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Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days
Graphics: 7.3
Gameplay: 7.6
Sound: 8.1
Control: 7.8
Replay Value: 7.5
Rating: 7.7

A massive review controversy we won’t detail again overshadowed the original Kane & Lynch but in retrospect, the first effort was relatively solid, with the exception of significant consistency and control issues. Some people really enjoyed it but in truth, there were better games available at the time. Now, nearly two years and nine months after the first title launched, the competition in this generation is stiffer than ever. Therefore, Io absolutely needed to step up and give us the game Dead Men could’ve been and in all honesty, should’ve been. Did they do it…? The answer to that question may be more difficult than initially believed, if only because we’ve learned there is an inordinately large amount of subjectivity involved in the analysis of this project. From where I sit, I think the quirks and eccentricities, which may be viewed as flaws by others, make this game what it is: a good, gritty, white-knuckle drama. Unfortunately, it just gets too repetitive, and too frustrating.

The graphics are the lowlight of the entire presentation, as they were in the first game. These are certainly better in comparison – better detail, better animations, more dynamic overall design – but when stacked up against other visually impressive games on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, it falls short. Again, though, we enter into that subjectivity snafu: to me, they could’ve done more with the stark and even bland backdrops, and character design isn’t anything special. On the other hand, some could claim the graphics enhance the gritty, hectic atmosphere; that “blandness” could indeed be metaphorical in regards to the developer’s aim. Well, all right. But I still say an extra dose of color and animation fluidity (AI enemies will sometimes jerk ahead at a faster rate) would’ve helped. All in all, it needed another coat of polish. Still, I willingly acknowledge both sides of the graphics argument in this particular case.

In the first Kane & Lynch, the graphics weren’t great but the sound was a definite bonus throughout. Dog Days follows right in line: the effects and voice acting are once again pretty damn good; gunfights are absolutely loaded with the requisite sounds to put such experiences over the top. Allies yelling, bullets smacking into various objects and walls, and the crystal-clear, ultra-intimidating crack of weapon fire…it’s all just nuts. I really did kept thinking I was in the massive street battle in “Heat,” and that’s a very good thing. The soundtrack is iffy because the music isn’t heard very often at all, and when it is, it plays second fiddle to those in-your-face effects. The voice acting, while not exactly elite, still resides in the upper tier for voiceover performances this generation. Right from the start, it’s really the sound that will grab you, and it won’t let go throughout your insane adventure.

In this sequel, you will control the sociopath Lynch, who once again has Kane as an accomplice. From the start, though, Kane isn’t too happy with the way things are going in Shanghai (Lynch promised a simple job and it’s anything but), and Lynch is driving the story forward. The story spans 48 hours and those two days couldn’t possibly be any more harrowing and downright sadistic in nature, so prepare for a rollercoaster ride of epic proportions. The story in the original was actually decent and this time, it’s a little better. Furthermore, given the way this two-day murderous romp plays out, you’ll constantly be breathing heavy. It’s just so goddamn out of control. It’s entirely and altogether unrealistic, of course, but ironically enough, the gameplay itself tries to be somewhat authentic. You can’t take many bullets before hitting the ground and if you try advancing before it’s advisable to do so, you’ll likely end up eating dirt. You’ll need a steady hand, a good head for action, and patience.

If you played the demo or have seen recent footage, you’ll notice the “shaky camera” feel. Io implemented this to give the game that extra something; a documentary-like quality that makes it seem as if an amateur cameraman is filming the entire thing. It’s extra shaky when sprinting or when the gameplay is particularly chaotic, but basically stops when you’re hunkered down in cover in the midst of a nasty firefight. I think it’s necessary as part of the aforementioned developer vision but if you don’t like it – or it’s making you seasick – you do have the option to disable it. Then it just adopts a standard third-person view with no “shakiness.” The control itself still feels a little loose to me, although not as loose as it was in Dead Men. You snap into cover with little difficulty and with the help of an Aim Assist, you feel a bit more effective when outnumbered about 20 to 2. I just wish it felt like Lynch had some weight when moving; it’s too…flighty.

I like the default control layout, though. Everything is right there at your fingertips as it should be; you aim with L1 and fire with R1, reload with R2, sprint with L2, pick up ammo with Square, switch weapons with Triangle, hurdle over cover with X, and grab a human shield with Circle. You can only carry two weapons at once and you always have to look around for more ammo. Thankfully, the game realizes that you might be missing a lot and expending countless rounds is inevitable, so you can snag most any fallen enemy’s gun when necessary. You’ll soon learn that being out in the open is a tremendously bad idea and you had best not press forward until you’re convinced it’s clear. At one point, an enemy rushed out of a room around a corner, and I died three times as a result. Obviously, the first time, I didn’t know he’d be there. But he still managed to kill me two more times even with that knowledge, and it’s simply because I kept trying to move forward when my allies were still behind.

But let’s deal with the issues. Firstly, too many of the guns feel entirely useless at any sort of range. Initially, you might think you’re just not aiming very well – which may be the case – but soon, you realize that few of your bullets will hit their target, even if you’ve got them directly in the crosshairs. Better weapons that actually make you feel somewhat effective are available, but they don’t show up for at least a few hours. Secondly, the AI shows glimpses of greatness, like when they actively flank you and shift their position when getting pegged, but it’s too erratic. Sometimes, it almost seems random where they choose to take cover, which results in some silliness. Thirdly and by far the most annoying: while you apparently suck as a marksman with many weapons, your enemies can hit a moving target a mile away. They just never miss. Heck, you can even get hit while in cover if any part of your body is showing in the direction of the bullets.

Oh, and while the intensity, grit and emotion is there, the gameplay gets very repetitive. It’s just one ridiculous gunfight after another and it gets tiresome after a while. To its credit, the story and environment never let up; it’s always nutty and at one point, the two morally-challenged “heroes” are running around naked and coated in blood due to what appears to be hundreds of cuts and slashes. How anyone can even move, let alone run and get involved in gunfights, is beyond me; your entire body is one giant slash, for crying out loud. By the way, the private parts are “fuzzied out,” just like any headshots…that may seem like an odd decision concerning the subject matter and over-the-top disgusting factor, but I refer you back to the amateur-cameraman, documentary-like style. It fits. This is one game that might garner a ton of controversy if Fox News ever got a hold of it; the sheer number of dead police officers and civilians is about as shocking as it should be.

The multiplayer is well worth looking into, as it’s usually fun and the various modes feel relatively fresh. There’s also an Arcade Mode to toy around with, and that adds more variety to a game that needs it; the repetitiveness of the single-player can indeed be offset by either the Arcade or online modes. And don’t forget; there are two main characters here, so co-op split-screen is another option, and quite possibly the best of them all. In the end, Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is better than the first title, but due to lackluster visuals (lights above can even leave visible bars on the screen), erratic AI, and the frustration level enhanced by foes that never miss and guns that suck, it still falls shy of the “must-try” plateau. But if you really like the visceral, seriously twisted and demented atmosphere, and you mix things up with Arcade and online multiplayer (love Cops and Robbers!), the game is certainly worth your attention.

It’s probably more worth it because there’s little in the way of competition right now, so it was good timing. But play it now; don’t wait. By October, there will be better options out there.

P.S. I started writing this review well before any reviews came out; in the first paragraph, I said there’s a lot more subjectivity involved than normal. Come today, I see as low as 4s and 5s, and as high as two 8.5s and an 8. So…see? ;)

8/17/2010   Ben Dutka