnect between the player and the environment. In particular, I was reminded of low budget exploitation or snuff films. Nothing feels safe and you're never given time to catch your bearings. It makes everything all the more hectic and keeps you from ever feeling any sort of comfort as you're crawling your way through Shanghai's alleys.
Finally, there is the use of censoring. In the vein of the two aforementioned stylistic choices, it's no surprise that this choice will anger some gamers. When you first pick up the game and blast an enemy in the face with your shotgun, you'll immediately notice that the game censors some of the more extreme gore in a way similar to the TV show Cops. It won't be until you stop and look at the carnage you've caused and think about it that you'll realize the genius behind this move. You'd think that censoring the extreme violence would make you less uncomfortable than seeing it in all its bloody glory, but in actuality, like in the film industry, withholding certain images can have the exact opposite effect. Similar to the way they withheld the image of the giant shark in Jaws to create suspense, censoring the blown off heads in Kane & Lynch 2 leaves everything to your imagination making the experience even more disturbing. Instead of showing you the gore, you're forced to imaging whatever is so disturbing that it is censored. Odds are, the image you've subliminally created in your head is far worse than anything the developers could have ever created for the game. While it isn't anything groundbreaking, I was incredibly impressed by the developer's choice to withhold these disturbing images. While on paper it may not seem like much, when you get into the game and grab someone as a meat-shield and execute them, you begin to understand just how powerful and twisted the human mind can be.
Now that the unique style of the game has been discussed, I can move on to the actual graphics. On their own, there's really not much to say about the graphics, but when mixed in with all the effects, it comes together to create a truly disgusting environment that you will desperately want out of, but at the same time, won't be able to help staring at. This is one of those cases where the graphics shouldn't be judged based on their fidelity, but rather on how effectively they convey the feel of the environment. Without a doubt, this is, in my opinion, some of the best use of graphics in a game that I've ever seen. While they aren't photo-realistic like some games on the market, the developers set out to create a distinct feel for the game and nail it.
If it isn't already obvious, this is definitely not a game for everyone. The player-base will undoubtedly be split due to the many stylistic choices and the two topics that follow: The adult-oriented nature of the game and the game's longevity. If you haven't already noticed the "adults only" nature of the game by now, it's worth noting that this game is not for kids. With that disclaimer out of the way, I'd just like to warn that this really isn't your game if you have a weak stomach. I mean this in regards to both the disturbing imagery and the camera itself. All through the game, you'll be faced with brutal executions and kills that, like I described above, actually have a far stronger effect on the player than gore usually does thanks to the fact that the developers let the player's mind do their dirty work. Even apart from that, there are many scenes that some players may not feel comfortable with, so keep that in mind when making your choice.
In the way of the camera, due to its handheld nature, you may end up with a case of motion sickness after extended playtime. As someone who doesn't suffer from motion sickness in games and can watch 3D movie without any uneasiness, I found that after about an hour of playing the game, I was starting to feel slightly nauseous. Now, this isn't a deal breaker by any stretch of the imagination, but it's something that should be kept in mind.
What you'll be getting here is rather standard third person shooter fare. You'll find yourself running around, taking cover, blind-firing, and generally blasting away enemies everywhere you look. Also, like the Gears Of War franchise, there is also a sprint button that, unsurprisingly, allows you to move ahead at a quicker pace. In Kane & Lynch 2 though, the already eratic camera goes positively insane when you sprint presenting you with a useful tool that requires a level of strategy to use properly as it is extremely easy to lose your bearing in the environment while sprinting.
The shooting also feels different than most game's I've played recently. It almost feels realistic in a way. The accuracy of weapons - especially automatic guns - can be rather difficult to get a hold on. To put it simply, the weapons just don't feel very accurate. Over time though, I began to grow fond of this challenge. If you think about it, if you're hiding behind a wall, being shot at from all angles, you're accuracy won't exactly be perfect. Like the gritty feel, I just think that this is another aspect of the game that helps place you in the conflict and really draw you in.
Another thing to keep in mind though is the length of the game. On the normal difficulty, I was able to play through the whole single player campaign in about five hours without rushing. That just isn't long enough for a single player campaign in my eyes. While others may find joy in endlessly replaying the levels, I just don't feel that it lasts long enough to warrant enough value for the price.
To help with the longevity though, there is the multiplayer and arcade mode. While I still don't feel that these make the price worth it, there is definitely much fun to be had. Arcade Mode is a single player version of the popular multiplayer mode Fragile Alliance which will be making a return alongside new multiplayer mode variants Cops & Robbers and Undercover Cop. Working as a team to steal as much money as possible while watching your back for traitors is definitely an interesting concept that works extremely well. Will you work as a cohesive team and share your earnings or stab your team in the back to take all the money for yourself while facing insurmountable odds?
Even so, I still don't believe there's enough here to keep you coming back long enough to warrant an automatic purchase unless you plan on constantly replaying the single player and squeezing everything you can out of the multiplayer. It's all down to personal choice.
Grading this game is a rather difficult. While on one hand, I absolutely fell in love with everything the developers did in respect to the film-inspired style of the game and the realism of the gameplay, I just couldn't get by the amount of content here. While the multiplayer and Arcade Mode are extremely fun, I just don't feel that they make the package worth it. It's for this reason that I find it difficult to suggest a buy of this game. Without a doubt, you should rent the game if you're at all interested as you'll be treated to a truly unique, fun game, but I just don't feel that it's worth a solid buy unless you know you'll be able to get a ton of playtime out of it.
Head over to the official Kane & Lynch 2 website for more information on the game.