Thursday, 26 August 2010

Review: Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days (360)

The original Kane & Lynch was a stab at something a little bit different; a third-person shooter starring two unlikeable, but potentially redeeming protagonists thrust head-on into a world of violence and deception. It was a brief, unpolished look into the criminal psyche, packed with plenty of explosions, bad language and a dodgy control scheme. The ideas that it threw around worked well on paper, but when it came down to the crunch the developers were unable to deliver on their vision.

Kane & Lynch 2 is nothing like that game. Well, it is in one sense being a third-person shooter. But really, that is all it has in common with its predecessor. Everything has been stripped down to the bare essentials; the action is more tightly focused, the control scheme is more responsive, and the story decidedly even more one-sided. In essence it has lost some of what made the original game mildly interesting for the sake of focusing on a single concept, with most of the personality of the two leads coming from the highly stylised visual presentation, and the kinds of things that you’ll be doing reduced to lots and lots of shooting.

Now, all this shooting Initially doesn’t seem so bad. And after all, the COD series survives on little else, with only short interludes in between heavy action sequences. However K&L 2 seems to miss the mark by quite some margin in this regard. Yes, there’s plenty of shooting. You do nothing else. And although the game is reasonably polished in some areas, and is pretty fun for a while, it’s also packed with various bugs and glitches meaning that it just doesn’t hold itself together well enough throughout the entire single player campaign.

The action is fast and frenetic and the gunplay is actually quite enjoyable at first. It’s perhaps only let down by the numerous glitches to be found throughout the game, and the relentless nature of the enemy AI, which tends to bring to the surface further problems with regards to weapon balance and implementation.

In the game’s smaller, more confined sections, the constant cat and mouse game between our despicable duo and the legions of enemies works rather well. But when thrown onto the deep end time and time again, with large, wide-open areas full of wave upon wave of enemies coming your way, it all becomes just a little too tiring, and very, very repetitive.

Throughout all of this the enemy AI is actually quite cleaver, constantly ducking and running between cover points, while at the same time trying to flush you out via flanking you from either side, drawing you with short bursts of fire. It definitely feels a cut above the average third-person shooter.

K&L 2 is also pretty relentless at all times, never letting up, and only stopping when it manages to glitch itself into submission; standing still waiting to be shot, or running circles around either two of the lead characters whilst failing to fire their weapon. Enemies also find themselves magically teleporting through, and over various parts of the scenery in moments of frustration and obvious hilarity. The consequences of which is a distinct inability for you being able to track and follow targets effectively.

In other silly moments NPC’s that you are meant to chase/follow occasionally become ‘confused’. You may find them simply standing in one place, or wandering around aimlessly until the game decides to fail you on the mission. Sometimes, these characters will also randomly appear and disappear from out of nowhere; there one minute, then gone the next. I’ve seen the same thing happen to groups of enemies, and even both Kane and Lynch themselves in the ending cut-scene. It’s hardly what I’d consider acceptable for a high-profile release, and annoyingly, feels rather unfinished like the demo.

Combat, for the most part is reasonably solid, with the controls being far more responsive compared to the original K&L. Aiming and shooting feels quick and relatively natural; lining up that crucial head shot is easy, and the only real reason for failure, outside of your varying degree of skill, is the wide-range of your targeting reticule giving you the feeling that the game is deliberately trying to help the more co-ordinately challenged of us take down the opposition.

In reality, although easier for beginners, it also makes it harder for experienced players, lending the game’s targeting system to feel somewhat inaccurate at times. However, the real problem comes into play when you realise that many of the weapons you encounter throughout the game do very little damage, and the ones that do, are considerably unbalanced. The shotgun for example, delivers the same amount of damage regardless of how far away you are from your intended target. Whilst the pistol and various machine guns do very little, even at close range, unless a headshot is clearly made - something that isn’t as easy to judge, as it should be.

Thankfully, moving around the environment and getting in and out of cover is a much simpler affair than in the original. Pushing the ‘A’ button on the controller when up against a wall, table, etc activates the cover mechanic, and pushing it again releases you. For the most part the system is pretty good, and I didn’t have too much trouble with it until the later parts of the game.

It’s only here, where you’ll really realise how inconsistent the implementation can be. Slow, is perhaps a too strong a word to use, even though your commands fail to respond fast enough in intense situations. Usually, this happens after you’ve just ran up to a surface for cover, pushing the button the instant you get there. In instances like this the game doesn’t recognise what you’ve done. Instead, you have to wait for a split second or so before attempting the cover move or it won’t register at all.

