Review: Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days

September 10, 2010, Author: James Sheppard

Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is available for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC and is the next step in the story of two infamous criminals, following on from the previous title Kane & Lynch: Dead Men. This prequel was met on release with mediocre review scores and a mixture of enjoyment, apathy and even disgust from the gaming community. As a result, I approached Dog Days with some scepticism and decided to not place my expectations too high.

The developers, IO Interactive, are also well known for their more popular and well received Hitman series, so it’s not like they’re strangers to making good games. Will Dog Days be banished to the kennel like its predecessor, or turn out to be the dog’s bollocks?

A dog’s life
Dog Days has Kane travelling to Shanghai to meet Lynch, who has started a new life over there after the events of the previous game. Lynch has let Kane in on a shady ‘deal’ which is never really fully explained (I think it had something to do with smuggling guns, I forget).

The plan is supposedly fool proof, but our two protagonists must be some special kind of fools, because they manage to make a catastrophic error – shooting the daughter of a powerful, corrupted government official called Shangsi. The story then, mostly consists of Kane and Lynch fighting for their lives and trying not to get taken out by goons, the police, SWAT teams and eventually, the army.

Freeze! You're under arrest for tap dancing on the noodles!

Freeze! You're under arrest for tap dancing on the noodles!

What’s more, is that unless you have a soft spot for criminals, the characters certainly aren’t very likeable – they are total anti-heroes, but aren’t even as charismatic as similar protagonists from other games, such as the lead characters of the GTA series. Overall, the story line and characterisations surrounding the game are generally about as enthralling as an Antiques Roadshow omnibus.

Who let the dogs out?
So, does Kane & Lynch 2 redeem itself through its playability? To an extent, yes. The game is a third person shooter, similar to Gears of War (and many others), revolving around run and gun and with a cover system to hide while your health recharges. There is very little originality on offer here but, unlike its predecessor, it’s all surprisingly refined and well implemented.

For starters, the cover system actually works. In Dead Men, it was more hit and miss than an alcoholic playing darts blindfolded. Your character was more likely to stand around twiddling his thumbs, or run out into a storm of lead than snap into place behind a pillar. This is fixed in Dog Days however, and firing from behind cover is also intuitive. Interestingly, the cover is actually realistic – unlike Gears of War, where cowering behind a mere lamppost, or cardboard stand would leave you invincible. Here you’ll have to choose your cover wisely as some is more effective than others.

The shooting controls are also nicely tight and focused, once again a large improvement from the original, which were erratic and unpredictable. Traversing the levels is also enjoyable, with a rather familiar sprint ability (sorry for another Gears reference), complete with ‘Rodeo-cam’ shake, and plenty of environment to use as cover on the way. It does have to be said however, that the level design is very linear indeed and involves less choice than Kentucky Fried Chicken does for a vegetarian. The levels are at least well built and designed, generally favouring action-packed close-quarters gunplay.

The adrenaline shot revival system from Dead Men is gone and has instead been replaced with falling to the floor and being able to crawl to cover. This works quite well and removes the reliance on your AI teammate to revive you (thank god). That said, the AI in this game is generally acceptable, quite capable of taking cover and sometimes rushing in close, where they are probably the most dangerous.

Kane & Lynch 2 is hectic at times, to the extent that you may need to take a lie down after a while

Weapons on offer are the standard shooter fare, from pistols, to submachine guns, to assault rifles. These become more enjoyable to use as the game progresses as the accuracy of the first guns are akin to suspending a heavy machine gun from the ceiling with a piece of string and fixing the trigger down with duct tape. With some better weapons and a bit of practice you can become quite proficient at wiping out enemies, once you get used to the fair amount of recoil.

Uniquely there are no grenades; instead the explosives of the game are gas canisters, fire extinguishers or similar items littering the level. These can be thrown, and with a tap of the trigger are automatically shot and blown up in the enemy’s face. I quite like this idea; it’s like a mixture of normal frag grenades and of the explosive barrels that just sit around in convenient places in practically every single shooting game ever made, and is arguably better than the sum of its parts.

