Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days Review

Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is a dirty, lens-flared romp through the neon-streaked streets of Shanghai. Set a few years after the first game, Dog Days reunites the two foul-mouth protagonists for one last “job” before both can retire for good. It’s a plot we’ve seen dozens of times and while the story of Kane & Lynch 2 isn’t going to win any awards, the visual design manages to set the overall experience a notch above some of the game’s weak spots.

Kane arrives in Shanghai where he’s greeted by Lynch who, since we last saw him, has moved to China, met a girl, and made some connections with various crime bosses of the underworld. The deal is all set but things quickly turn to hell and the duo have to shoot their way through a seemingly endless stream of thugs.

The gameplay of Dog Days is a typical third-person shooter with cover mechanics. Cover points are graciously thrown throughout environments and the mechanic works well enough. The problem with the gameplay is that, in 2010, it’s nothing we haven’t already seen many times before. As a result, the shooting feels mediocre, almost aggressively so. Kane and Lynch make their way through city streets, parking garages, nondescript high-rises, and more, taking cover behind all-too conveniently placed columns, pillars, crates, and boxes. The setting, however, is one of the game’s strongest elements. The streets of Shanghai are gritty and, through the game’s bold visual style, give the world a unique authenticity. In fact, the look of Kane & Lynch 2 is perhaps the game’s most pronounced saving grace.

Dog Days does striking things with visual design. The whole game looks as though it’s being filmed by a cheap hand-held camera. Think: YouTube. There’s digital artifacts on the video, bright lights cause lens flares, large explosions cause a buffering/stuttering to occur. The designers intentionally made something less-than beautiful and it works wonders for the overall experience. It’s a smart use of contemporary influences that never feels forced or out of place. In fact, I can’t imagine playing the game without it. The hand-held motif does include a shaky camera effect which follows the game’s protagonists. During my time with the game, I did note some pretty bad motion sickness, a problem I’ve never had before with games. There is, thankfully, a setting which turns on a steady-cam option so the shakiness goes away without sacrificing the game’s other visual elements.

There’s nothing about Kane & Lynch 2 that’s downright terrible but I often found myself wishing the visual style existed in a better game. It just refuses to evolve from a gameplay perspective. The reliance on cover-based shooting even takes a negative toll on the level design. The environments really begin to show their seems when you’ve entered yet another warehouse filled with a surprising amount of crates. It telegraphs the upcoming actions. If you enter a room with lots of cover, prepare for a fight. It’s indicative of the larger problem with Dog Days, it all feels like a huge waste of potential. Despite the visuals, the world feels vapid and empty. For instance, at one point the duo are shooting their way through an old train yard. But the level is static. How great it would have been to take cover behind moving trains, timing your progress forward to the movement of the incoming train-cars. I don’t want to stray too far into backseat game development but I would like to say, to me, it isn’t enough to simply be shooting in a train yard when, in terms of the level’s geometry, it’s exactly like the warehouse from before.

There is a short sequence later in the game where players shoot from a helicopter into the windows of a skyscraper but the gameplay is essentially the same thing as before: take cover, pop out when you can, shoot, repeat. Still, it was an attempt at changing the pace. That being said, the game barely has a chance of over-staying its welcome. The main campaign can be finished in under four hours. That’s right, four hours. Playing through the game with a buddy in co-op mode could offer some replay value but the levels don’t really offer anything that seems designed specifically for co-op. In many of the best co-op experiences, the game features elements built into the level to take direct advantage of the two-player feature. In Dog Days, a co-op buddy is just another gun. Again, I felt this was a missed opportunity. I was hoping to see some more parts of the game take advantage of co-op but mostly we just opened doors together at various checkpoints.

Multiplayer mode really shines with some clever twists on common game-types. The two most notable include “Fragile Alliance” where a team of criminals must work together to complete a heist and escape from the AI-controlled police force. The catch being that, at any time, your online buddies can turn on you, attempting to take more of the cash for themselves. There’s a risk vs. reward behind your decision to turn on your teammates and makes for some pretty tense sessions. The most fun I had online was with the “Undercover Cop” mode which is not unlike “Fragile Alliance” but with the added touch of one of the players being the titular rat. When the round begins, one of the criminals on your team is told they are the undercover cop and it’s up to them to eliminate the criminal team one-by-one without being detected. I enjoyed these modes but, again, couldn’t help feeling somewhat disappointed they were in a game that, often, felt so average.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my time with the game, far from it. Despite offering gameplay we’ve seen before, Kane & Lynch 2 still manages to be a fun experience, most of the time. It isn’t anything revolutionary but it’s simple brainless shooting fun and that could be enough for a lot of people.  The game does significant things in terms of  visual design which is why I think people should at least play through the game once. Just rent it, set it to easy, and blast through it over the weekend.


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