Although the overall cover system is a massive improvement over the one used before in the first Kane & Lynch, it isn’t really polished enough to help you in dealing with the constant barrage of enemies being thrown your way. Not when they can move around at unbelievable speeds using the game’s own glitches against you, even if this is just a side effect of the unfinished nature of the title.

Occasionally the non-stop action duck and cover action is broken up with some explosive set pieces, containing yet… even more shooting. There are some cool touches included; like tearing up a building full of Chinese Mafia goons killing dozens of enemies in nearly every room you pass, which provides a more laid-back, and mindless on-rails element giving you a chance to take a ‘time out’ in an odd kind of way. Unfortunately, there aren’t many of these sections to be found, and some are so short and under-whelming that they almost appear pointlessly tacked-on the end as a means for avoiding doing anything of real substance.

And that’s the problem with Kane & Lynch 2. The game is so caught up in delivering a never-ending spectacle of gunfights and explosions that it fails to see how lacking and completely shallow it is. Just a few months ago developers IO interactive promised that we would see a deeper storyline compared to the first game, fleshing out Lynch’s character and maybe taking you closer into what makes him tick, why he is the way he is, and how even he has some humanity left in him.

False promises then, as that element seems to be completely avoided in this sequel; what we have here is nothing more than a few sound bytes between each mission, a brief cinematic, and not a lot else. Playing through the game it is kinda hard to follow just what is supposed to be happening, let alone the reasoning behind it. I gather you’re being hunted down after a botched arms deal, and that the Chinese Mafia is after your blood after you accidentally killed the daughter of a Mob boss. But really, that’s about it. Each cut-scene simply ends with more enemies shooting at you, and does nothing but introduce the next piece of action.

The two leads also are left as simple caricatures of their former selves, spouting foul-mouthed banter, and brief expositions of plot as you run around gunning down everyone in sight. But never is any time given to explore the characters and their motivations, meaning that you never care for them, or really feel any impact when they are faced with the horrid reality of their situation. Instead it just feels like a game, and that the story is just a bit of filler in between. Which, it is, but it doesn’t always have to be like that though.

Instead, most of the game’s personality comes from the highly stylised visual presentation, in which the entire look of K&L 2 is covered in a grainy, pixelated, and blocky security cam video type effect, perfectly blending in the nature of the two lead’s with the grimy underworld they find themselves in. The screen constantly changes between being mildly clean, to featuring heavy bouts of film grain and YouTube-esque macroblocking, all contributing to the underlying shady nature of both the environment and the people that inhabit it.

A shaky-cam effect also adds more realism to the proceedings. The whole game is seen through the eyes of what looks like a snuff movie recording of sorts, capturing every detail of your actions, and censoring out the most gruesome parts entirely. Whilst pretty stylish to look at, the shaky nature of the camerawork leads easily to some pretty prevalent motion sickness if you’re not careful. The Gears Of War style run is the main culprit for this, and can make you go from feeling fine, to incredibly nauseous in just a few seconds.

The presentation and the smooth, responsive controls are easily the highlights of the experience. Visually the game isn’t all that great, being noticeably soft at times due to its sub-HD nature. And the single-player campaign is way too short, with it being possible to complete in under five hours in a single sitting – I did it in four over Xbox Live in co-op. Still, the game is reasonably fun to play online (either in co-op or against others) when the glaring flaws don’t rear their ugly heads to often. Plus, the duck and cover shooting on offer is actually pretty good, and reasonably enjoyable taken in short bursts rather than an afternoon slog.

All things considered, Kane & Lynch 2 is a noticeable improvement over the first game with regards to its core gameplay mechanics and intense gunplay. But, it is also a lot simpler, with none of the variety of the original, and much of what made it so potentially interesting stripped away down to a repetitive third-person shooter, with only brief flashes of brilliance. The story is paper thin, and the characters are barely given ample exposure to develop their personalities. Plus, the whole engine feels largely unfinished, suffering from occasional crashes and plenty of visible glitches.

However, that’s not to say that you won’t find gain some enjoyment from gunning down the many waves of enemies you’ll face throughout the game. Although your time spent is as likely to be one of equal parts frustration as it is fun. And these days that just isn’t good enough for such a high profile release.

In the end IO Interactive have produced a distinctly average shooter, coated in a unique gritty visual style, and well, not much else. The endless combat can only sustain your interest for so long, and the seemingly unfinished engine reeks of a rush job to market. The controls and action may be better than the first, as is the overall polish behind the game. But it comes at the expense of any real substance, and doesn’t do the underlying idea of playing a mentally unstable psychopath any justice. Kane & Lynch 2 then, is wasted potential that perhaps warrants a rental or a cheap bargain-bin purchase for curiosity’s sake, but in no way deserves your attention as a full price product.


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