Kane and Lynch: Dead Men is a style-or-substance experience offering exciting levels but lackluster gameplay
After years of delivering satisfying stealth-based gaming with their Hitman series, Io Interactive trades the premeditated sneaky kills of Agent 47 for the orchestrated chaos and carnage of the titular death-dealing duo of Kane and Lynch: Dead Men. The third-person action title has players treading the troubled path of Kane, a mercenary about to pay for his past mistakes with a trip down death-row.
Joined by Lynch, a dependent-on-pills psychopath who’s also sentenced to death, gamers embark on a gritty, violence-fueled journey that borrows heavily from Hollywood’s action-packed crime capers. From the over-the-top antics of films such as Lethal Weapon and Bad Boys to the more stylized action of Heat and Reservoir Dogs, Kane and Lynch recalls many of our favorite movie moments. It does this by setting up extraordinary scenarios and letting them play out over well-produced set pieces. Despite presenting enough thrills to keep even the most short-attention-spanned gamer pinned to the edge of their seat, Kane and Lynch’s flawed gameplay mechanics, as well as some other issues, keep it from entirely fulfilling the potential hinted at by its movie-inspired magic.
Lets talk about the good stuff first; Kane and Lynch’s missions are like nothing you’ve seen in previous shooters. Where most games punctuate repetitive corridor crawls and abandoned warehouse shootouts with occasional climactic scenarios or confrontations, Kane and Lynch offers nothing but these exciting moments; it’s like all the fat filling-out other games has been trimmed, leaving nothing but the meaty center. Each level is centered around a major event that feels very similar to the action centerpiece of a summer popcorn flick. Botched bank robberies, nightclub shootouts, prison breaks, and car chases are all on the docket. But again, they’re not just end-stage highlights, but entire beginning-to-end scenarios driving each mission. The prison break level, for example, takes you through the cell block, court yard, cafeteria, laundry room, visitor’s area, and just about any other big-house locale you’ve seen in a prison movie. A constant stream of variety keeps things refreshing in a genre whose level design often imitates itself; how many times have we walked down endless office building hallways filled with locked doors and cubicles? Been-there-done-that design never rears its familiar head in Kane and Lynch. And even when we are presented with something familiar, such as an office building-based stage, it’s presented with an entirely fresh perspective; in Kane and Lynch’s “office” level you’re dropped on the rooftop of a Tokyo skyscraper–complete with breathtaking view–, repel down its side, smash through the windows of an executive boardroom, and make your way to the lobby exit, bullets and adrenaline pumping the whole way.
The Hollywood-caliber set pieces are further complemented by the fast action that unfolds within their confines. Most environments are experienced through a thick haze of gunfire, scrambling civilians, and police sirens. Crashing a crowded nightclub, for example, has you wading through a sea of frantic patrons, carefully taking out henchmen flanking you from all sides. This constant chaos ratchets up the tension while also providing plenty of eye-pleasing effects; smoke grenades and destructible environments–marble and plaster shatter just like they did in The Matrix’s famous lobby shootout–look fantastic. Even the characters’ frequent costume changes pretty-up the experience and drive the cinematic vibe. From their prison-issued orange to their slick GQ-with-guns get-ups, you’ll anticipate these thugs next ensemble as though you were sitting runway-side at a fashion show. The refreshing levels and all their visual trimmings might be enough to make Kane and Lynch a must-buy experience for some, especially those whose DVD libraries are dominated by the works of Quentin Tarantino, Michael Mann, and Michael Bay. But the majority of gamers, while appreciative of the richly artistic scenarios, will be let down by the game’s many problems.
While the well-produced missions will have you recalling cinema’s most exciting moments, the story and dialogue never match that same standard. Much of the game’s marketing has focused on the relationship between the “psychopath” and “mercenary” and their “alliance made in hell,” but this potential-filled dynamic turns out to be an undelivered promise. The story offers a mixed bag of cool crime drama staples–kidnapping, revenge, betrayal, heists–that could’ve been elevated beyond cliché status if the character development received the same care as the inventive levels. If you’re going to emulate Tarantino and the like, you need to drive the story and acting as much as the super-stylized action set pieces. For the most part Kane and Lynch’s chemistry yields little more than forgettable bickering peppered with lots of F-bombs. Even worse, Lynch is always reminding you of things in a forced tutorial-style; take a shot of adrenaline and he’ll quip: “Be careful, too much of that stuff will kill you.”
Where the game really begins to fall apart though, is with its unpolished gameplay mechanics. Similar to Gears of War and Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Kane and Lynch’s frequent shootouts rely heavily on a duck-and-cover system. But where this mechanic worked so well in Gears and Uncharted via a simple button-press, Io has taken control from the player–perhaps to achieve a more cinematic feel–and implemented an “auto” system; the idea being that your character will automatically snap into cover when near an object. It just doesn’t work smoothly, often forcing you to take cover when you don’t want to and vice versa. Shooting sequences are further strained by erratic hit detection; a cross-hair centered on an enemy’s head does not guarantee damage, never mind an instant-death head shot. Both these elements, so important to a game of this genre, at times, feel broken.
This unfinished feel extends to less integral aspects as well; simple squad commands feel unnecessary and clumsy, and you’re A.I. comrades-in-arms frequently block your line of sight. And then there’s the wonky adrenaline injection animation; you and your teammates can be revived with a quick shot of the juice, but whether you’re administering the shot or receiving it, a drawn-out animation plays that’s mostly just a blur of colliding limbs. And despite a satisfying audio thump when the needle penetrates the chest cavity, you never actually see a needle; instead, you’ll occasionally glimpse a fist clenching absolutely nothing hammering into a fallen ally–was the needle censored out? The sound work is also a mixed bag; weapons, explosions and flying shrapnel sound great, but why aren’t all those frantic civilians screaming? And this may seem like a minor nitpick, but where’s the satisfying clank of boot-on-metal when Kane’s running on steel prison steps? These things should be second nature in next-gen gaming.
Kane and Lynch reeks of an undercooked effort that should’ve baked a few more months in the development oven. If the care and polish that went into the wonderfully cinematic level presentation had also been applied to the writing and gameplay, it could’ve been a bar-raising effort for the third-person shooter genre. As is, Kane and Lynch offers a fun play-through for fans of the movies it’s paying homage to; again, the scenario-driven stages are amazing. And despite the absence of online co-op, playing split-screen with a friend is fun. An up-to-eight player online multiplayer mode, that has you and your friends turning traitor on each other during a botched heist, is interesting, but won’t provide more than a temporary distraction from meatier online offerings like Call of Duty 4 and Halo 3. There is some good gaming here, and the groundwork for an amazing sequel is definitely in place, but as is, Kane and Lynch’s unpolished feel keep it from being more than a weekend rental recommendation.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
Gorgeous set-pieces and inventive level design. 2.5 Control
Duck-and-cover system and squad commands feel clumsy. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Weapons pack a nice punch, but some many ambient effects are too low or entirely absent. 3.0 Play Value
Fans of the films it pays homage to might enjoy playing through, but too many flaws keep it from meeting its potential. 3.4 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.