Kane & Lynch: Dead Men Review
We'll leave the GameSpot scandal on the sidelines for now, and just focus on the review at hand, okay? Ďahem' Kane & Lynch: Dead Men is a title that works on one level and falls far short on another, and unfortunately for everyone, it's the level that really matters: the gameplay. Io Interactive never holds back even for a split second, thereby generating a dark, gritty, visceral, balls-to-the-wall adult-oriented game that features excellent pacing, great character development, and a surprisingly gripping storyline. Unfortunately, we're forced to muddle through some iffy controls and merely average AI to enjoy that story, and there are some outrageously frustrating portions, too. It's a short game and one you'll probably want to finish, but also one that won't impress you beyond it's presentation and style. This isn't the true "next-gen" game that everyone was hoping for, and it's primarily because they're using a last-gen combat and control mechanic. That just doesn't fly these days, and when you're done reading this review, you'll see why.
The graphics are mostly stark and generic; it lacks both color and detail, and too many of the environments - besides a few highlights - look very much the same. The well-done cut-scenes contrast sharply with the somewhat bland visual presentation during gameplay, and at no point will you sit back for a second and say, "wow...that's pretty." We've done that with other recent titles - Assassin's Creed, Heavenly Sword, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, etc. - but Kane & Lynch is just ho-hum graphically. For a game that took so long to develop, one would've expected a more polished outcome, but we're left with a fairly forgettable palette, here. At the very least, this category is never made the focus of the game, as we're always paying attention to the compelling storyline or non-stop action on the screen. To be honest, we wouldn't have much time to notice ultra-refined graphics, just because we're always involved in what's going on. Still, we don't have the necessary flash that would help to launch this game onto another plateau, and that's a drawback.
The sound is much better, due to top-notch voice acting, solid battle effects, and an often stirring set of orchestral tracks. The developers do a good job blending these three aspects, and for once, the balance between music and effects isn't jarring. Kane, Lynch, and all the other major players in this blood-soaked story have excellent voices, which serves to bring us into the plot and always keeps our attention. Sure, they drop the "f"-bomb every two and a half seconds (almost makes it seem like they're trying too hard), but then again, we figure that's pretty realistic. We would've liked a little more diversity when it comes to the weaponry, though; the sniper rifle doesn't sound much different than the handgun or assault rifle, for example. The explosions, which are frequent and numerous, also come up a little shy in regards to impact. They're just not bone-jarring enough, sometimes. Outside of that, we don't have many complaints, here, as the sound is easily the high point of Kane & Lynch: Dead Men. Yeah, sorry, the gameplay isn't the cornerstone, as it damn well should be.
For some completely unknown reason, we're faced with a gameplay system that isn't any better than old, last-gen third-person shooters like Max Payne. Granted, Io has worked to provide us with a few little tweaks - we can run to a teammate to refill our ammo (if they're willing) and use a cover mechanic - but it's simply not enough. The instant you start playing, you'll realize the aiming is a tad loose regardless of the sensitivity setting, and the camera isn't all that great. You do have control of it, and it isn't terrible, but you often go blind at just the wrong time...usually when you're surrounded and desperately trying to find the origin of those deadly bullets. Character animations are minimal, and using objects for cover is hit or miss. It would've been far better had they assigned a button for snapping into cover, rather than just having you press up against a surface that may or may not let it happen. Also, we found it was too easy to break out of cover when all we wanted to do was peer around the corner. It's a flawed system that constantly broke down on us over and over, but there is a positive caveat: once you get used to it, it's workable, and it won't bother you as much.
Obviously, there's a great deal of emphasis on firefights in this game, which means you're going to be spending a lot of your time shooting and hiding. There is a semblance of simulation, as you can't suffer too many gunshots before keeling over, but you still shouldn't have to shoot someone 6 times before they go down. One potentially intriguing aspect is your comrade's ability to inject you with a shot of adrenaline if you fall, which allows you to narrowly avoid death. However, you can only do this a few times before death becomes inevitable, and your buddies have to be relatively close by. It just didn't turn out to be anywhere near as interesting as it initially appeared, and that's a theme that carries through the entire experience. At first, we're all, "damn, sh** is getting blowed up real good; it's like I'm playing "Heat!" Then, after an hour or so, you're just kinda like, "eh...that's cool and all, but I've seen it before." Perhaps we're nitpicking here, because they really do a great job of snaring the player right off the bat, so to ask for constant thrills would be very...anal. But it just seems as if they had a fantastic foundation and never really built on it.
