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What Went Wrong: Kane & Lynch 2 - Dog Days

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Posted by: Tom Dann

Kane & Lynch: Dead Men wasn't particularly well-received. The game was criticized for its aloof protagonists, wobbly story and clunky shooting mechanics. Despite the lukewarm reception, it was granted a sequel. Could IO Interactive learn from their mistakes the first time around? After all, the Kane & Lynch idea is at least interesting—a much more grimy approach to games, where the heroes aren't heroes, the storyline is gritty, and the visual style borrows heavily from shaky cam and digital video film-making, with Michael Mann (Heat, Collateral, Miami Vice) providing an obvious influence. In addition, in the months prior to release, IO revealed a few tit bits about the game's improved multiplayer, including updates to the “Fragile Alliance” game mode, which looked even more promising.

August 2010. Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days launches to mixed reception. Reception to the game was wildly mixed, with scores as low as 1/10 to as high as 9/10. So what went wrong?

Dog Days relocates Kane & Lynch to Shanghai and puts the player in control of Lynch rather than Kane. The story involves an arms deal, that “last job gone wrong” for Kane. As a direct result of their screw-up, their allies turn on them, rival gangs want them dead, the police gun for them and even the military are on their trail. Kane & Lynch 2 isn't an exercise in subtlety, and for a supposedly more realistic approach to the shooter genre, it's a little problematic. The storyline itself is compelling, even if it does boil down to Kane and Lynch pissing off the wrong person and having everyone turning on them. The game nails the sense of location with Shanghai—all alleyways, run-down buildings and neon lights. I had an overwhelming feeling that I was somewhere I didn't want to be.

Despite strengths in its story and visual design, Kane & Lynch 2 suffers from an identity crisis. The game is clearly designed to be an alternative to standard shooters, offering the aforementioned gritty realism. While the approach rings true throughout the story and cutscenes, stretches of gameplay threaten to derail good intentions. Even from the very beginning, Kane and Lynch take on dozens of enemies in shootouts, and later on the military. It's difficult to imagine the two characters surviving such an experience. By the end of the game, you've gunned your way through literally hundreds of enemies and shot up most of Shanghai in the process. The game clearly owes a debt to Michael Mann, who is no stranger to action scenes. Moviegoers will fondly recall the downtown LA bank heist/shootout in Heat or the nightclub shootout in Collateral. Despite these scenes being incredibly intricate and intense, they're clearly grounded in realism. The same can't be said of Kane & Lynch 2: There are so many shootouts against so many enemies, any sense of reality quickly disappears.

Further confounding the problem is unvaried gameplay. Players will run along a linear path, be confronted by a half dozen enemies, kill them all, and then repeat the encounter. Often you'll be presented with a larger area, with some room for maneuvering, but most areas will involve taking cover and engaging in a shootout, so it feels like a major waste of potential. For a title aiming to distinguish itself from the pack with its visual style and approach, it's odd that gameplay would be terribly average. Dog Days follows every post-Gears third-person shooter convention there is.

Finally, the level of violence in the game borders on sadistic, particularly the torture sequence. It's true that the game takes place in the murky world of gangs and corruption, and similar scenes are to be found in many films on the subject. Regardless, many sequences can only be described as downright nasty, a massive turn-off for many reviewers and players. Does the violence mean anything? It has been argued that we shouldn't shy away from such violence. After all, it's a natural consequence of a shootout. Perhaps the question we should be asking is, “Why don't all shooters present violence this way?”

Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is definitely not for everybody. The games worldview is antithetic to what we expect in a shooter. Many story elements, characters and visual design point to something deeper, a condemnation of typical shooter traits. In most games, violence is equated with heroism: You're rarely, if ever, asked to do anything other than shoot a lot of people, and that leads directly to saving the world. Dog Days presents two characters who are engaging in the same violence, but for their own survival rather than any noble cause—and it's uncomfortable to watch. The game should be commended for laying bare the contradictions in the shooter genre. Unfortunately, Kane & Lynch 2's level design and shooting sections are simply too repetitive and mediocre, and the absurd number of enemies doesn't sit comfortably with the setting.

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