- Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days
- CLR [rating:3.5]
Release Date: August 17th, 2010
Platform: PS3, PC, and Xbox 360 (Version Reviewed)
Developer: Io Interactive
Publisher: Eidos through Square-Enix
Genre: Cover Shooter
ESRB: M for Mature
This afternoon: A digitally delivered drama of dogged, dangerous, dudes!
For the titular characters in Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days, the events of the game’s story are a sort of awful anecdote. Akin to the boasts of a town drunkard, it’s a brutal, tragic tale of one wrong turn leading to another, and the sheer determination required of two men to pull through the worst situation of their whole lives. It’s a simple, yet powerful narrative wrapped up in a game with myriad problems both large and small, but through sheer force of will breaks through them to reveal bits of bastardly brilliance.
Former criminal compatriots Adam ‘Kane’ Marcus and James Seth Lynch are brought together again after spending a few years trying to forget the dismal sales and controversy of their original outing, 2007’s Dead Men. The roles of the two get heavily reversed and the focus is on a sober Lynch, who has set up something resembling a peaceful life in Shanghai; at least as peaceful a life as a lunatic enforcer working for a local ex-pat mob boss can get. The disheveled, desperate Kane steps off the plane to meet his chaotic comrade, and is immediately pulled into a small bit of business intimidating a local hoodlum. Things go bad and the hood and his girl end up dead at the duo’s hands, causing a reaction that thrusts the pair through 48 hours of utter hell.
What’s two days for them turns into about five for you though. At least it was playing through in online co-op on the hard difficulty (with fellow CLR reviewer William Bibbiani) for the first time. The developers at Io-Interactive do great things with small packages, and the length works more to the game’s favor than not. It keeps in line with the quick-edit, frantic tone of the story and intensity of the set pieces, and prevents the game from ever getting too repetitive or dull. Accompanied with excellent performances (voice actors Jarion Monroe and Brian Bloom, as Lynch and Kane respectively) and dialogue that bring the two to life, it’s easy to get smitten with their cynical charm and feel for their plight. The tale is so raw and intimate that extending it with needless gameplay would be a crime on par with . . . well, much of what you’ll do during the course of this anarchic anecdote.
Little is new when it comes to how you will do it though; it’s about moving through chapters ducking behind various objects and walls scattered about the area to blind fire at multitudes of gangsters and cops who will be doing the same, but won’t have your advantage of a regenerating health bar. A large amount of the cover is destructible, you can take hostages to use as human shields, and there is a “Down Not Dead” state that knocks you to the ground allowing you a moment to kill the enemies that snuck up on you. All these elements have been done before in similar games, and though it would be nice if there were some more new ideas brought to the cover shooter formula, it also has no major faults as a system. It seems that the team at Io-Interactive might have decided to focus on delivering solid tried-and-true gameplay, which they have done, and innovate in the presentation instead.
Unlike most games, the camera in Dog Days is actually treated as a camera, and it lends the game a digital documentary style that is as distracting as it is compelling. Throughout the game, visual and audio artifacting will occur whenever the action gets especially intense, the image quality adjusts to the lighting of the environment, there’s pixel blur over nudity or extreme gore, and a bouncing effect in pace with the characters’ movement. This “shaky cam” cinematography is visceral and perfectly sells the realistic look, boosting the presentation from just being good to actually being impressive, but it becomes a problem during actual gameplay and the jarring is heavy enough to be physically nauseating for those prone to motion sickness. A “steady cam” mode can be turned on, which alleviates a lot of the shaking, but then the game loses much of its visual flair.
Some other issues can’t be solved with a menu option, however. Notably, the AI seems to be a bit off when taking cover, and will make some fairly stupid choices fairly often. So will the single player ally that fills in for your co-op buddy, though he thankfully can’t get killed. Jerkiness is also present for your character’s many transitions, especially moving between high and low cover or switching weapons, which is a problem as you perform these actions constantly. On the higher difficulties certain aspects are pointless, like the human shields which won’t protect you (or the poor sod you’re holding) from anything due to the ridiculously increased enemy accuracy, and the few stealth sections feel like a lie as they’re practically impossible to accomplish without getting caught, especially in co-op as it doubles your chances of screwing it up.
