Kane and Lynch: Dead Men was a mediocre slice of grindhouse cheese with you and your AI or human partner on the giving end of guns and a billion thugs on the receiving end. Despite a lot of design flaws it passed the time well enough. As with any video game sequel, Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days has the chance to improve upon the formula.
Not only does it fail to do so, but the formula reverses and devolves into a spectacular mess.
The single player portion of Kane and Lynch 2 puts you into the shoes of Lynch, a mercenary who is mere steps away from the proverbial edge. He and his partner Kane get embroiled in a weapons deal gone wrong, make a big mistake by killing the wrong person, and wind up fighting for their lives. That’s where the coherence ends. The story is an awkward mishmash of conspiracy and betrayal, fit only for providing brief cutscene breaks in between the repetitive shooting galleries. The gritty appeal of Kane and Lynch has been worn down and Lynch himself is no longer a psychotic but a rambling, yelling extension of a gun with almost no personality.
Kane and Lynch 2 openly advertises itself as a similar work of exploitation but the writers incongruously attempt to tug our heartstrings with elements like Kane’s daughter, or Lynch’s desperation to rescue his lady friend, Xiu. Not only are these two poorly characterized, but they’re completely unlikeable. Lynch routinely screws himself over, then yells at Kane for ruining his life, while Kane goes on and on about what they’ve gotten themselves into while inexplicably tolerating Lynch’s insanity.
Now that we’ve gotten the boring plot out of the way, let’s talk about the gameplay. It’s been a while since I’ve seen cover based shooting as badly designed as this. The actual combat is fairly by-the-numbers: You shoot, enemies die, and you avoid getting shot in turn. You can occasionally take hostages to use as human shields or throw propane tanks, but these are all very scripted situations. On a basic level it’s functional, but it’s all you ever do. Virtually every back alley and warehouse of Shanghai features a dozen identical clone gangsters or cops who want to make you into bullet pie, and it turns into an assembly line of boredom.
The real problem lies in the cover system. No matter where you are enemies will constantly hit you with stray bullets after every one of them deduces your exact location however far away they are. Sometimes an enemy will blindly fire from behind cover and proceed to repeatedly hit you anyway. As with most games, when you take damage your health regenerates, but when your health is low the game superimposes blotchy red blood onto the screen in a way that makes it impossible to tell what’s going on when you need visibility most. It’s as if all of the enemies are using their infallible accuracy to fire paint directly into your face.
These Shanghai gangsters and cops also evidently went to the same school as the dense super soldiers from Crysis. While playing alone Kane is actually pretty helpful, but enemies will ignore him and proceed to attack you and only you. They frequently take cover and fire at the wrong direction altogether, and some of them ran right past me only to turn around and remember where I was. They still manage to annoy you owing to how inexplicably accurate every single shot they take is. Unfortunately their chests are also apparently raw Kevlar. You can empty three shotgun blasts into a gangster, who will go down only to rise up again and insta-kill you with machine gun fire at close range.
The biggest problem is the presentation. Curiously, Kane and Lynch 2 is presented almost as a bootleg YouTube video, including “buffering” screens in lieu of traditional loading screens that don’t disguise how unforgivably long the loading times are. This sounds clever in theory but in practice the style lends itself to serious issues. Like a bootlegged video, the amount of shaky cam makes this feel like a Paul Greengrass film during an earthquake. When Lynch runs, the camera does this sickening wobbly motion that made me nauseous within minutes, and this is coming from someone who sat through Cloverfield without flinching.
Thankfully you can disable the running camera wobbling, but constant shaky cam is still present and dizzying during cutscenes. The screen always does these color and lighting distortion effects that admittedly make for atmospheric and gritty situations. You know how critics sometimes say “Watching/playing this was painful?” Kane and Lynch 2 is the first game where this can be interpreted literally. The color distortions are almost guaranteed to make your eyes and head hurt in a manner similar to stereoscopic 3D. If the image below is uncomfortable to look at, just imagine seeing that sort of presentation for about four hours.
When you strip Kane and Lynch 2 of the rather unnecessary presentation gimmick, it’s an absolute mess of a single player. The story clocks in at less than four hours, most of which consists of the same identical shooting sprees. The shooting mechanics work and there are some neat gameplay ideas, like using a button to signal to us where ammo is so we don’t have to comb every surface of the room. Gamers will also appreciate being able to change the difficulty from the main menu, but these ideas are few and far between; the game takes several steps backwards from its predecessor. It’s a shame, because there are few games in the world with offline co-op.
So after finishing the single player campaign in the amount of time it takes to do laundry, multiplayer at least offers more. There are three available modes: Fragile Alliance is the most memorable, where players commit a robbery and try to escape with cash. The twist is that you can betray your fellow thieves or just abandon them altogether if you make it to the getaway car before them. Cops and Robbers is a simple law versus the lawless brawl, while Undercover Cop is particularly unique: one player during a heist is a cop who must stop the lawbreaking. These are all fun, but again, they lend themselves to the same problem with the gameplay.
Get past the fairly unique presentation and Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days is rushed, buggy, and poorly designed. Some good ideas by the team are lost in the same copy/pasted encounters in dull, repetitive environments that only become more monotonous when you die fifty or sixty times due to the “play dead” strategy of the mafia and police. Yes, the multiplayer is fun, but multiplayer is also fun in games where the single player is little more than a feeble whimper.
The bootleg video lends style to the game’s gritty underworld environment, but the shaky cam and color distortions are physically painful.
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The shooting mechanics work (despite serious design problems), but it gets repetitive very quickly and there isn’t much variation.
The sound effects are surprisingly crisp and detailed. Frantic machinegun fire does a lot to immerse you in the world. Lynch’s voice actor just won’t stop shouting though.
At a feeble four hours stretched out with merciless padding of the same enemies, this just doesn’t warrant sixty bucks. Multiplayer is more fun, but has the same gameplay problems.
As a sequel to a game with potential, Kane and Lynch 2 falls flat on its face and down a hill. Some good ideas are buried under atrocious design flaws.