Thursday, March 31, 2011

Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days

I guess I should have known what I was getting into. Everyone who played this when it came out said it wasn't a very good game. I was still interested in playing it though, because of some of the things they were doing with the presentation, and how it seemed different from other games. So I got it for fairly cheap, and it turned out to not be a very good game. I didn't hate it, but I did enjoy it less than the first game, and while I still found those other things interesting, they weren't enough to really care what is otherwise an unexceptional cover-based shooter and nothing else.

The game is ugly, possibly the ugliest I've ever played. I don't mean the technical work done by the artists, which is fine if unexceptional. I mean the creative direction of the game is grotesquely ugly. The game is designed to look like it was filmed on a cheap video camera, with the image shaking constantly and becoming distorted and the colors and lights separating. It doesn't really make sense because there's no one who would be filming them, but it adds to the brutal, gritty feeling of the story, which is also hideous. Some time after the first game, Kane and Lynch meet in Shanghai to pull off a deal that will let them leave their violent pasts behind once and for all, so they can just spend time with their remaining loved ones peacefully. Of course that isn't really in the cards for a duo as messed up and dysfunctional and psychotic as those two, and it all goes to hell as they just try desperately to get away with their lives. You follow them as they run away from cops, get captured, do anything to survive and just go through hell over the course of the brief campaign. I appreciate how far the developers went to make the game and its characters entirely irredeemable, though I wish it was accompanied by something more fun to play.

Because while Dog Days is a functional shooter, it's not a very exciting one. The original game wasn't exactly the bee's knees, but it had interesting moments. There were high speed getaways and moments of calm and high-concept heists, and the shooting itself had elements like the command system and having to watch your team's back to make sure you all made it. Dog Days is ducking behind walls and shooting dudes as they pop up, and that is it. Almost every single encounter follows the same basic formula, and there's little to separate one gun fight from the next. There are explosive canisters you can chuck at enemies and shoot to blow up, but there are no grenades, and their absence is irritating. Maybe it wouldn't make a lot of sense to find military equipment like that when you're just shooting gang members in back alleys, but eventually you reach a point where there's no reason the designers couldn't have added them if they wanted to. Even if you aren't good at killing enemies with grenades in shooters, they're still useful for flushing them out of hiding spots and stuff like that. As it is, the bad guys in Dog Days have a tendency to scurry around from cover to cover and stay hidden for too long, which drags out fights and makes the bread and butter (or in this case the bread, butter, and everything else) of the game more annoying than it should be.

You play mainly as Lynch this time (in single player, co-op mode is back and probably works I guess), and for most of the game it's just you and Kane, with fewer instances of other supporting characters coming along and no ability to tell them what to do. Once in a while a character might suggest something that could make a battle easier, but there just aren't enough tools in the game to sustain the existing shooting mechanics even to the end of a notably short story mode. I honestly have no idea how such a bare and short game ended up taking two and a half years to release, unless they had to scrap a concept with much grander scope and then realized they just had to come out with something. Again, it wasn't awful to play and I found the darkness of the story and some of the visual touches intriguing enough to keep going until it was over, but it seemed like a lost opportunity when many acknowledged that the first game had issues but still had elements worth a closer look. Instead IO Interactive decided to drop all those elements and simply make one of the most boilerplate third person shooters in years and dress it up with an absolutely hideous aesthetic. An attention-grabbing aesthetic, but a hideous one nonetheless. I don't hate the idea of Kane & Lynch yet, but I'm definitely glad IO's returning to the Hitman franchise for their next game.

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