Aside from finding amazing new ways to break stealth as quickly as possible, the co-op doesn’t feel fully utilized. The only “partner actions” available are at gates and walls used to transition to new level sections and it seems especially odd that there aren’t any unique abilities between Kane and Lynch themselves; they are magnetic opposites in personality but play exactly the same. At the end of the game there’s also a strange shift where the players will suddenly switch roles, needlessly severing the player’s emotional bond to their character. On top of it all, attempting the entire game in one long co-op session resulted in a very nasty crash near the end, which corrupted my save data! Thankfully my partner (the host in this case) retained his progress and we could finish the game. This may not be a common problem, but some cautious advice might be to attempt online co-op in multiple sessions rather than do it in one go.
So, if the story mode doesn’t break new ground in gameplay, is hampered with issues, and only has a strong but quick tale to tell, what makes this game worth the full price of retail? It’s simple really: the multiplayer mode Fragile Alliance, and more importantly its variant of Undercover Cop.
Fragile Alliance is a unique competitive mode where the players must work together as cons to perform a heist, then make a break to the getaway vehicle while fending off AI police. The catch is that the winner of the match is the one with the most loot so it’s to your advantage to kill your teammates at some point too. So that there isn’t too much incentive to simply murder each other at the start of the match, dead players respawn as the Five-O who then win if they finish the job the AI starts and kill the rest of the crew. It’s criminally creative and a dastardly delight, but it becomes genius in the variant Undercover Cop game, which is almost the same, but one con is chosen randomly as a hidden Johnny Law and their task is to eliminate all of the other players. It amounts to Reservoir Dogs in videogame format, and simply put, this turns out to be all kinds of dramatic fun, filled with people shouting their innocence and hurling accusations at each other from their headsets.
During online sessions of these games you are confronted immediately with issues of trust and deception in ways few games ever approach. Both game types capture a heightened version of the entire life of those working outside of the law and distill it into refined four minute chunks. Undercover Cop especially inspires evil creativity in both the “straight” cons and those playing the cop. Seeing people online actually convince one another that someone else is the rat in the crew before then stabbing those folks in the back is perhaps the most enthrallingly morbid social experiment being performed, and it’s only happening in this game. Plus if being screwed over by teammates isn’t for you and you just want to go for straight aggression, there’s a Cops and Robbers variant that turns it into a fairly basic team deathmatch/objective game, and an Arcade Mode that allows for some practice without other players.
This isn’t to say that these modes don’t have their flaws too. The multiplayer interface isn’t informative, matchmaking seems to take forever, and the game uses a host system with no apparent migration capability. An angry host can disconnect all players, and considering this is a game about betrayal . . . that happens fairly often. Undercover Cop mode is hard to make fair, as with a lower number of players it becomes perhaps too easy for the fuzz to win, but in full games it becomes very difficult to not get killed quickly by a pack of players moving in tandem. However, the ups of multiplayer outweighs many of the downs, especially if you just want to indulge in avarice for an hour or two on a frustrated Wednesday evening.
How much you’ll be into Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days ends up hinging on how much you can tolerate the despicable aspects of humanity. The story mode forces you to be on the receiving end of an emotional hazing of likeable characters, the presentation will kick you right in the inner ear at times and the multiplayer mode encourages you to be paranoid and spiteful. If you aren’t turned away immediately, you’ll find that all of the elements work at a base, Punk Rock, level. Sure it’s nihilistic, sure it’s a bit ugly, sure it’s repetitive after a while; but it moves you at your very core because the flaws work for it as much as they work against it.
Punk Rock caught on, but it remains to be seen if the same will be said of the disillusioned Kane and the psychotic Lynch. As the first tale of theirs was butchered in the telling, it all depends on how well the general gaming world responds to these grizzled guys again. It’s easy to see their fickle audience banning them to the bar of forgotten gaming characters; giving Duke Nukem, Chakan the Forever Man, and James Pond some company. Kane and Lynch could use a drink after the events of Dog Days, but they don’t deserve to be put in that pound yet.