T. S. Elliot, Poet and critic extraordinaire, once said that art does not exist in a vacuum and can only be a viewed in relation to a personal history. I think the same can be applied to games, as you will continuously compare the titles you play to ones you have experienced previously. It is thus that Kane and Lynch 2 has received high regard from many of my colleagues and contemporaries for being an improvement over the original, but having never experienced the first Kane and Lynch I’m forced to compare KaL2 to other shooters from my past that it can’t quite compete with. Kane and Lynch isn’t a bad game, but it is a case of some nice ideas with a rather flawed execution.
Let’s start with the building blocks of any third person shooter; The shooting mechanics and cover system. I can’t began to imagine how bad the gunplay was in the original for KaL2 to be considered an improvement. It’s not the worst I’ve ever witnessed, but the general shooting mechanics feel loose and imprecise and it certainly doesn’t help that a large majority of the weapons are quite inaccurate. This isn’t a bad thing in itself, but it can become troublesome fighting enemies at any range other than point blank. While we’re on the topic of ranges, there a variety of balancing issues within the limited arsenal of weaponry that make the shotgun the only weapon you ever need. Move over sniper rifle, this shotty has some ridiculous range. Despite my complaints, the general engine isn’t all bad, with some satisfying action that is often well gratified by effective hit markers.
The cover system suffers from a similar problem of being a bit hit and miss. Largely speaking it works the way you want it to, but now and then it would lock me into position and prevent me from moving across the block or wall I was up against. It happened one too many times for my liking, and caused the whole system to feel static and stale. It didn’t help matters that cover in the game doesn’t always protect you from harm. I understand that a sense of realism was trying to be conveyed through this, but it actually just made certain portions of the game needlessly frustrating. The poorly considered control scheme also became apparent whilst engaging with bits of cover in the game. Once you plug in a controller or customize the button layout it’s fine, but the default keyboard and mouse configuration made no sense. I could live with C being my cover key if all other buttons were in use, but when I have a perfectly good space bar that isn’t mapped to a command… It just seemed like an easily avoidable irritant.
Other aspects of the engine are weakened by an attempt to prioritise style over substance. Annoyingly this results in not having any conventional explosives or grenades. Instead you can find explosive barrels and throw them at your adversaries, shooting them in mid-air to cause the explosion. It looks cool, but there just aren’t enough explosives placed throughout the levels to make it work. There were far too many cases of that one guy hiding behind cover where one well placed hand grenade would’ve made all the difference. The most obvious case of visuals winning out over game design is the game’s camera. An attempt has been made to make it seem like the action is being recorded on a handy cam, so when you sprint or get shot at the camera starts to shake. It’s quite visually pleasing, though it can become distracting after a while. Thankfully the option has been included to turn the effect off. It did seem however like it was a last minute endeavour without much prior planning, as the effect seems to entirely disappear when you aim down sight and the story makes little or no attempt to justify the idea of some guy with a hand camera following Kane and Lynch around.
The plot unsurprisingly follows Kane and Lynch once more as they attempt to do an arms smuggling job in Shanghai, but when one of Lynch’s “errands” goes wrong the duo find themselves hunted by the one of the most dangerous mob bosses around. It’s a lot better than I make it sound, as I can’t really do justice to the stories tension and effective exposition without giving away any spoilers. You can take it from me though, you’ll definitely want to play from start to finish. There are a few blemishes though, with some weak scripting and characterisation that make the story seem a bit too much like a poor man’s Quentin Tarantino. There are also a few pacing problems with the odd level out-staying its welcome, but possibly the biggest let down is the ending. It just felt like one of those “is that it” sort of moments. For all the complaints I make I did enjoy the plot, but it just seemed in some cases to be missing a rather obvious trick.
As far as the playability of the single-player mode was concerned it was a case of a few bad cooks spoiling a perfectly reasonable broth. The level design made a lot of sense and the partner AI was able to cover me from various locations and generally not act like a total nuisance. That said the enemy AI was horribly unbalanced with some enemies charging at you like lemmings and others sitting behind cover like they’d forgotten what was happening. It resulted in one or two ridiculous set-pieces that were about as frustrating as it gets, and this was only on normal mode.
