Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days
On paper, Kane & Lynch: Dead Men was a great idea. A Michael Mann-inspired game of greed and betrayal, which regrettably fell way short of the mark with a sloppy execution, it could have been so much more, and given Danish developer IO Interactive's enviable pedigree with the Hitman series, it was a shock to see it fail so dramatically.
This is something of a second chance for IO to make the game they intended to deliver the first time around then. Shifting the focus from ex-mercenary Kane, to self-medicated psychopath Lynch, Dog Days' protagonist is more sympathetic than you might think, with his new, quieter life in Shanghai shattered when he finds himself embroiled in some serious trouble following a job gone horribly wrong. But is the game itself a job gone horribly wrong though? You see what we did there?
Firstly, the gritty visual style lends itself perfectly to the setting, imbuing the streets of Shanghai with a realistic, yet strangely alien and otherworldly quality. It actually feels like you're being followed by a camera, and the grainy DV effect and shaky cam is very effective in making the action feel up-close and visceral, without being too invasive. And if you do find it a bit much, there's the option to switch it off.
Kane & Lynch 2's shooter fundamentals are slightly less robust, and although the nuts and bolts of its core mechanics work perfectly fine for the most part, it can be immensely frustrating when you clearly shoot an enemy in the head only for them to continue firing at you with unerring accuracy. Even on the easier difficulties, you'll need to riddle most enemies with bullets before they'll go down for good making any attempt to play on the game's Extreme difficulty, utterly impossible.
There's nothing wrong with a challenge, and playing the game on easy or medium difficulty is an enjoyable experience, but the tougher settings could have been more fun if the enemy collision detection wasn't so skittish. As a cover shooter, Kane & Lynch 2 is still satisfying and when you do manage to pop a rozzer or a mob goon with a well-aimed shot, it feels all the more rewarding. It's just a shame that the game ends just as it starts to pick up the pace and the pieces start slotting together.
Kane & Lynch 2 is fantastically cinematic, and the developer's aim to craft something akin to Michael Mann's recent movie output, like Heat, Collateral and Miami Vice, pays off with its startling presentation, all lens flare, slick lighting effects and intentional blocky digital artefacts and camera tics. The story too moves at a decent pace, but is over all too soon. Clocking in at around 5 hours or so on medium difficulty, Kane & Lynch 2's single-player campaign is disappointing given that it really starts to hit its stride by the 3 hour mark.
That said, Kane & Lynch 2 seldom lets up in the action department, and does a pretty good job of keeping things varied and interesting throughout. And although single-player is brief, you can revisit completed chapters from the main menu at any time, and it's well worth replaying with a friend in online co-op or local splitscreen. Then there's always multiplayer and the new Arcade Mode to sample, which potentially offers hours of additional gameplay.
Arcade Mode in particular is useful as both a primer for the full online multiplayer experience and as an extension of the single-player aspect of the game. Once you've dispensed with the story mode, you'll find that Arcade offers more than a few extra hours of solitary play, and leaderboards that encourage healthy competition between friends will keep you coming back for more, especially if you can't bear to see what you thought was a respectably high score descend down the ranks as it's beaten by someone from your friends list.
Multiplayer is quite possibly the crux of Kane & Lynch 2 however, and will undoubtedly contribute the lion's share of the game's longevity with its three unique game types, each built around a single concept in Fragile Alliance. Tasking you and your team of undesirables with stealing millions of dollars in a fast, 5 minute heist, Fragile Alliance provides punchy, bite-sized portions of multiplayer gameplay that can have any number of differing outcomes. Will you betray your team and make off with all of the loot, or will you be screwed over by someone else? Do you hold the escape vehicle and risk it being turned into Swiss cheese so everyone can get away, or do you split your earnings 50/50 with the driver and leave everyone behind?
As far as multiplayer is concerned, there's nothing else like it, and Cops & Robbers and Undercover Cop by extension are just as involving and compelling as Fragile Alliance. Cops & Robbers has you and your squad executing the same heist, but you're up against a human-controlled team of kevlar-clad police, whose sole intention is to gun you down before you make good your escape and to grab the spoils left behind. Undercover Cop meanwhile, plays in the same way as Fragile Alliance, except one of your team of criminals is randomly assigned as an undercover member of the police force, who must try and behave like his fellow criminals to avoid raising any suspicion. The undercover cop must then try to take down each villain one-by-one without being identified. And if one criminal escapes, it means failure for the cop. We didn't say it would be easy.
Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is not only a marked improvement over its predecessor, but a solid action title in its own right. The single-player story might be short-lived, but the much vaunted camera style and graphical touches makes every moment of it feel immersive and interesting, even if the slightly dodgy script - filled with enough F words to make Gordon Ramsay blush - fails to deliver on the same front. Nevertheless, much of Dog Days' story deals with some pretty nasty stuff and has some moments of unflinching violence that make it one of the most adult titles we've played in recent years, though perhaps not the most mature.
As a package however, Kane & Lynch 2 is pretty well-accomplished, with its multiplayer in particular worthy of high praise. That it also brings something unique to the table with its visuals makes the relatively skimpy narrative worthwhile, and it's entirely possible that it could inspire imitators in the future. Ultimately, IO Interactive deserves a big pat on the pack for recognising the shortcomings of the first Kane & Lynch, going back to the drawing board to create something that's not only infinitely better, but also hugely entertaining and enjoyable in spite of its flaws.