As previously mentioned, the storyline lies at the center of the game, and it's one you'll definitely want to hear. Don't go skipping cut-scenes because if you do, you'll be missing out on the primary appeal of Kane & Lynch, which, not surprisingly, focuses squarely on the two main characters. We first meet Kane, a death row inmate who is writing a heartfelt letter to his daughter. We want to feel for the guy, but he hints at some of the atrocities he has committed, so he tends to skirt closer to the tragic villain type of character. Lynch, a medicated sociopath, helps him escape, but it's from the frying pan into the fire. A group Kane had been associated with before, known only as the 7, accuse him of running off and stealing some booty. They've got his wife and daughter, and unless Kane finds it and gives that stolen bounty back, his family will find themselves in a shallow grave somewhere. So they assign Lynch to watch over him (although Kane quickly assumes control), and the race against time begins. It really is a nicely crafted plot with two of the most intense, psychotic characters in game history. The first time you see Lynch going absolutely berserk in a bank robbery, standing on a table and picking off hostages with a shotgun, you'll understand exactly what we mean.
The game moves at a rapid clip and takes you through a variety of areas. One of the better locales is a nightclub in Tokyo, which is jam-packed with partiers and just begging for a blood bath. But it turns out similar to the scene in "Collateral," and we say that's awesome. We do not, however, appreciate the map, which simply places a target...uh...somewhere out there. It's green, we know that. And we can usually tell if it's above us or below us, but getting there is usually quite the adventure, and one that can be deadly. Furthermore, there were multiple times when we just sat staring helplessly at the screen, wondering what in God's name we were supposed to do. Finding a sniper early on and trying to figure out how to save Kane's daughter from being crushed to death are two examples, and there are more. It's enough to interrupt the flow of the game and seriously tick off the player, so that's a black mark on the gameplay. Lastly, while we did like the realism of firing blindly while in cover, it rarely served a purpose. You'll almost never hit anything that way, and sticking your head out to aim isn't too challenging, nor is it especially risky. Well, unless some sniper is lying in wait, ready to waste your sorry ass. Snipers are always wearing yellow motorcycle jumpsuits, too...for some reason.
When up close and personal, you can press the X button to execute a takedown, but some enemies will shove you away and get a few shots in before you can try again. This isn't always the best way to approach things, but if you have the drop on him, go for it. It works well enough, but the sound and visual that go along with it is just terrible. It's so bad, you'll much rather just shoot him and be done with it; ammo isn't that hard to get a hold of. Approaching a fellow bad guy for some extra bullets usually works, but sometimes he'll just tell you to "go fu** yourself." Not sure why, but we found that extraordinarily funny. When using your weapons, the recoil and range are just about as realistic as the rest of the gameplay, which is to say, almost simulation-style but not quite. You can run around and pick up extra ammo from fallen bodies, and you can also carry two guns at once; one handgun and one rifle (you can't carry the assault rifle and sniper rifle at the same time, for instance). No dual-wielding, FPS fans, but switching between your two guns is as easy as pressing the up directional button.
In general, the gameplay is consistent but nowhere near as accomplished as it should've been. It's just not tight enough, not refined enough, not reliable enough. It's such a bizarre contrast to have a truly modern and adult storyline when we're stuck playing through a game that could've been made three years ago. On the other hand, that old formula still works despite all the shortcomings, and you will have fun...most of the time. Kane and Lynch are two characters you just want more of, your constantly changing surroundings (while not all that dynamic) add another dimension, and there is a consistent challenge. Going online with the Fragile Alliance team-oriented gameplay can be wildly entertaining, and while there are a few technical hang-ups, a good time can be had for all. Going absolutely nutty with a bunch of friends online is a solid follow-up to the single-player campaign, which does end a bit too quickly. In other words, the online play offers some much-needed longevity, and that's always a positive thing.
Kane & Lynch: Dead Men features a wonderfully dark storyline surrounded by a slew of action that never lets up from the first bang. We'd love to finish on that note, because it means we'd have a must-have title for everybody, but the mediocre control, erratic cover system, and strange stealth sequences (we don't have a stealth mechanic, Io!) pull the game down. In short- the story is the crux but the gameplay is the crutch. This isn't what we wanted, and while we still say it's worth a rent - Kane and Lynch really are that insane, and the action really is quite entertaining for a while - it's not worth $60. Maybe it goes on the Christmas list so you don't have to spend your hard-earned cash...? With so many other great titles this holiday season, we just can't recommend this one unless you can overlook the primary failings and focus on the story and characters. It's too bad, but that's the way it is.
Side Note: We believe Jeff Gerstmann's score was a little low for this game, but we certainly don't believe he should've been fired over it. Just thought we'd throw that out there. No matter how you slice it, GameSpot seems to have put advertising dollars before journalistic integrity, and we don't condone that. For the record...it ain't happening here at PSXE.
11/30/2007 Ben Dutka