The demo for Kane and Lynch: Dead Men was such a headache-inducingly painful experience, that every time I see the box art, I become nauseous. I greeted the announcement of the sequel, Dog Days with a mix of bemusement and cynicism. I couldn't comprehend why IO Interactive (makers of the inconsistent, but often enjoyable, Hitman titles) would insist on a follow-up to what I'm pretty sure was their worst-received effort since the original Hitman: Codename 47. Now that I've played through the single player campaign of Dog Days I think I understand why: the developers wanted to redeem themselves, and the potential of the intellectual property. They haven't exactly succeeded, however this almost broken game has captured my attention more effectively than the underwhelming Dead Rising 2.
The first thing you should know is that Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days is a brutally short game. My playthrough on the Normal difficulty setting lasted what I believe was less then 4 hours. That would make it shorter than the videogame adaptation of the last Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film, TMNT (an easy 1000 achievement points for anyone wondering). It has a well-intentioned, yet regrettable script laden with about as many F-Bombs as an afternoon in the coach's box. It moves at a brisk enough pace, but you can only say fuck in so many different ways before it becomes tiresome. You can frame the word in different sentences too, but that doesn't make it any edgier; especially when you've said it twenty fucking times in two minutes. It also ends not with a bang, but a whimper. Still, it's an enjoyable ride while it lasts.
The greatest thing about this game is the oft talked about, presentation style; reminiscent of a Youtube clip, complete with pixelation, colour blur and screen tearing. As you run around Shanghai, the camera bobs and shakes as though someone with a handycam decided to follow the two protagonists. It's disorienting at first, but after about fifteen minutes your eyes (and stomach) will settle. The bland (and heavily repeated) character models, and plentiful clipping errors are masked by these visual effects. What would otherwise be an ugly videogame by current standards is pulled from the depths of mediocrity by some neon lights and a shaky camera.
The action is your standard cover shooter fare, made near unbearable by bullet sponges en-masse. The Shanghai Police, gang members, and understandably, heavily-armoured operatives can all take a remarkable amount of punishment. In the initial stages it's not overly obvious, as most battles take place in tight spaces such as alleyways and crowded parking complexes. When you start to move into open spaces however, and you have to engage in long(er) range combat, it becomes painfully apparent that your opponents are made of stronger stuff than the average human. Not even headshots will do in some cases. Add to that, a sticky, meddlesome cover mechanic that cost me more lives than it saved. This may sound like an experience best avoided, but it's not all bad. Dog Days features one of the best on-rails sequences in recent memory, as you circle a high-rise building and shower the Shanghai skyline in bullets and broken glass. It's a short sequence, but it was one of the more satisfying battles in recent memory. There are some portions where I forgot about the seemingly invincible gangsters, and I could move as intended, and I genuinely enjoyed the game. It is short, but Dog Days has a sharp focus that other recent releases seem to be lacking.
I've tried some of the multiplayer modes, but as expected, Kane and Lynch 2 has already fallen to the stronger, established competition. When I did manage to connect to a match, the connection quality was typically poor and often disconnected before a match would run its natural course. In one heartbreaking incident, the connection was lost during the final round of a Cops & Robbers match. During this particular match, players' models darted around the map at breakneck speed. In one instance, a player started levitating above the action, rotating and firing wildly. Funny? Very much so, but it also didn't do too much to sell me on the multiplayer offering. That being said however, the different match types offer something very different to the norm.
In Fragile Alliance, team members work together to steal large amounts of money, get to the escape vehicle and share the loot. Or, you can take out members of your team, steal their takings and keep all the money to yourself. Much to my surprise, most players were more than willing to work together, and I survived every round that I played. Cops & Robbers splits players into two teams, one obviously trying to steal money, while the other sides with the law and attempts to stop them. I could never find enough players for a game of Undercover Cop, and it was also the most interesting concept: one player is assigned to the role of undercover cop during a heist, and must attempt to stop the looters from escaping. The potential of Kane & Lynch 2's multiplayer modes is undeniable, it's just a shame that very few people have decided to try it out.
For those interested in the concept of Fragile Alliance who either can't find a match online, or haven't introduced their console to the interwebs; Kane and Lynch 2 also features an Arcade Mode. Arcade Mode allows for players to play games of Fragile Alliance on each of the multiplayer maps with AI companions. Much like it's online counterpart, players can choose to turn on their team in an attempt to earn more loot, or be an honourable thief. Your companion AI is very well behaved, so it is entirely up to you as to whether there is honour among thieves. You continue to play rounds until you lose three lives, and your cumulative score is posted to local and online leaderboards. Unfortunately, you continue to play on the same map until you run out of lives. I believe this mode would have had some legs if players were forced to tour a different map for each round. As it stands however, it is good, repetitive fun.
5/10 - Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is a much stronger game than I had anticipated. The distinct visual style, brisk pace and at times, satisfying gunplay make for a short, but thrilling ride. It is deeply flawed action, with impregnable enemies and the obtrusive cover system offering plenty of frustration. There are glimpses of brilliance however, with some sequences that demand to be played. I can't say much for the multiplayer offering, as it appears it has already fallen prey to other, better-established competitors. As a value proposition, Dog Days is a hard sell. When you consider that some single player DLC offerings for other titles (Bioshock 2 - Minerva's Den for one) offer more playtime, are more polished, and cost a fraction of the asking price of this full retail product; it's no surprise that sales of the game have apparently been poor. Perhaps the greatest criticism I can make of this title, is that you can experience all that it can offer you within a matter of hours; and unless the online community grows exponentially in the next few months, you've got the campaign and Arcade mode. But if you can find it cheap, and you enjoy gratuitous violence, the F-Bomb, and poor quality Youtube clips, do yourself a favour and give it a go. Fucking dogs!