Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Kane & Lynch: Dead Men

Kane & Lynch is one of my more frustrating game experiences in recent memory, and a big part of that is I wanted to really like it. I know the game caused a fair amount of controversy around its release, but that didn't stop its premise from being interesting to me. Most modern, cover-based shooters either hinge on the same familiar military setting or put them inside varyingly likable open-world environments. To play through a Heat-style series of capers, with a couple of aging and mentally unstable main characters, and to be so totally thrown into the role of a bad guy - sympathetic yes, but still fighting cops as one of your primary foes - it seemed like a breath of fresh air.

And for a while, it was. There were a couple technical hiccups, and the basic shooting and cover mechanics could have used a bit more work, but I was mostly enjoying the scenarios they set up and finding the story and character fairly interesting. It even gets emotional better than most games seem to, if feeling a bit exploitative. The shooting really isn't very original. You find some familiar weapons, you crouch behind low walls and pillars, and you pop out to shoot whatever enemy has strayed too far from safety. You play as Kane and have some control over whatever buddies happen to be nearby, and even in single-player at least Lynch is there to help out, which adds something to the proceedings. I had a pretty bad issue with the audio for the music skipping incessantly at certain points, but this oddly played in the game's favor a lot of the time - an endless repeating, harsh but not too loud tone can often set the mood for some of the messed up stuff Kane and Lynch get themselves into. But really, it was interesting because of the window dressing and a few clever moments sprinkled here and there. If the game kept this up, I would have been pretty happy.

But it eventually goes bad in two ways - one of which not everyone will experience, and one which they will. It seemed like every time I launched the game again, it got less stable. It began crashing repeatedly during one mission, and I couldn't get the game playable again until I adjusted the graphical settings downward. I couldn't even tell what was different, but it was annoyance that the game couldn't decide if my system was up to snuff or not. After that it was mostly okay, until near the end. Without spoiling anything, there are two endings. You make a decision at the end of a mission - one choice ends the game with the first ending, the other sends you to an optional final mission that leads you to the second ending. I never got to see the second ending myself. After that penultimate level, I had to stop playing for a while, but when I tried to start the game up again I couldn't. Repeated attempts ended the same way, with a crash before I even got to the menu, with no chance to adjust anything. So I said screw it, deleted the install from my Steam library, and looked up a video of the last level on Youtube. Kind of a crummy way to end my experience.

Not that it was great at that point otherwise. About two thirds of the way through the game, the setting and tone shift drastically away from the urban crime vibe. The new location and focus simply aren't as interesting as the old ones, and nothing about the gameplay itself particularly redeems it. It wasn't bad, really, it just wasn't as fun as the game was before. It was especially annoying when it started forcing a more careful and stealthy approach on you. Believe me, the shooting works all right, but it doesn't especially support careful and stealthy.

So, a game I was liking at first ended disappointing me. And it looks the sequel might have the same issue. I'll probably check it out when it drops in price, when things like its apparently absurdly short length will be less of an issue, but it's sort of clear now that this will never be a great franchise, just successful enough to keep pushing out sequels. Which is actually worse than it totally bombing, because I'd like to see IO refocus on something they're better at, the Hitman franchise. A game is coming next year, but it would have been here sooner if they weren't dabbling in a genre they're simply not as good at.

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