For transparency: I played through the entire story mode of Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days and spent 5 hours in both arcade mode and the online Fragile Alliance mode. This game was given to me for free through the Xbox Games with Gold program in June.
Kane & Lynch is a franchise that I came in knowing nothing about, aside from lukewarm review scores from popular gaming magazines at the time of its release in 2010. To frame my review, some Game of the Year selections for 2010 were Mass Effect 2, Red Dead Redemption, and Alan Wake. Kane & Lynch, compared to titles like these, does not feel like a 2010 release. In fact, graphically it compares to the post-launch titles for last generation, maybe around 2008. Graphics aren’t everything though, so let’s continue on.
The story of Kane & Lynch 2 feels like a standard action-game fair, Kane and Lynch were bad-bad gun running crime brothers who successfully pulled off their “last job”. The game starts feeling like a movie sequel. Having not played the first game, the idea that Kane, who has apparently found a significant other and a way to start over, would fall back in with Lynch for “another one last job” is ludicrous. The dynamic of Lynch as Kane’s saboteur is far from explored, and so Lynch comes off as an un-motivating dick, and Kane as a sort of blank slate. I didn’t connect with either of these characters in any capacity aside from the fact that we were both doing our best with a kind of not great situation.
The game, stylistically, clearly tried to make some creative risks. The camera follows in third person, as this is a third-person shooter, but it is not a steady cam. The camera shakes violently. I genuinely felt like I was experiencing vertigo for the first three levels. I had to find a way to turn it off in the settings to even remotely enjoy the game. Strangely enough? I missed it when it was gone. I cannot explain this, but my desire for stylistic camera presentation could not override my dizziness. The game avoids mid-level loading and uninteresting cutscenes by jump-cutting between action set-pieces. This is hands-down the smartest thing the game does. I never felt like I was being stopped, or like the game was holding my hand to extend playtime. This of course made the game feel short, but that just meant it recognized that players may not want to sit still in a shooter, a message many developers miss. The overall action-cinema style presentation is the strongest decision made and, with a little tampering, could really make the franchise stand out if IO interactive ever returns to it.
To continue on stylistic and aesthetic choices. The game has a strange visual element, in which intense gore and nudity are pixelated immediately. But the things they choose to censor seem without a pattern? Headshots turn the enemy into pixel-headed rag-dolls, which feels out of place with such vicious and unapologetic set of protagonists and, in a later scene, Lynch is seen entirely naked and covered in sucking bodily wounds. Only his genitals are censored, with the gashes left entirely intact. It makes it hard to see, as far as gore is concerned, what the aim was in censoring these moments.
Gunplay is fast and fun, but it also feels like I was doing very little skill-wise. The auto-aim is powerful, with little markers appearing wherever the bullets hit the enemy, and the usefulness of guns is either at a god-tier level or the effectivity of a nerf rifle. Shotguns hit hard and shoot like sniper rifles for some reason while anything more automatic than a rifle feels unusable. I stuck with a pistol and a shotgun as often as possible, as everything else felt like a waste of time, especially against tougher foes. However, a mechanic allows players to pick up explosives, like tankards or fire extinguishers, and throw them. After a throw, the next pull of the trigger will automatically shoot the thrown object. While this slows down gunplay, it does allow for cool action-film set pieces that other video games make actively difficult. It feels badass, but you don’t exactly feel responsible for the act.
Multiplayer feels far more involved, and even features a few really cool game mode ideas. In my favorite of the modes, Fragile Alliance, several players enter the game as criminals in a sort of co-op experience. The goal is to rob a bank vault, survive the cops, and escape in a van. But at any point, your teammates can kill you to take your share of the money. If you all make it to the end, whoever gets to the van first can also choose to split their money with the getaway driver to leave everyone else behind for the cops to kill. Add in certain slain players returning as cops as well, and you get a really tense environment. The only problem with the mode was that, thanks to the bland shooter flavor of the experience, and the fact that no one was using the game-chat feature made every moment of betrayal or alliance lack context. Being betrayed never felt clever, it felt as if my game had been cut short because someone wanted something to shoot. In the first game of the mode I won, I still felt like an asshole, as I had to pay off the driver just to escape some random player with a shotgun at my throat. This killed people who were completely uninvolved in our little squabble.
-If you like big action-packed moments with explosions, profanity, and shotgun blasts, you’ll enjoy the more bombastic moments of the game
-Film styled aesthetics like the shaky cam and jump cuts were experimental and risky, but obviously have a lot of potential if refined.
-The game does not overstay its welcome, and you’ll never feel as if it has deliberately slowed you down or wasted your time.
-Characters are paper thin, you may actually have a better time if you skip all the cutscenes and pretend the game is a glorified shooting gallery.
-The coolest mechanics (explosive throw and downed shooting) feel like you have little to no control over their execution or timing, leaving me feeling like I did what the game wanted and nothing more.
-Automatic weapons are useless, and thanks to the third person camera it is really difficult to tell who is or is not able to shoot you, resulting in a lot of hits coming from seemingly nowhere.
All in all? I could take or leave Kane & Lynch 2. If you got it for free, as I did, through the Games with Gold program, or can grab it for under $5, you may enjoy yourself. But if you bought this game at full price, I feel very bad for you, and hope you enjoyed it way more than I did.