Kane & Lynch: Dead Men
When imprisoned mercenary Adam 'Kane' Marcus is freed from the terminal grasp of death row by fellow inmate James Seth Lynch, who just so happens to be a medicated psychopath, it appears that Kane has been gifted with a second chance to right the many wrongs of his life.
However, it is quickly revealed to Kane that Lynch is working for mysterious mercenary clan The7, which has facilitated the jailbreak in order to retrieve vast amounts of cash it believes Kane has stashed while working for them on a botched job in Venezuela immediately prior to his capture and incarceration.
Facing the knowledge that The7 have kidnapped his wife and child as leverage and are threatening to kill them should he refuse to cooperate, Kane is pressed into agreeing to recover The7's missing haul whilst also forging an embittered partnership with his imbalanced minder Lynch.
On paper, the track record of Danish developer IO Interactive, which includes the popular Hitman series, suggests that Kane & Lynch: Dead Men should be nothing less than a cast iron release of quality. IO is well accustomed to delivering gritty action, realistic violence, interesting characters, compelling narrative, and immersive gameplay... yet Kane & Lynch, which should effortlessly boast those core elements on the team's past merits, arrives as totally deficient on all counts and falls flat on its face as a result.
Understand, however, that the game's all-too obvious detractions do not occur through a lack of inherent quality, but rather because Kane & Lynch simply isn't finished. For example, the crux of the third and first-person gameplay revolves around a vitally important automatic cover-and-shoot system, which is so completely glitch-ridden that it ruins any sense of enjoyment and immersion that the near constant gunfights offer up. Indeed, what should be an intuitive fluid movement instigated when approaching the corner of a building, corridor, car, etc., becomes a comical battle between character and environment as the player moves Kane back and forth in an attempt to find some invisible sweet spot that will see him adopt tactical positioning. Why IO didn't incorporate a button-prompted system is anyone's guess.
Also, the aiming controls, which are only truly effective when looking down the barrel of any given weapon, are extremely sluggish and inaccurate, while enemy accuracy is so mercilessly on-the-money that it's hard to progress for more than a few minutes without being turned into a bloody pile of balding Swiss cheese.
The technical problems don't stop there though, with collision detection arriving as so patchy that supposedly safe points of strategic cover (i.e. brick walls) offer as much protection from screaming hot lead as a bullet proof jacket fashioned from bubble wrap. Sadly there's more, which sees certain missions, where the player is tasked with keeping accompanying NPCs alive, occasionally killing off team members without them ever sustaining physical damage. Also, visual clipping is rife throughout and generally spoils the game's otherwise believably grimy real-world aesthetics, and lip synch will also suddenly freeze up mid-conversation too - which is especially noticeable during an on-rails sequence where Kane and Lynch are screaming at each other in the back of a getaway van.
The almost incessant stream of annoyances aside, it's the lack of narrative and subtlety that really hurts Kane & Lynch. While the Hitman games boasted an undeniably mysterious anti-hero in Agent47 and offered storylines that oozed moody atmosphere but also invoked a necessary degree of player empathy, Kane & Lynch beats the player about the face with absolutely no finesse or nuance. Moreover, there is nothing to like, nothing to connect to, and nothing to empathise with in Kane. Yes, he's fighting to reach his wife and child (who hate him), but the character fails to ever evolve beyond the black-hearted and foul-mouthed convicted criminal that players first lay eyes upon, making it difficult to care about whether Kane will successfully foil The7 and save his family. The fact that Lynch is perhaps one of gaming's most annoying A.I. sidekicks doesn't help matters, with most players likely to become audibly frustrated by his constant whining and cursing, as well as the dull, almost marital, bickering that takes place between the two men at every turn.
The opening hour of Kane & Lynch: Dead Men is so utterly unappealing as the player struggles with the cover system, the almost imperceptible aiming reticule, and the generally unresponsive controls, that many casual gamers may well turn tail and reach for the eject button before too long. That being said, more tolerant players (perhaps those who played and enjoyed the bug-addled but appealing Hidden & Dangerous) will eventually discover the makings of a decent shooter hidden around the five or six hour marker. By this point, allowing for, and adapting to, the game's many problems becomes almost second nature, and its full-frontal brutality and relentless storm of bullets and expletives do - to a degree - give way to brief glimpses of what Kane & Lynch could have been if publisher Eidos had held it back for a few months more.
The disappointment that multiplies during sporadic moments of genuine worth is also magnified yet further when attempting the two-player co-op campaign and the enthralling Fragile Alliance online mode. The former would be an excellent addition to the game's overall longevity if it weren't also crippled by the same faults that haunt the single-player campaign. Fragile Alliance is a superb online gameplay creation that involves working through missions in an online team while knowing that any one of your team members (up to 8 can participate) could attempt to steal the mission's loot and glory from right under your nose at any moment. Sadly, it's a great idea forced to unfold amid a fractured gameplay environment, and it's also highly unlikely that a group of 8 people will be willing to tolerate Kane & Lynch's cacophony of glitches for very long - if at all.
Kane & Lynch: Dead Men is a sizeable step backwards for IO Interactive, which has failed in its ambition to deliver a mature action adventure that pulls no punches and gives the videogame world a pair of great anti-hero characterisations. As it is - in this unfinished state - Kane & Lynch's all-too obvious lack of Q&A follow through makes it impossible to recommend for anyone other than hardcore shooter fans willing to trawl through hours of mediocrity in return for minutes of unfulfilled promise. 58%