Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days

Is there life in the old dogs yet?

In principal, Kane & Lynch: Dead Men seemed like a genuinely appealing prospect, yet it failed to hit the mark on so many levels. Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days by contrast is already shaping up to be something remarkably more accomplished in terms of execution, with IO Interactive seemingly taking on the negative criticisms levelled at the first game and consequently looking to deliver something much closer to their original vision for the poorly-received first game.

The One Aldwych Hotel in London is a massively incongruous setting for our first look at the sequel, it's crystal chandeliers and shiny marble floors a million miles away from Kane & Lynch 2's relentlessly bleak and gritty Shanghai setting.

Opening their presentation with a vibe trailer depicting a selection of distinctly similar cinematic influences to those that informed the first Kane & Lynch, IO show us more Michael Mann, this time in the form of the DV shot Collateral. This is also in addition to clips from blockbuster actioner Die Hard 4.0, which might mean that Kane & Lynch ultimately fight a helicopter on a busy freeway.

Previously, IO had cited Mann's Heat as an influence on Dead Men, but it's Collateral's naturalistic look that is specifically the most important factor in Kane & Lynch 2. It's a YouTube video of a man strolling through Shanghai that actually proves to be the most telling piece of footage as we prepare to see the game's new look for the first time. The game's director, Karsten Lund then goes on to reveal Dog Days for the first time and we're startled by the game's bold art direction.

The amateur video look of the game is certainly something we haven't seen before, certainly not to this extent anyway. Instantly grabbing our attention as we watch in consternation, Kane & Lynch 2 undeniably looks great, but we're not entirely won over due to an apparent lack of context. Why has IO chosen to adopt this aesthetic? Who's filming you for the entirety of the game - and perhaps more importantly - why?

Outside of the brave new style, IO is ambitiously hoping to redefine the action shooter experience, the first step in doing so is apparently being to take their cue from user-generated video footage like the kind you might find on YouTube or CCTV film. The upshot of this is a visual style that immediately looks unlike anything else, with exaggerated lens flare, bright, vivid colours and a generous helping of grain and digital noise.

And when the game eventually springs into motion, the choppy camera bounces around as it reproduces the motion of a pursuing cameraman, which personally made us feel more than a little queasy. An extended hands-on play with such an active camera seems unimaginable and potentially quite vomit-inducing. For the record, we've never before experienced motion sickness while playing or watching any other game - Kane & Lynch 2 is the first to make us feel like we might lose our lunch.

Dog Days' story follows the events of a simple job gone horribly wrong - just as Lynch was beginning to settle down with a girlfriend and a normal life too. Assuming the role of lead protagonist, Lynch finds himself taking one last job working for a weapons merchant known as Glazer. Calling in Kane for his military expertise and knowledge of weapon shipments, the pair quickly find themselves in hot water when inevitably the whole thing goes awry, prompting a frantic chase that unfolds over two intense days when they become fugitives on the run from the law.

Essentially, Kane & Lynch 2 is the same raw and brutal crime shooter as Kane & Lynch 1, this time set amidst the dangerous Shanghai underworld. Demonstrating the game's fourth level, we're presented with a close-up of sociopath Lynch sat at a restaurant bar as he calmly slurps noodles. Uniquely hyper-real, the style slowly begins to make thematic sense to us, as the environment is lent a strangely alien quality. Like the first game before it, Dog Days is similarly adult, with coarse, sweary language punctuated by stark, cold violence.

Soldiers enter the restaurant with a bang, shattering the serene atmosphere, causing Lynch to leap from his stool, entrenching himself behind the marble-topped bar as he's confronted by a barrage of gunfire. The shaky camera lurches around, maintaining it's focus on Lynch as he darts in and out of cover, peeking from behind walls and pillars to return fire at his attackers. As bullets hit the masonry around Lynch, blocky artefacts momentarily scramble the image whereas killing an enemy causes their face to be digitally pixellated, obscuring their identity, which is rather odd.

As Lynch scrambles out onto the rain-slicked Shanghai streets, the representation of the busy, urban alleyways, replete with neon signs and claustrophobic video stores (proudly displaying copies of Mini Ninjas and Hitman on their shelves) proves to be enormously impressive. Incidental events like a civilian casually jumping onto his scooter and riding away is just part of the night time activity that subtly plays out amid the ensuing chaos. And when the firefight spills out into the night air, all hell breaks loose and the shooting mechanics come into their own.

The game's HUD has been stripped down to include only the essentials while the action itself looks to be robust and serviceable with solid cover-to-cover gun fighting the order of the day. Lynch gradually fights his way through the streets evading his aggressors with Kane following closely in tow. Eventually finding his way onto an open field where a helicopter suddenly descends into view, casting its blinding searchlight upon the fleeing criminals, the situation looks as though it might be insurmountable. Kane & Lynch attempt an impromptu run to safety, only to stumble into yet more trouble as another group of heavily armed agents get the drop on the duo, pumping them full of lead. Lynch is down, but not dead and is able to fight his way out of an early grave, but this is where Lund decides to conclude the demo.

There are elements of Dog Day yet to be shown, including numerous multiplayer modes including off and online co-op and the first game's fantastic Fragile Alliance makes a return as an eight-player co-operative heist, which again plays upon each participant's penchant for avarice, offering them the chance to steal the entirety of the contents of the bank's vault, betraying the rest of your team.

Tentatively slated for a Q2 2010 release, this first showing of Kane & Lynch 2 demonstrates that IO has learnt a valuable lesson from their experience with Dead Men, meaning that Dog Days has every opportunity to really be an immense success, finally delivering upon a premise that always seemed like it was going to be a sure-fire hit. Based upon this first look at Kane & Lynch 2, we'd say that it's most definitely one to keep your eye on.

E3 Trailer