Regardless of what you may have thought about the original Kane & Lynch’s design, our titular mercenaries are two of the more interesting (and unlikely) protagonists to grace the cover of a video game in some time.
On paper, neither character is particularly likeable; Kane destroyed the lives of his family, and was eventually forced to witness the death of both his estranged wife and daughter at the hands of some former business associates. Lynch is no saint himself, having allegedly killed his wife. Throughout the original game, he was prone to psychotic episodes that targeted police and even civilians. Though his psychoses were glossed-over in their debut outing, Lynch’s mental instability made him something of a wild card. Regardless, despite some questionable A.I. and the bizarre vive la revolución direction that ended the first game, the duo’s second outing, Dog Days, is shaping up to be quite a bloodbath, and a good one at that.
Some years have passed since Kane and Lynch parted ways, and Dog Days sees Lynch now settled in Shanghai with his girlfriend, Xiu. Though the demo I recently checked out was light on story, Lynch seems to have mellowed out, ditching the pedophilic early-nineties glasses for a more contemporary style and seeming generally less psychotic. Kane is meeting him in Shanghai for a weapons deal when things go south. “I f—ked up bad,” Lynch says in a phone call to Xiu that serves as the loading screen. “I love you,” he finishes, throwing into question how insane he may or may not still be. In any case, the cops bust in on Kane and Lynch in a shady-looking, low-lit restaurant as the demo opens.
Of course, by now you’ve heard about the visceral changes IO has made to Dog Days’ visual style, which crackles with low-res aplomb. The whole game looks like it’s filmed with a poor-quality shaky cam, the kind of cheap recording device that would probably be used to make low-rent bootleg videos of theatrical films sold in the alleyways of the Shanghai slums. As you move around, the camera jostles the screen, reacting to lighting and effects with visual noise, color desaturation, interlacing imperfections, and lens flare. Taking damage also lessens the visual fidelity on-screen, further scrambling and distorting the image rather than simply appearing as the familiar red ring that’s used to monitor health in nearly every other game.
Perhaps the best parts of Dog Days’ new visual system come from explosions and particularly graphic shows of violence. If a fuel tank explodes, the video feed “lags,” temporarily pixellating the explosion and obscuring a clear visual by populating the screen with noticeable artifacts. Should you choose to shoot someone point-blank in the face, the image is instantly censored with pixellated blocks. The effects are intentional, giving the game a raw edge that’s reflected in both subject matter and style. Instead of feeling unnecessary, as the censorship was in Manhunt 2, it comes across as a calculated choice of artistic expression. Needless to say, everything I’ve just described looks much better in motion.
Dog Days’ gameplay is just as gritty as you would expect from a Kane & Lynch sequel. You step into Lynch’s shoes this time around. Although it has the feel of an open shoulder-cam third-person shooter, both cover and strategy are more important than ever. The violence is much tighter and more visceral, and, more importantly, the enemy A.I. can be downright vicious. Dog Days separates itself from many other cover-based shooters on this fact alone, because your foes refuse to stay in one place. They will advance on your position enough to make you uncomfortable, though you can seize one as a human shield, either killing or throwing him when the others get too close. Regardless, if you think you can just take comfortable potshots from one position until everyone is dead, you’re wrong. Don’t even think about rushing out into the open with guns blazing, because it’s suicide.
The game’s more responsive controls also help to improve upon its frantic pacing and feel, having a few new tricks of their own. The basic A.I. commands have been dropped (probably a good thing since Kane seems fine on his own anyway), but you can use the D-pad to locate downed enemy weapons via on-screen icons.
Taking a page from Call of Duty, players are also given a second chance to kill an opponent if you take enough damage to fall down. Intuitively, from this position, you can get back up and automatically into cover, a helpful strategic maneuver. Scattered fuel cans and other projectiles can also be thrown into a crowd of enemies and shot automatically by firing your weapon. If you need to beat a hasty retreat, Lynch has unlimited sprinting stamina, though the jarring effects of the shaky cam while doing so may make some gamers nauseated (it did me in, and I’ve never gotten motion sickness from a game before).
Maneuvering their way through a series of back alleys, construction sites, and city streets, Dog Days captures the grit of Shanghai’s underbelly well. Much like the first game, the demo consisted mainly of a series of blazing shootouts in varied locales. , Despite some non-reactions from either Kane or Lynch to shooting civilians, the overall level of detail that’s been shown by Dog Days’ development is impressive. Shanghai is a harshly lit, fluorescent nightmare, and even outside of the game’s visual filters and imperfections, the character and level modeling and detail far outstrips the original game’s. One particularly memorable scene involves a shootout against the Shanghai police in a small video store, characterized by its hard light and shelves full of DVDs flying off their racks and lying strewn on the ground.
Aside from getting a taste of the single-player campaign, which ends just before the two men get to Xiu’s apartment, the Xbox 360 demo also lets you play the game’s expanded multiplayer modes, as well a new arcade mode. They’re all variations on a heist theme, in which a gang of Kane and Lynch’s criminals (it remains to be seen if you can play as the titular anti-heroes in the final game) pulls a smash and grab job worth $4 four million dollars. Fragile Alliance is a team-based mode, where you work together to kill whomever’s protecting the cash, grab as much as you can, and make it to the getaway vehicle under time restrictions.
