Review / Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days (PC)

Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is a real downer of a game. You won’t crack a smile once while you play it. It’s a foul, gritty, morally depraved world full of bad people doing bad things for bad reasons. There isn’t light at the end of the tunnel, as every gunshot sinks our titular heroes deeper and deeper into a world they’re trying to escape from. Surrounding Kane and Lynch is a constant feeling of helplessness, and however this story ends, you know it won’t be a happy conclusion.

It’s also happens to be a downer because it’s one of the more disappointing and depressing games in recent memory.

Let’s skip the formalities and get into Kane & Lynch 2’s biggest problem: It isn’t fun. The core action of aiming a gun and shooting at people is unresponsive, clunky and impossible to predict. Even while playing the game on PC with a mouse and keyboard, I found it exceedingly difficult to line up my shots correctly, as I constantly found myself shooting just to the sides of my enemies. The only innovation developer IO Interactive has brought to the table gameplay wise is the ability for your character to be knocked down while in combat, and the problems and frustrations that occur from this far outweigh whatever positives the developers thought came from being constantly on the ground in a shooter.

It’s a cover-based shooter where cover isn’t cover for long. Taking cover is fundamentally useless in fact, as your enemies seem to have no problem turning it into Swiss cheese in a hurry. Sometimes you get lucky and find some good protection, but for the most part, you won’t want to stay in one place for too long.

Dog Days also happens to be incredibly basic. All you do in the game is shoot guys throughout Shanghai. There isn’t the occasional climbing segment or environmental puzzle to mix up the monotony, and your objectives are always as simple as ‘run this way, kill everyone’. There’s the occasional person you need to make sure doesn’t die while you shoot people, but that’s about as varied as Kane & Lynch 2 gets. This wouldn’t be so bad if they mixed up the gunplay with the occasional rocket launcher or shrink ray, but that’s not the case. In Dog Days, you get a pistol, a pistol, a shotgun, a shotgun, a shotgun, an auto shotgun, a machine gun, a machine gun, and sub-machine gun, and a big machine gun, all of which are completely interchangeable. Once in a while you get to throw a gas can, but that’s it. Even by the end of the woefully short campaign (more on that later) I grew tired of the repetition.

The game is littered with inconsistencies. Why can I use this wall for cover but not this one? Why does it sometimes take 45 bullets to kill me while sometimes it takes three? Why does my AI partner randomly go from useless bullet sponge to unstoppable killing machine? How come Kane just flat out disappeared while opening that door? How come shotguns are more useful at long range than sniper rifles? The difficulty curve also has a tendency to spike dramatically, as certain locales throw a seemingly unfair amount of enemies at you, and popping your head out of whatever decent cover you’ve been able to find can kill you almost instantly. Kane & Lynch 2 is death by a thousand paper cuts, and by the end of the game, your stack of minor annoyances will form into a encyclopedia of rage.

Luckily (or unluckily depending on your money situation), the pain will be over shockingly fast, as the Dog Days single-player campaign averages out to about 4-5 hours, and a lot of that is retrying the more frustrating parts over and over again. I could easily see someone completing this game in under three hours if they know what they’re doing.

After the anger subsides from finishing the game so quickly, there is a multiplayer component to keep you going. The interesting Fragile Alliance mode from the first game is back along with two new modes. Cops & Robbers is a classic team-based game where the cops are protecting something the robbers want to rob, but the best mode is Undercover Cop. It works just like Fragile Alliance, but at the start of the game, a member of the team is secretly selected as a undercover cop whose goal is to kill all of the other team members without being detected, which creates a really fun dynamic and adds to the ‘don’t trust anybody’ mentality of Fragile Alliance.

That sounds pretty cool, right? Unfortunately, the lackluster gunplay from the campaign is still here, and it’s made even more cumbersome by having to shoot smarter, more mobile human-controlled enemies, so you’re probably not going to want to play it for very long. Dog Days also rectifies the biggest problem with the original Kane & Lynch, as you can now play the campaign cooperatively with a buddy, as long as you can deal with the outdated matchmaking system. You have select the level you want to play, so you can’t just play through the campaign. Also, there’s no drop-in/drop-out component, so if the person you’re playing with leaves the game, you get kicked right back to the menu.

The silver lining in all of this is the game’s highly original visual style. Essentially, the game is shot like a low rent documentary filmed with a cheap camera. Your viewpoint is constantly slightly askew, there’s pixelation and artifacts on the screen constantly, and sudden movements can cause the picture to temporarily short out. I never found the visuals to be too distracting, but if you want to turn off the extreme shaky-cam, you can do so. It should also be noted that the visual effects do a fantastic job of hiding the fact that Kane & Lynch 2, from a technical standpoint, actually looks pretty bad compared to its contemporaries. The character models are dated, the textures are flat, and the lip syncing with the voices is way off.

The post effects and camera work are actually all really cool, and the style of filmmaking portray the simple yet highly effective and occasionally shocking story. Kane and Lynch themselves do things and see things that very few videogames are willing to show. I don’t want to get into any details, but believe me when I say that Dog Days isn’t for the squeamish. If you can handle it, IO’s simple yet highly effective narrative is good enough to make you want to see what the hell is going to happen to these guys next.

‘Heartbreaking’ is the term I keep going back to that best describes Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days. IO has done some really evocative things with the presentation and I am very impressed with how far they were willing to push the envelope without their efforts becoming gratuitous, but fascinating cut-scenes don’t amount to a hill of beans when the core shooting is this sloppy. Dog Days really could have been something special, but the final product only serves as a warning to other developers that, no matter how cool or interesting the things surrounding your game are, if you don’t have the core fundamentals down, it’ll all be for nothing.

+ Incredibly well realized world
+ The camera tricks are innovative, distinct, and rarely impede gameplay
+ The multiplayer component is full of really cool ideas and scenarios…

– …that would’ve been really fun to play if the process of shooting were better
– Too short for a $60 title
– Zero variety in the campaign