For all its flaws the single-player was certainly worth seeing through to the end. It was just a shame that the end came so quickly. Measuring in at barely six hours, some may feel a little cheated by the experience. A second play-through also seems highly unlikely seeing as there are no collectibles, or any other attractions that will warrant a repeat run. The co-op mode might keep you coming back for more however, as these things are always better experienced with a friend. PC users beware however, that unlike the console version, you will irritatingly be unable to enjoy the co-op story in split-screen.
If you find yourself wanting a bit more solo love from Dog Days once the story is over, then you might find the arcade mode to be a worthy time-sink. The premise is that, much like the multiplayer mode, you have to loot a location with a few AI comrades and proceed past waves of bots to the exit. It’s a nice attempt at a Horde-style mode, but the lack of map rotation means you just keep playing the same map over and over until you lose or give up. It’s a nice try at increasing the game’s lifespan, but it really doesn’t quite cut the proverbial mustard.
Whilst playing through arcade mode I was constantly thinking to myself “hey, wouldn’t this be really awesome if instead of AI I could play this with human players?” Thankfully you can and this is, in fact, the main crux of Kane and Lynch’s multiplayer shenanigans. Fragile Alliance is the bread and butter mode that sees you and up to seven others robbing a fixed location and battling AI controlled police while you make your way to the exit vehicle. The loot is split between the remaining survivors at the end of the each round, so it is often in your best interest to betray your friends in order to get a larger cut of the swag. You can do this by shooting them yourself and potentially leaving yourself vulnerable to the mercy of your other comrades, or you can try and screw them over through the rescue vehicle itself. It’s quite a diverse mechanic, in that you can interact with you getaway car or chopper in many ways. It has its own health you always need to watch out for and when you’re inside it you can either hold it to let your friends in, or make a 50/50 split with the driver in order to make him leave your colleagues behind. You always need to plan your betrayals carefully, as once a robber goes down he will respawn as a cop and make your getaway that little bit more challenging.
Fragile Alliance is a mode that is solid and enjoyable and leads to a lot of tense final rounds.
The problems come in the form of some quite static map design and a very limited weapon selection devoid of any customization. The maps are generally quite well designed with multiple paths to choose from and a few nice effects like explosions and civilian NPCs that add an intensity to the proceedings. The problem comes in that they never ever really change. There are no weapons spawns to fight over, no advantage points, no nothing. You just go through the same thing over and over again but with different people each time. It means that after one or two plays on each map you really feel like you’ve seen and done it all. This little issue is also compounded by the lack of maps on disc. I’m sure this will be fixed with some DLC, but for now having only six maps is really quite a limitation.
This feeling of repetition could’ve easily been rectified with some nice unlocks for ranking up and some decent customization. Unfortunately KaL2 lacks both. The weapon selection is pretty small as it is, but you can opt to buy new weapons with your loot in between rounds. The problem is, as you’re ranked according to how much money you have, you almost never feel like you can justify spending your cash on new guns. It doesn’t help that your initial equipment is already quite decent and that the new guns you can buy don’t really offer much of an improvement. Any guns you purchase don’t carry over into future matches either. This seemed like a missed opportunity as, with no customization options and no upgradeable weaponry, the levelling up system seemed a bit trivial. Now that I’m a rank six I can buy that new assault rifle, but when you’re initial equipment is nearly just as good, why bother?
It’s a good thing then that the other two multiplayer modes almost make up for some of the online system’s failings. Undercover Cop plays out in a similar way to Fragile Alliance, the key difference being that one player is the undercover cop and is tasked with killing the others before they can escape. It works much better than you might think, and it adds a new layer of tension always knowing you’re only a few seconds away from an inevitable betrayal. This added mistrust makes this the strongest mode of the three by a long shot.
For those wanting a more straight up team deathmatch sort of thing, you’ll find your hit in the Cops and Robbers mode. It’s yet another twist on the Fragile Alliance formula, pitching two teams of six as the criminals and the filth respectively. Each player respawns if they bite the dust, meaning your really have to push to keep your side in the competition. It becomes a frantic affair that never really lets up and is a nice mash up of the usual formula. It can become a bit too hectic for its own good however, and the lack of grenades and tactical positions on the maps means it can quickly become a mindless case of running and gunning. I also noticed that one of the mechanics soon became a bit glitchy. The idea is that, should one of your buddies fall, you can snatch up his loot for safe keeping. Supposedly, if you have over a million in loot all players in the game can see your name above your head wherever they are in the map. After a while though I began to notice that I could see everyone’s name above their head, both friend and foe. This was further complemented by the incredibly short respawn times and spawns that always pop you right back in the action, that often made the games become a bit of a stale-mate. There’s certainly a thrill to be had in the mode, but it’s certainly not the most competitive game type ever devised.