The good ideas in the game are limited though: something that is sorely lacking from Kane & Lynch 2 is variety. Practically without exception, the objective for every single mission is ‘kill everyone, move on, kill everyone else.’ This doesn’t get quite as old as you’d expect, because firstly, it’s fairly entertaining, but most importantly, it’s ‘criminally’ short. Ba-bum-bum-tish. A full play-through would probably take you no longer than five hours; I completed the majority of it in one sitting. The game doesn’t give you a chance to get bored, because if you blink then you’ll miss it.

Dead Men may have been an inferior game in practically every other respect, but at least there was more interesting stuff to do: rob a bank, rappel and break into a skyscraper, and the obligatory on-rails-shooting section of fighting police cars out of the back of your escape van. The locations included places like Venezuela too, to keep the game more fresh. Every single level of Kane & Lynch 2, in contrast, is practically the same: urban Shanghai; usually a building of some form but occasionally the streets as well. Once again, if the game was any longer, you’d easily get bored.

Overall though, I enjoyed playing Dog Days, perhaps more than I expected. I recommend you play through it in one or two sittings as I did, maybe sit back with a few beers, and just enjoy blasting away. It’s brainless, action-packed fun at its best. There is also the option of playing with a mate/random stranger in Co-op mode, which is a good addition.

Kane & Lynch taking it into their own hands to stamp out lousy catering

As pretty as a pug
Kane & Lynch 2 is certainly not the prettiest game I’ve seen. Not that it tries to be. Let’s start with the negatives. The textures are muddier than a weekend at Glastonbury, and the colour palette generally consists of beautiful shades of drab grey. The edges of objects have a bizarre effect on them, which I can only imagine is some form of cheap anti-aliasing – it’s like they’ve been blurred, and sharpened again. To top this all off, on my short-but-sweet play-through there were heavy drops in frame rate on several occasions, so the graphics engine is not particularly well optimised either, despite it not being particularly impressive looking.

I have to commend the game overall however, on its unique art style. For something that is so generic in so many other areas, they have at least been fairly original in its artistic direction. The best way I can think to describe the graphics are: The Blair Witch Project. Love it or hate it (and I was sat firmly in the latter camp) it popularised a directional technique of emulating being shot by an amateur, on a hand held camcorder. This is the effect that Kane & Lynch 2 goes for, which is quite unusual for a video game.

It has also been very well implemented. There is a heavy film grain filter that is darker in areas of low light, lens flare from light sources and grime smeared over the screen. The camera also moves erratically as if handheld, particularly whilst running, shaking more than an office worker trying to hold their twelfth cup of espresso.

This all looks very realistic, and although the actual graphical fidelity is not all that impressive, this helps by making it look like you’re viewing the game through rose-tinted specs (or perhaps the opposite in this case). All in all, the graphical style contributes to believable visuals that complement the game’s gritty setting and themes.

Lynch himself has a slight, hilarious resemblance to Andy from Little Britain

Sounds a bit ‘ruff’
Not really, but that did make a good pun, you have to admit.

The music throughout the game is quite few and far between which is a shame, as when it does appear it’s generally quite appropriate and integrates well with the setting – some is in Chinese, for example. As it is however, most of the time you just have the usual gunfire and explosions to listen to, which is a shame.

I’m not saying that the sound effects are bad though. In fact, sometimes they’re scarily realistic. One time I’d left the game switched on at the main menu, with a looped video of a jet going overhead. I genuinely wondered to myself why there were so many low-flying planes in the sky that day. The usual gunfire and explosive sounds are also satisfyingly meaty, if you’re into that kind of thing.

The banter coming from Kane and Lynch themselves is a tad pointless though. It mostly consists of “Oh, f@$& it!” and… oh wait, that’s about it. Well, that’s probably an exaggeration, but the majority of the time it contains heavy use of expletives and them complaining about something or the other. Occasionally it’ll give you a chuckle.

