Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days review
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Where was I before I was so rudely interrupted by the embargo? Oh yes, Kane & Lynch 2 is, and I quote, “immeasurably better than its predecessor in almost every sense”. Let me expand on that: this new iteration is “immeasurably better than its predecessor in almost every sense”, but to be better than the first can hardly be considered an achievement—especially for a developer the quality of IO Interactive, the developers who gave us the Hitman series.
Nearly one month ago to the day, I was lucky enough to venture over to Square Enix’s HQ in London for an intimate pre-release testing session. Coupled with a hidden demo, I feel like I’ve played through the majority of the game without spending a penny. Whilst playing it’s obvious that the team did indeed concentrate on fixing the three main negatives from Kane & Lynch: Dead Men listed by their community, but it’s once again a mixed bag of good and bad.
In the recently released ‘Behind the Scenes’ video, the first of a series of three, Karsten Lund (Game Director), Rasmus Poulson (Art Director) and Kim Krogh (Multiplayer Game Director) outlined what they’d been doing to revamp the game. The three main negatives that they had picked up on were the cover system, aiming mechanics and the AI. All three have been vastly improved, but they still have rather niggling problems that amass to something fundamentally flawed with greater gametime.
"There seems to be no correlation between skill and ability to play the game"
The cover system is fiddly and awkward. When you actually want to enter cover during a fire fight, the process can be unnecessarily difficult, breaking the game’s flow constantly. Equally, although you can slip out of cover easily, it’s often too easy, occasionally leaving you out in the open like a lame duck.
The aiming is again a source of confusion. Now I’m not a bad gamer, in fact I would say I’m quite the contrary, but there seems to be no correlation between skill and ability to play the game. Performing a noobish spray is often as accurate as a controlled burst, whilst a shotgun is more effective at long range than an assault rifle.
"Aspects of the gameplay really do leave the player with “sweaty palms” and by removing all music from the game, moments of tension are never announced before they happen"
As for the AI, they’ve done quite well, with enemies adapting to your position and playing type effectively. However, with no radar it becomes increasingly difficult to keep track of where they’re coming from. Moreover, with spawn points set at specific points, it feels distinctly like a rail shooter rather than a fluid, changing experience. Add that to the strictly linear maps and you have all the hallmarks of Time Crisis.
Don’t let my tone confuse you though; there are positives to take from Kane & Lynch 2. Karsten Lund explains in the ‘Behind the Scenes’ video that one of the main aims was to create a “more intense experience…not only visually looking intense, but it also needs to play intensely.” This aspect they do achieve with great aplomb. Aspects of the gameplay really do leave the player with “sweaty palms” and by removing all music from the game, moments of tension are never announced before they happen.
This choice clearly takes inspiration from No Country for Old Men—a strange move considering they had used the legendary Jesper Kyd in the first—but despite this, the intensity often feels false. Occasionally the tension is generated through poor game mechanics as you frantically strive to overcome the issues listed previously, rather than anything premeditated or designed.
One aspect that is truly unique is the camera angle and effects. Rasmus Poulson explained that the new camera perspective was intended to “look like it’s a documentary where some random camera guy is following these guys around through complete mayhem”. I can see it now: At the end of the game, the camera man turns the camera on himself. Panting and sweating profusely, he just stares at the camera. The screen fades to black with the words “This is what we do. BBC.”
"The YouTube style shaking and picture graining adds to the fly on the wall feeling, yet at times it looks like an effort to hide the game engine’s poor texturing and rendering capabilities"
There are moments during cut scenes where characters look over their shoulders briefly in the direction of the camera, reaffirming this concept. Indeed, the YouTube style shaking and picture graining adds to the fly on the wall feeling, yet at times it looks like an effort to hide the game engine’s poor texturing and rendering capabilities. This trail of thought is further compounded by the indestructible environment. Only certain items can take damage or get destroyed, further adding to the run-and-gun feel to the game.
This seems at odds with the game’s overall environment and aesthetics though. Set in Shanghai, the game takes immense pride in its detail and rightly so. The look evokes memories of films such as the Infernal Affairs series, testimony of the time and energy put into researching the setting thoroughly.
If there is one factor that the development team have nailed, it’s the ability to weave a brilliant story. I won’t delve into details as it’s something that needs to be experienced, but there are so many elements of inspiration that it would be ridiculous for me to try and list them all now.
Finally then, there’s the much praised multiplayer. The Fragile Alliance game mode and its variants are ok, but they’re severely handicapped by the issues outlined above, but also a number of other problems. Games are limited to three rounds, meaning there’s never an opportunity to become settled with other players in dedicated servers. Matchmaking is a slow and boring process, so the decision to restrict the time spent in a game seems ludicrous.
Once in the game, however, you almost wish that you weren’t. There’s no customisation of characters, the inability to aim effectively becomes an even greater issue, whilst the hording of money gives no tangible benefit other than the chance to purchase a gun that struggles with aiming as much as the original one did. The biggest problem is when a couple of your stupider team mates decide to get themselves killed.
"The chance to escape becomes so slim that it’s often easier to just give up"
In this moment the game’s balance is thrown completely in the favour of the police. Once a player dies on the robber’s side, they respawn on the police’s side where they can die as many times as they want. With only a couple of casualties on the robber’s side, the chance to escape becomes so slim that it’s often easier to just give up. That’s not even mentioning what happens when people leave the game prematurely, occasionally leaving only two in the room.
So where does this leave Kane & Lynch 2? Is it as bad as its predecessor? No, it really isn’t. As I said, it is immeasurably better than the first in almost every single way. But I can’t shake the feeling that it lacks the necessary foundations to be a good game. I don’t believe that it’s underdeveloped as such; rather they still have a long way to go to catch up with other third person shooters.
Much as I hate to say it, Gears of War is an example of a third person shooter that does the fundamentals well. The cover system is simple but effective; the AI is impressive; whilst you know where you are with the aiming mechanics. These elements form the basis from which other aspects such as storytelling can flourish. Without them, no-one would care to play the game all the way through to see how the story unfolds. IO will need to work on these fundamentals if there is to be another instalment of the franchise, otherwise they should just cut out the game-making process and jump straight to the film set. You’ve already got Bruce booked in for one…
Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days is released on August 20th 2010
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