Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days Review
It's tough to review a sequel that no one really desperately wanted. Eidos and their new overlords at Square Enix decided that making a sequel to a game that most people didn't exactly love was a good move, so the team at IO Interactive got to work on Kane & Lynch 2. The first thing they did was scrap the combat, interface, and controls altogether to build an entirely different-feeling action game. But once you play this sequel, you'll quickly realize that they went completely over the top in creating an experience that's vastly different from the first game.
But was it enough? While Kane & Lynch 2 includes a very interesting and compelling setting in the slums, alleys, and back streets of Shanghai, the gunfights feel so similar from one to the next. Every enemy is the same gangster, cop, or private army soldier with one of a small variety of predictable weapons, and everyone will take a ton of damage unless you can plug them with a headshot.
And you'll find yourself throwing a ton of ammo at just about every enemy you come across, too. This is built as either a solo or cooperative game and you play as Lynch here, so Kane can hold the fort down while you sneak around to flank the enemy. You'll want to do this every chance you get too, because the cover-based action always feels just unreliable enough that you'll be cursing some of these guns' inaccuracy and lack of power. Once you've had the repeated, frustrating experience of unloading multiple clips at a guy, hitting him a half dozen times, and still having him fire at you like he only stubbed a toe at worst, you'll know what I mean. The problem is that the developers tried to make the enemies just a little too deadly (and did give them some solid AI for fighting from behind cover and flanking you when they get the chance), so you'll get opportunities to fight from a distance or flank them, but then your guns are so ridiculously inaccurate that your only reasonable option is to flank just about every time. The game's tough on the default difficulty setting, which is the second out of four, but upping the difficulty doesn't seem to add much to the fun.
And this is on the PC - on the consoles, Kane & Lynch 2 is an even bigger exercise in aggravation for anyone without at least decent aim on a gamepad. The lower screen resolution (compared to most modern PCs) also makes it a little tougher to see what's going on.
Some of those fancy new special effects may not be helping, either. You see, IO Interactive decided to give Kane & Lynch 2 a look of someone capturing the game's events on a cell phone camcorder, so everything has special filters added to make it look like it went through a cheap camera's digital sensor eye (for example, bright lights add that sheen and the vertical lines you see in handheld concert videos) and then through low-bitrate video compression. It's never so overprocessed, blurry, or broken that it ruins the game, but it can make visibility difficult in some places.
Overall, it's worth it, though, because Kane & Lynch 2 looks like no other game I've ever seen. Solid gunfights go together with the grime of Shanghai's back streets like chocolate goes with peanut butter, and the visual effects added are a perfect match for the game's attitude and vibe. This is no-holds-barred crime thriller, and while you don't need to have played the first game to enjoy this, it might help to put a slightly more human personality onto the two psychopaths who, quite frankly, were more interesting characters in the first game.
But that may be the problem here. A lot of money and effort was put into making this a very gritty, authentic action game with characters that may not be likable, but at least are unique and distinct. And yes, it does succeed in a ton of ways that other "cinematic" action games have failed - but the lush environments are often wasted due to a constant high-pressure rush to get to the next room or checkpoint (even if, in some cases, you actually are allowed to take your time). And the worst part is that Kane and Lynch themselves just seem so unbelievable as characters this time around.
It's not that they have no problem killing cops or anyone else that points a gun at them - they seem to have the same "cops aren't real people" attitude as Mr. Pink and Mr. White did in Reservoir Dogs - but it's that they simply have no idea when to cut their losses and just leave. There's psycho, and then there's just stupid. They push on and fight whole armies worth of guys for pretty much no reasonable purpose at all, and while that might make sense in an action game that's established the notion that we're just killing everyone we see for no good reason, that's not the case in Kane & Lynch 2. These two seem to be trying to find redemption in the words they say, but you won't see that in any of their actions.
At first, none of this will seem to matter when you're playing this game in a cooperative mode, taking out gangsters and ignoring the story. But IO Interactive put a ton of effort into the two characters and clearly wanted the story and the overall attitude of the game to have an effect on players, but it falls flat when playing together in split-screen or online coop (just online on PC), and it never quite sits right with you when you're playing alone. The whole thing is a little awkward: the disorientation from the camera effects, the long range most gunfights start at (which is too long for your actual guns), the supposedly important female character that we see or hear almost none of, and even the reasons that our protagonists are bothering to fight.
The final issue is that the game's only about four hours long, and while I don't think this necessarily makes for a bad single player action game, it is a problem here because every new room full of gangsters plays out so similarly to the one you just cleared a few seconds before. If an action game is going to be this short, it at least needs to not feel like you're rushed through every environment to complete a gunfight that feels very similar to the previous one.
K&L2 does offer some competitive modes to try and ease the sting of what I think many will find to be a disappointing single player experience, and overall they work pretty well as you balance spending money on guns and keeping that money to make it to the top of the scoreboard. There are only six maps, but the three modes offer interesting choices to players as they all revolve around robbing some valuable stuff. For example, in Undercover Cop, one player is secretly selected to try and botch the heist. In Fragile Alliance, you can kill your buddies for a bigger share of the pot, but they respawn as cops and can get big bucks for getting revenge on you. These modes are mildly fun for a while, but there are vastly more ambitious online games available on all three of the platforms that Kane & Lynch 2 was released on.
After years since the last Hitman game, many fans of IO Interactive are hopeful that the lackluster release of Kane & Lynch 2 gets them back on track of their best franchise. I can't say I disagree; while this game serves up some very unique and gritty visuals, the story and action just don't come together like they should. If we're going to get a third game, it's going to need to be a hell of a lot better than this to get people behind it.