Thursday, 6 January 2011

Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days

2010 began with much promise for Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days, several glowing previews praising IO Interactive’s sequel chiefly for its utilisation of a YouTube-inspired visual makeover (instead of merely loading, each gap between levels is for buffering – clever!). These articles took the ever-dependable journalistic tack, that of a follow-up learning from the mistakes of its predecessors (namely that Dead Men was a broken mess, a half-formed game with two interesting characters). So far, so good. However within two weeks of release Dog Days had already been slashed in price, the recipient of some embarrassing review scores (here’s Destructoid, already referenced in our Deadly Premonition review, with their pretty damning, reasonably argued, 1 out of 10 verdict), all amid numerous internet smirks about bribe money having changed hands in return for some of the, er, more generous assessments (9 out of 10 from Official Xbox Magazine? Really?).

I should of course point out here that these were jibes based on the sacking of GameSpot editor Jeff Gerstmann following his 6/10 verdict for the original Kane & Lynch game, with the GameSpot website hosting a strong advertising presence for Dead Men at the time. GameSpot have always denied that there was a link between the sacking of Gerstmann and his review, with the subsequent alteration of his review text justified thusly: “The copy was adjusted several days after its publication so that it better meshed with its score, which remained unchanged”. In this case, why not just alter the score? You can read GameSpot’s public statement on the issue here. Anyway, digression over.

Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is set in Shanghai, which coincidentally is also the location that 2010’s other notable morally-contentious third-person game, Army Of Two: The 40th Day is set (one can only assume that the local government was offering attractive tax-rates to rouge double-act mercenaries at the time). The similarities don’t extend that much further though. I looked at The 40th Day in more detail early last year and was pleasantly surprised at the rather more conciliatory approach taken by EA Montreal, in comparison to the ideologically troubling original Army Of Two. Dog Days lacks even this interesting political subtext, and concerns the efforts of the titular duo to secure the safe completion of a smuggling deal that will, in the words of Wikipedia, “help them retire”. Things inevitably go awry when Lynch, having just met Kane for the first time in a while, decides to confront an informant. The informant and his girlfriend die, the subsequent fallout gets pretty messy, and takes both unlikeable characters between various gangs, ambushes, and to one peculiar mission in which you traverse the back-alleys and shopping centres of the city naked, looking for an outfit.

The conceit of the hand-held camera, which underpins the entire game’s push for realism, is implemented well. It bobs convincingly behind your character, the grainy visuals and piercing rays of light evocative of Michael Mann’s films (the ending, for example, is straight from Heat) or a particularly nasty edition of You’ve Been Framed. Although the motion effect can be switched off, I personally didn’t find it too distracting; questions of who is filming the action, and just why, are irrelevant. This is after all a game in which Lynch, at one point, melts a soldier’s face on a hob, while the faces of innocents killed are pixelated. The suspension of disbelief required is as important here as it was in, say, Cloverfield, another recent work built around the concept of a dominant subjective narrator. Despite this surface similarity, there are of course several flaws with this comparison.

The player’s perspective in Dog Days is of course no different to that employed in countless other third-person action titles (the clue is in the third-person tag), whereas film shot from a first-person perspective is still a rare device – when cinema employs such a tactic it’s usually with a careful consideration of purpose (Cloverfield referenced the recent explosion in user generated content on a number of occasions, as well as providing one of the more visceral approaches to the monster movie genre). The hand-held camera in Dog Days, meanwhile, signifies nothing beyond a different way in which the same tired cover-shoot gameplay can be wrapped; it certainly isn’t enough to sustain interest, despite a short solo campaign.

Reaching for greater realism is laudable, but the game falls drastically short of such heights for a number of key reasons. For instance, it might just be the most linear game I’ve played in recent years, with no deviation granted from a set path, no moments of spectacle to liven the tedium – the pattern of corridor, cover, shoot, room, cover etc reaches a certain rhythm after a while, but only because you learn not to be surprised. The one turret mission, which takes place on a helicopter, stands out in this respect, but is as forgettable as the rest of the game. When coupled with the fact that there are no sub-objectives, a score system or even collectables, you start to think that the developers put all their ideas and effort into the visual makeover and were left with zero inspiration for the rest of the game. Tonally it’s also all over the place. In the Blood, Sweat & Tears mission we’re asked to sympathise with the plight of sweatshop workers, but this is immediately after you’ve just wiped out an entire car park full of police. There’s a fundamental clash of aesthetics and in-game action, and the two never really align; take away the radical visual effect and you’re left with one of the most regressively bland shooting galleries of this generation. There have been worse videogames, but few leave you with as bad a taste in the mouth as Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days.

- Jeff Gerstmann reviewed Dog Days for Giant Bomb, which you can read here.

- This is the naked mission, A Thousand Cuts, in all its, er, glory:


  1. this is such a brilliant and honest review of Kane & Lynch 2, as it seems popular to just banish it without proper reason other than the game's lifespan or even praise it for it's approach on third person shooters and the kane and lynch franchise.

    i really don't consider this as a game myself, rather than an 'interactive movie' which IO are really trying to push out at you; which in fairness, the characters and story of both are quite compelling, it's flawed at the "interactive" bit in 'interactive movie'.

    i started this game with a caution from Dead Men as i have yet to make myself complete it, but the narrative of Dog Days really grew on me; like how rockstar's GTA 4 disappointed me from just sheer boredom, but then redeemed itself with amazing writing in Red Dead Redemption.

    IO should have taken more time like you said on the re-play value, as if they couldn't stretch the lifespan of Dog Days, they could just go the LEGO way and shovel in a ton of collectibles (with isn't really a bad thing if it's actually fun).

    Maybe if they intend on making a third K+L, they should listen to the gamers more to hear what they (dis)liked about the previous titles. It's just a shame that this whole project seemed so rushed. Could of been great if it where released much, much later and handled with TLC.

    Definitely not the worst game of the year, i can think of loads more that deserve a good scorching.

    Keep up the good work! :)

  2. Thanks for the kind words! :)

    Yeah, I completely agree that the 'interactive' element is flawed - the game is playable on a base level, but too little thought has been paid to the player's overall experience, and issues of engagement and maintaining interest. I should have pointed out that in-game collectables, like Alan Wake's dreaded Thermos flasks, can of course create the same dissonance that I've accused Dog Days of having. But DD feels too compromised, and as a result the camera effect just comes across as a gimmick, albeit an initially striking gimmick.

    Also, the article above deliberately only focuses on the game's single-player, as this is the part of the game where the developer's vision and sense of direction is most obviously manifested.

    P.S. I picked up the game for the measly sum of £4.99, in a Christmas sale, and for that price it's actually excellent value..