The Fallout of the Kane & Lynch Debacle

A little less than three years ago, Kane & Lynch: Dead Men launched for gamers everywhere to play. On November 13, 2007, a review for the game was published that was surrounded by controversy and resulted in a series of events that include: the firing of a writer from a major site, the creation of an all-new game news site, and fan backlash against, Eidos Interactive, and the Kane & Lynch franchise.

6.0: Fair. That was the review score given to Kane & Lynch by GameSpot editor Jeff Gerstmann. The review’s +1,500 words gave concrete details on the game’s plot, gameplay, and everything else that a gamer might want to know about a possible purchase, and while Gerstmann pointed out redeeming qualities such as a multiplayer mode that featured a “great idea” and an excellent soundtrack, he also dissected the game’s major flaws, stating that the game’s few bright spots were “weighed down by bad storytelling, a real lack of character development, and a host of gameplay-related issues.”

In the weeks prior to the game’s release, gamers saw Kane & Lynch ads strewn across all of GameSpot. Shortly after Gerstmann’s review was published, rumors, controversy, and speculation began running rampant across the site’s community of gamers. The main topic of discussion among the forums and blogs on GameSpot wasn’t a video game; it wasn’t a movie; people weren’t even blogging about what they were up to. No, the discussion countless GameSpot members were participating in regarded one of the site’s most popular editors: Jeff Gerstmann had been fired.

To this day, GameSpot denies that the firing of Jeff Gerstmann had anything to do with the Kane & Lynch review. And to this day, gamers everywhere still refuse to believe the validity of that statement. After all, the moment the review was published, Kane & Lynch ads were removed from the site. And shortly after that, the word got out that Gerstmann had been let go.

The fan backlash was so severe that countless GameSpot community members—including the games journalist writing this piece—began boycotting the site and stopped participating, taking their blogging and forum posting to other video game news sites instead. Fans of Gerstmann’s work were open about their reason for leaving, and even gamers who didn’t quite agree with everything the editor wrote were disgusted by the firing. On one of his final blog posts, user Warfust wrote: “As many of you know, I’m not a huge fan of Jeff’s reviews. But like it or lump it, he was honest and you could trust him to be straightforward with his opinion.”

Questions of morality then arose regarding GameSpot’s parent company, CNET. Gamers wondered, “If a writer gets fired for being honest about a game, then what can we expect from future reviews?” Censorship was also a major topic at the time, and community members questioned the validity of a review if a writer had to hold back and bite his tongue. One outspoken user who had left GameSpot and tried returning to the community wrote: “After trying a number of times, I remember the real reason I left GameSpot, the ****ing censorship!”

But followers of Gerstmann’s work weren’t the only ones who spoke out; the debacle resulted in a number of writers quitting and seeking work elsewhere. GameSpot saw a lot of their top writers—who had an established fan base—leave the site. Alex Navarro, Brad Shoemaker, Vinny Caravella, and Ryan Davis (who helped co-found along with Gerstmann) all left the site. On their blogs, they stayed professional and didn’t lash out against CNET, but a few of them did point out their close relationship with Gerstmann.

GameSpot and CNET weren’t the only entities under fire, though. Countless gamers shunned Eidos Interactive and panned Kane & Lynch. What would this mean for a future installment in the series? Well, it looks like we’ll find out when Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days launches on August 17. It’s very likely that a number of gamers won’t be purchasing the game, based simply on the politicking that Eidos was seemingly a part of back in 2007. The events that transpired over those few weeks have created animosity in some gamers and feelings of confusion in others that live on to this day. This freelance writer, for instance, felt a little uncomfortable while trying out the demo for Kane & Lynch 2 at this year’s E3 — it was part of the job, though, and it had to be done.

So the questions remain: What does the legacy of the Kane and Lynch debacle entail? How will fans react to the sequel? What kind of review scores can we expect the game to receive? What will GameSpot’s review for the game be like, and what will be going through that writer’s mind as he points out the game’s strong and weak points? And just for the heck of it, will Jeff Gerstmann now be reviewing Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days on GiantBomb?