While the original Kane and Lynch may be remembered for its review controversy, for me, it was a title that really tried to do something fresh and unique in a lot of ways. Kane and Lynch: Dead Men had main characters that were difficult to like, but by the end of the dark and compelling story to save Kane’s family, players felt a bit of Stockholm Syndrome for the duo. The co-op, while offline only, offered a unique perspective for both players, something we rarely see in the age of co-op clone characters. The sequel has arrived and our anti-heroes are back again, this time across the world in Shanghai with Lynch’s story as the focus. But can Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days recapture the same fresh feeling of the first game?
The story of Dog Days has Kane meeting up with his old pal Lynch who promises a job with plenty of riches. Upon Kane’s arrival a simple task for the two turns sour and inadvertently starts a gang war. Soon you realize that your deal is going south as your contact is attacked in an intense highway assault and you make a desperate attempt to escape with all your lives. It wasn’t long after this I lost what was going on, the overall purpose of what the duo was doing. Despite some great voice acting and plenty of memorable lines - I had completely forgot the purpose of what I was doing midway through the title. “Why am I shooting these army guys again?” I asked my co-op partner. It had something to do with a big Chinese mob boss and not dieing, but beyond that everything is a bit of chaos. Perhaps this is what IO Interactive was going for, as the main character this time is Lynch, who’s not exactly mentally stable. There’s plenty of times Lynch voices over to himself, trying to use psychological tricks to calm his nerves - no doubt from some sort of therapy sessions.
The graphical style and display are going to be the most memorable and controversial piece to this game, the shaky YouTube style camera is either going to be a complete turn off or something people really like. At moments the grainy and over saturated look of the game world makes it look eerily realistic. The neon glow of lights bouncing off reflective surfaces, the distant city line of Shanghai, and the dark alleys all can trick your eye in an almost photo realistic moment. Other times poor textures in certain areas, stiff character animation and improper lip syncing totally break the immersion.
Shortly into my first mission I almost felt nauseous from the camera movement - but it passed. The shaky camera is only really bad while running and once you get used to it, it provides some useful info on enemy position and adds to the immersive effect. Thankfully if you can’t get over it you can disable it, though it’s still there to some degree.
IO Interactive really wanted to have the feeling of intense and gritty shoot outs. They wanted your palms sweaty and your grip tightening on your controller through every twist and turn. To some degree, this holds true. There were times the firefights were memorable, with exploding objects and cover flying everywhere as bullets rained down on Kane and Lynch. The atmosphere is further enhanced by Asian inspired pop music blasting from in game radios and intercoms, giving it an almost John Woo movie feel in certain situations.
Sadly the intensity is broken once you realize the firefights break down into duck, pop up wait for guy to peak his head out of cover, and shoot mechanic. This style of combat is rinse and repeat for most of the game with save for a few battles. Which is sad, because some of the key moments like a helicopter attack on and in an office building and a mission where you need to cover Lynch’s girlfriend in an apartment building across the street are really fun. The level after Kane and Lynch are tortured is one that will be forever burned into my retinas. I just wish there was more of these moments.
Kane and Lynch 2 does make a huge improvement in terms of co-op options over it’s predecessor. Full online play and local play is supported and there’s options for matchmaking too. And while the single player is fun, like all good co-op games, playing this with a friend is much more satisfying. You can really tell that K&L 2 was designed from the ground up for co-op play; level layouts are well crafted into separate paths for cover and flanking maneuvers and there’s a nice balance of weapons to choose from for both close and long range giving players defined roles. One thing that sadly appears to be missing is some of the crazier elements of Lynch from the first game - instance where the players actually see different things. As far as we could tell they weren’t as prominent as the cops/civilians bank scene from the first game.
Co-Op makes the game a bit easier as well. While in the single player game if you get shot you’ll get knocked down and have a chance to get up, a second subsequent knock down will kill you. In co-op this second knockdown is actually revivable by your co-op partner. This can help in some of the trickier situations when the game is throwing what seems like hundreds of guys your way only to be killed by the last group and having to do it all over again. While the checkpoint system seems ok, it never seems to be quite enough, and starting a co-op game will lose any single player checkpoint progress - so you’ll need to restart back at a chapter beginning.
It’s these little nagging issues that constantly remind you that perhaps Kane and Lynch 2 wasn’t quite ready. I hit numerous technical bugs as well - mostly while playing as a guest co-op player over Xbox Live. Cut scenes were missing characters, character animations got stuck, audio cut out on me completely, and the game even crashed at one point. Strangely while playing solo or as the host these seemed almost non existent.
Another reason some of these things may have slipped by is the strong focus on the game’s multiplayer modes. Returning is a the co-op-ish Fragile Alliance mode for 6 players. In it players work together to complete a bank heist, but at anytime, can turn on their team mates to steal the cash. If you die you come back as a cop to try to stop the escape. These missions are quick, less than 4 minute, rounds of play where you try to accumulate the highest score possible. There’s two new variations to this mode called Cops and Robbers and Undercover Cop. Cops and robbers have players switching sides to the Cops from the start while Undercover Cop adds a bit of a versus element where one players is supposed to stop the heist - from the inside. There’s a lot of fun to be had here and it’s a big improvement in the overall feel of these mission from the first game.
If you don’t want to play Fragile Alliance online there’s a new Arcade mode where you can use all AI guys and try to get the highest score possible. This mode is surprisingly addictive, though, it does get a bit long in the tooth by the 9th or 10th round. The game will up the difficulty with every round and you can keep going until you run out of your 3 lives.
So does Kane and Lynch 2 deliver that fresh feeling of the first game? Sadly I don’t think it does. While IO did a great job of fixing the cover and shooting mechanic, adding online co-op, and deepening the addictive multiplayer modes - it seems the rest of the game suffered as a result. With two characters as memorable and unique as Kane and Lynch, I was sad to see the story - which took only 5 hours to complete - a bit lacking. Don’t get me wrong, Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days isn’t a bad game, it’s just not a great one.