You can play this mode both online as well as in arcade mode, which runs the scenario over a number of times while increasing the difficulty of the opposition a la Gears of War 2’s horde mode. However, this also ups the chances that one or more of your teammates will turn on you to get more cash. On the other hand, you can also double-cross your friends and take their cash, but doing so will make you very unpopular, so tread carefully. Playing as a randomly selected character, you still have control of your loadout, and each level has various paths through which to achieve your objective. With the shaky cam dialed down slightly, this mode was surprisingly fun, and should prove to be a good addition to the single-player game. The other two multiplayer modes were cops and robbers, in which an eight-person team is split on either sides of the law, and Undercover Cop, where one randomly selected person on a team has to thwart the heist from taking place.
Being a far more ambitious undertaking, Dog Days is shaping up to be a promising (and intense) sequel. The only thing that has me concerned is the shaky cam. Although IO has promised the full game will have an option to turn it off, it was conspicuously absent from the demo. If for some reason this isn’t actually addressed in the retail version, it could be disastrous for many gamers. In fact, after about ten minutes of gameplay, I felt like I was going to throw up, a disconcerting and sobering thought to say the least. Hopefully, they’ll be able to make adjustments to the camera without sacrificing the games’ stylistic integrity. Still, Kane & Lynch fans are going to be thrilled with the across-the-board improvements IO has made in Dog Days.
Back from the Dead
February 17, 2010 – A little over two years ago, Kane & Lynch: Dead Men got a very lukewarm reception from most game critics. Many thought that the game’s story and interesting characters were great but the gameplay just wasn’t all there. Having never gotten around to playing through the finished title myself, I really couldn’t say one way or the other. However, what I can tell you is that it looks like IO Interactive is really going out of their way to fix many of the areas of criticism leveled against Dead Men and even adding a unique visual style to their upcoming sequel, Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days.
Unfortunately, I already have a complaint to file against this game. The name is completely wrong. While Dead Men was a game centered around Kane and his dealings with The7, with Lynch playing a constant second fiddle, Dog Days is set to place Lynch on the center stage. So for a more accurate name they might have wanted to switch the characters’ names to reflect this change. Of course, this is a petty gripe, but with everything I’ve seen of Dog Days thus far, this is the only one I could muster.
Dog Days will be taking place a few years after the events of Dead Men. Lynch has found himself living in Shanghai and working for a crime syndicate, while Kane has seen fit to make a new life with his daughter. When Lynch is confronted with the opportunity for a big job involving a ton of cash, he calls up Kane and convinces him to come and help out. Seeing only dollar signs and the opportunity to provide a better life for his daughter, Kane accepts and the duo is back together again, which is usually when everything goes bad.
As you may remember from the first title, Kane was a very logical and tactical sort of man. In stark contrast was Lynch, a pill-popping psychopath who was more likely to freak out and kill everything moving than to give a second thought to what he was doing. However, if you were delusional and seeing policemen with animal heads, you probably wouldn’t give too much thought to tactics either. Since you’ll be directly controlling Lynch this time around instead of Kane, you can expect the feel of the gameplay to directly reflect the differences between these characters.
The shootouts in Dog Days are said to be more impulsive, focusing more on your ability to react to what’s thrown at you rather than tactics. Some of the major concerns with Dead Men including the cover system, aiming, shooting, and the way the A.I. handled itself are also all supposed to be much improved. After reading all of the reviews and negative feedback they received about Dead Men’s gameplay, IO Interactive have reportedly put a lot of work into making sure that the cover system works much better, aiming and shooting are much less floaty and more accurate, and that the A.I. will behave much more realistically. Given that no one’s been able to get their hands on a playable version of this game yet, these are statements that are yet to be substantiated. Of course, given the company’s track record with the Hitman franchise, which seemed to get progressively better as the series went along, this doesn’t seem to be that large a leap of faith to take.
Further differentiating itself from Dead Men, Dog Days will be incorporating a dramatically different visual style. While most video games attempt to approach realistic visuals from a more traditional point of view, trying to make everything on-screen look as close to real life as possible, Dog Days is instead taking its inspiration and definition of realistic directly from YouTube and other user-generated videos. The game will still be played from a third-person, over-the-shoulder viewpoint, but it will feel more like someone following your character with a handheld camera than the traditionally static third-person camera. This results in a perspective more akin to films such as Cloverfield, which is something that hasn’t really been tried in many video games before.
A shaky camera perspective is only part of Dog Days’ new aesthetic, with a plethora of other effects also working in conjunction to pull off this new user-generated video visual style. When you get shot, the screen may show digital artifacts or even cut out for a brief period of time. Explosions can also cause the screen to get choppy and briefly cut out. Close ups of extreme carnage, such as someone getting their face blown off, will sometimes be heavily pixelated, making it look as though it is being censored as if it were being broadcast on television. You’ll also notice a very low quality feel to the overall visuals, given off by some excessive film grain as well as frequent light blurring that you might think would make the game look terrible, but in actuality it appears to works rather well. Completing this style, Dog Days will also not load between levels but will instead buffer, which is a fairly unimportant but nice touch.
Another major complaint about Dead Men that has been addressed in Dog Days is the inclusion of online co-op. The first time around players were only able to play split-screen with a friend, but now you’ll have your choice of tackling the game’s single-player campaign using either split-screen or online co-op. Dead Men’s interesting Fragile Alliance multiplayer will also be making a return, although no official details have yet been given as to any changes or additions that we can expect. Instead, IO Interactive has only stated that there will be some new mechanics and surprises to be had.
While it would have been easy to get away with just tweaking a few gameplay issues, polishing up the graphics, creating a new campaign, and adding a ‘2’ to the box, it looks like IO Interactive is really trying to improve upon what Dead Men had to offer players. The new user-generated visual style of the game truly looks interesting and will hopefully provide a very unique and immersive experience. We’ll have to wait until we get a chance to get our hands on the title before we’ll know for sure, but so far things are already looking up for Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days.