Thursday, 19 August 2010

Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days

Kane & Lynch are back from what was a disappointing first game to try and improve upon its flaws and make killing people just look darn cool. But is it time to put this dog down?

I never played the first game 'Kane & Lynch: Dead Men' because I was one of the people who hated the demo. It was a shame since I enjoyed the premise of these two psychotic killers in for all they can get, but I just found the controls and gameplay not worth the hassle. It seemed like I wasn't the only one.

Everyone was willing to give it a try, but critics found many a flaw and the audience reception wasn't too great either, which made me wonder why they wanted to continue the franchise. A spokesperson said that this would be more character orientated, that the gameplay would be a lot smoother and will be a massive departure from the flawed 'Dead Men'.

In a sense, he's right. The story takes place some years later from the first game, so the characters have aged a fair bit, and Lynch is living in China, slightly overweight and looks like he could be in a retirement home soon. He needs Kane to help him with an arms deal and in a nutshell it all goes tits up. Plot-wise, it's sound, I enjoyed it but I wish there was a bit more depth, the story moves too quickly and it feels too forced. However seeing as that this is an action game, you don't want to be twiddling your thumbs for ages but there's a balance and unfortunately the game hasn't found it. It's close, but it's not quite the 'character piece' we were promised.

Saying that, the gameplay works well and from what I remember, it's a massive improvement from the first game. You press a button to cover and pop out with the aiming and then shoot. The problem is, this is pretty much the whole game. Run, cover, shoot, move on. It works the same way as say, Army of Two, but at least you got to drive things, customise things and you had loads of weapons. Instead, with Dog Days, you pretty much pick up whatever you can and just keep running forward. I don't really mind this per se, as for the realism it works (you're not going to be able to carry an arsenal with you) and you can't drive a tank through Shanghai but there wasn't really much variety to keep me entertained. Every time I went into a new room, I'd take a deep breath and move on knowing that I had to kill a bunch more people and then move into the next bit. Once a game begins to feel like a chore, you know there's a problem, no matter how cool it looks.

Also, the cover system isn't great. There were times where I'm covered and somehow, someone from a slight angle is still able to hit me so I'd have to 'uncover', crouch and move out of the way a bit, which becomes frustrating. Also the aiming can be annoying, unless you have a sniper rifle, you're going to have to move quite close to make sure you hit an enemy, which does add an element of realism again, but I felt like I had to shoot these guys a lot before they would die. The AI is also quite exemplary but could do with some tweaking, they will take cover and slowly try to flank you and will hide while you're shooting but sometimes it makes them a pain to come out to kill. At the same time it works well if you're badly injured; just keep shooting in the general direction while you find cover and you should be safe - something I imagine would work in real life!

When you do get hit, blood starts to fill the screen and the picture goes fuzzy and at times you will get completely smacked off your feet meaning you can shoot people on the ground or press a button to get up to cover (or if no cover is around just to get up). This works well because I imagine even with protection on, getting hit by a shotgun might knock you back a bit. There's enough guns to make the average gamer happy but in essence it's quite repetitive. However, when it does mix it up a bit, it works well. Flying over the skyline of Shanghai shooting a glass building from a helicopter was a real treat for instance and running around the tiny back alleys of the city felt like a real crime thriller. A lot of the shoot-outs would feel like they came straight out of Heat and it just felt fucking cool. You can even grab someone and use them as a human shield as you move forward.

The real plus here though is the style, something that IO have kicked up a real fuss about - and so they should! The whole game looks like it's being recorded through a shaky camcorder, so the whole things compressed, when it's dark it goes grainy, lights smear the lens and it moves all over the place. This looks absolutely wicked. When you sprint, the screen is everywhere and it feels like you're in a real movie with the camera keeping up with the pace of the action. I'm hoping this innovative style will influence a lot of other game production companies to take notice and think of things slightly differently, Dog Days proves that it can work. It's sometimes just the little details - a naked woman is blurred out, or an exploded head is blurred out, all while you are still playing. It's great. The cut scenes which are presented in the same style are exciting, the sets are exquisite, and bits such as where you're being tortured (which looks like something from Martyrs) really do make you feel like you're in a Tarantino movie. I mean, you're spending most of the game killing cops - you can't get more bad-ass.

So what's the real problem? Firstly, apart from the repetitive gameplay, I found the dialogue levels weren't quite right. Maybe it's my TV, but I couldn't hear what some people were saying which was infuriating when you're trying to move with the quick pace of the plot. But the real issue here is the length. It must have taken me about four or five hours, if that, to complete it - that's with dying occasionally and all that. The whole thing just feels short. You wonder if it's because the gameplay is perhaps too tiresome that it doesn't want to make players angry by stretching it out too long - but at least make it an 8 hour game - that's standard these days. It's a massive problem and hearing that there's the arcade mode (for the people who want to complete the levels with a score system), the co-op system (which I haven't tried and is supposed to work well) and a somewhat flawed yet interesting heist multiplayer mode, there isn't really that much here to justify it as a full game. It's like an EP rather than an album.

I have to say, I really did enjoy playing the game and it took me no time to complete it, you could easily buy it, complete it, and refund it within a day. I'm not joking. Keep in mind I completed it in three hour and a half sittings. I would recommend people play it just to see what they've done with the game but I don't think £40 (or £33 in Sainsbury's tomorrow) can justify it. I just feel there should have been so much more, which is a shame because for some reason I like these characters, I liked the game but once again it is ruined by some massive flaws. Maybe they should just come back to Kane & Lynch when they can do it justice. Rent it, borrow it, or wait until it comes down to £20 or something because it's well worth a play, but I just can't rate it highly against other, more 'full', games. I really wish I could.

Rating: 6/10

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