Leader of the pack
To bolt on to Dog Days’ appallingly short story mode, there are at least a few multiplayer modes which could potentially keep you entertained for a while. Firstly, there is Fragile Alliance, a mode which sees you and a group of like-minded crims breaking into a high security area and ‘working together’ to steal something of high monetary value and then fight your way out to the escape vehicle. I put ‘working together’ in quotations because this isn’t always the case; you have the option to betray your team if you so wish, and escape with all of the money. Sometimes easier said than done it has to be said.

Die in this mode and you will respawn as the police, so with each round the group of criminals gets progressively smaller, and the resistance tougher. This mode is fairly enjoyable and the levels are quite well thought out. But there are far too few in my opinion and so it gets old very quickly, as you repetitively do the same thing over and over again. There is also an offline ‘arcade’ mode which is just a practice of this and as you can imagine, it’s even more dull playing the thing with bots.

That one's going on Facebook. He's NOT gonna be happy about that.

The next mode on offer is Undercover Cop, which is a similar affair, but as it says on the tin it has one of the players secretly working against the rest to try and foil the operation. In principle, this is a good concept, but in practice, I found it quite frustrating. Playing as a ‘loyal’ *ahem* criminal is exciting, as you always have to watch your back and can’t trust anyone. The undercover cop however draws the short straw, as they barely have any advantage except for the element of surprise.

On a server of just a few players the mode is quite well balanced, but arguably when the player list is full up, it is an extremely difficult task to take out the entire team of criminals on your own. For this reason, I believe this game mode is flawed, which is a shame.

The last mode is Cops And Robbers, which again is quite self explanatory. A large team of criminals joins up to steal bags of money and run to the getaway vehicle. Meanwhile, the cops put a stop to them any way they can and try to claim the money themselves, for their donut fund presumably. The levels are a decent size and due to the nature of the mode, each round can be quite varied, with players swapping sides each time. As a result, it is perhaps the most enjoyable mode of the three.

There are a few aspects to add extra interest to the multiplayer modes. Firstly, there is a Counter Strike-like ability to buy weapons in between rounds with the money you have ‘earnt.’ Secondly, there is the compulsory Call-Of-Duty style element that must be added to every shooter these days, of experience based ranking that unlocks new weapons. This helps add an extra shot of addiction into the mix.

Unfortunately however, even a very short time after release, it can take a few minutes of sitting on the lobby screen to gather enough players to make a full server of Cops and Robbers, for example. Everyone’s obviously still too busy playing Modern Warfare 2. And I dread to think how empty the servers will be when Black Ops is released. This is a pity, as although the multiplayer isn’t of the very highest quality around, it’s certainly enjoyable and should be applauded for consisting of more than just your average deathmatch modes.

Crap, that's the last time I ask a shop for credit...

Dog Days: Pick it up, or put it down?
Kane & Lynch 2 is a difficult game to rate. The length for a full-release title is pretty unacceptable. What’s more, is that due to the aforementioned linearity, there is little reason to play it again, because it will be exactly the same every time. I do have to admit though, that I enjoyed it more than I expected to. There is also a big factor which may influence your decision: its price. The cost of the game has fallen faster than a one-legged cat on a tightrope; it could be had for just over £20, or now around £17.99, literally days after release. Have a good shop around.

Of course, you could wait until it really is dirt cheap, but then the multiplayer modes will probably be almost entirely vacated. As a lot of the value is in these, it is recommended to buy it soon if you’re interested.

Which leaves my verdict. A bit of a tough one actually. I am almost tempted to award a ‘Buy It’ rating due to the price and potential enjoyment to be had out of the game. The single-player length is a big downer though, and a fair amount of people play games solely for the campaign. This and the fact that the game is certainly not without its flaws. This and the limited amount of (albeit good) original ideas mean that Kane & Lynch 2 Dog Days receives a:


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