The multiplayer component of Kane and Lynch 2 certainly throws out a lot of interesting twists on the standard shooter formula, but it was too riddled with bugs to feel like a truly solid experience. The lack of host migration was a really annoying start, but it was made even worse by a glitch that crashed the entire game whenever it failed to find a new host. It was like it was trying to migrate the host and just gave up every time it failed (which it did every single time.) The servers also seemed a bit unstable, with the occasional lag spike piercing through. Hopefully this is just a temporary server hiccup that will be rectified post-launch. I was about to say these aren’t game breaking issues, but technically speaking the game crashing glitch is actually a game breaker. It’s not the worst glitch I’ve ever seen, but it just seems so sloppy and amateurish. The multiplayer just isn’t tight enough in this respect to pull the masses away form Modern Warfare 2. It’s certainly refreshing with some interesting ideas, but with Halo: Reach just around the corner, I doubt a few interesting ideas are going to be good enough.
The visuals of KaL2 sit in a similar camp of trying out some new ideas that are likely to divide opinion. The shaky hand cam effect mentioned earlier and the rather abrasive film grain effect show an attempt to take the visuals in a more gritty and earthy direction. It certainly suits the themes of the game and works for the most part, although I think the grain filters could’ve been applied with a little more subtlety. The technical capacity of the visuals is a bit harder to judge. The textures can definitely lack interest and the character models, whilst quite detailed, seem a little bit too shiny. It just looks a little unnatural and the hair in particular seems quite poorly rendered. For all my hating on the graphics there’s actually a lot of good going on as well with some intense effects within an epic scope and some very accomplished animations. It all actually looks pretty tasty by the time you’ve whacked all the graphics settings up to the max. The honeymoon period ended somewhat abruptly for me however, when I was treated to a recurring graphical glitch that rendered all the colours in different shades of pink. It wasn’t anything a quick reboot wouldn’t fix, but it certainly underlies the fact that a little bit more time in testing might have done the game some good.
The sound, on the whole, was a bit more of a regimented success with some decent voice acting and satisfying sound effects. The background tracks were a little sparse and unremarkable, but it was nicely covered by the decent voice clips. Particularly in multiplayer the diverse voice acting comes across, with a large variety of vocal clips for each character model. My criticism is mainly levelled at specific voice overs in the campaign. Generally speaking the guys voicing Kane and Lynch do good work, but there were one or two more intense and emotional segments of the story where they didn’t really deliver the lines in a particularly meaningful or effective way. Alas, this is but a small knock I level at what is a successful audio track on the whole.
For those of you still unsure if Dog Days is your kind of game, I’d say to consider how much of it is your kind of style. If you love films like Pulp Fiction and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, you might be able to overlook some of the game’s short comings in favour of the entertaining story and unique style. That, and for all it does wrong, it’s the only game on the market that lets you rob a bank in its multiplayer mode (aside from the original Kane and Lynch.) The problem of purchase is more likely to centre around the game’s longevity. With a short campaign and only six maps for multiplayer, this might be one of those games that would be better bought at a reduced price in a few months time. It certainly doesn’t help matters that the achievement/trophy list is fairly unremarkable. It cuts a nice balance between rewards for the story, arcade, multiplayer and various other feats, but I didn’t really find any of the list particularly fun to hunt down. I suppose the achievement/trophy list typifies Kane and Lynch 2 as a whole. It’s a game that looks good on paper, but is lacking a certain X factor that prevents it from fully realising its unique and refreshing spins on the classic shooter formula.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Solid plot, Interesting multiplayer modes, Horde-style arcade mode, Interesting camera effects, It's better than the original
Lose gunplay, frustrating cover system, Poor pacing in single-player, Repetitive multiplayer, Lack of maps and modes, No grenades
Kane and Lynch return, once again defining mediocrity in all its forms. Intriguing multiplayer modes and a tense story are not enough to combat the games loose shooting mechanics, sloppy cover system and clichéd script.