Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days
The problem with Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is that stuff just happens and there's really not a whole lot of substance or logic behind any of it
- The action is inspired at times, shaky cam gimmick is unique even if it is nonsensical and a little nauseating
- A shallow story, unlikeable characters, uneven action
Full of unlikeable characters and mindless violence, Dog Days is a grisly mess of a game. It tries hard to be a tense and gritty crime drama, but it lacks the narrative chops to give its two murderous stars any sense of humanity or emotion. So what are you left with when all the bullets have been fired? Two 'heroes' who are more lifeless than the numerous dead bodies they leave in their wake.
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For the sake of full disclosure, I'm going to own up to two things right off the bat: I didn't play much of the first Kane & Lynch and, due to a variety of factors, I ended up beating Dog Days over a long weekend. These are two important caveats to keep in mind because they definitely affected my overall opinion of the game. For one, having some pre-existing knowledge of Kane and Lynch's dynamic probably would have helped me make sense of their 'Odd Couple' relationship (something Dog Days doesn't explain particularly well) and secondly, playing any game from start to finish over the course of two days can drive you a little crazy, especially if the game is bad; you end up gritting your teeth and just ploughing through it, and it's easy to lose sight of certain things when all you're trying to do is get to the end credits to meet your deadlines.
But with all that said, I doubt I would have liked Dog Days even if I had played the first one and even if I had taken a month to fully immerse myself in everything it has to offer, for one simple reason: the game isn't particularly good. There are two discrete parts to the game as I see it—the story part and the action part—and both have their faults.
I'll start with the story because it's the aspect that bugged me the most. Again, I really regret not playing the first Kane & Lynch before jumping into Dog Days. It's probably a vain hope but I can't stop wondering if playing Dead Men would help me understand why Kane and Lynch keep hanging around each other. They sort of remind me of Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag, the villainous couple from the MTV faux-reality show, The Hills: they're two shallow and unlikeable people who obviously hate each other but agree to stay together for the sake of dramatic tension. And like Pratt and Montag, Kane and Lynch are nothing more than shambling stereotypes, with Kane acting as 'the conflicted criminal with something to live for' and Lynch filling the 'mentally unstable sociopath who just needs someone to understand him' role.
But even despite their paper-thin personalities, there was some potential for a meaningful story here. Kane, portrayed as a man desperate to do right by his daughter, joins Lynch, whose murderous ways are kept in check by a girlfriend who presumably sees his inner beauty, in Shanghai for that elusive "one last job" all criminals seemingly lust after. Unfortunately, things go awry when they inadvertently kill the daughter of a corrupt government official and soon, every cop and thug in the city is trying to kill them. But this 'us against the world' twist offers little in the way of tension, and the slow run-up to the final conclusion isn't meaningful or cathartic, despite the fact that both Kane and Lynch lose the one glimmer of hope they each had in their sad, tragic lives. You also witness a scene along the way that's just plain vile (it's hinted at in the opening cinematic), and it comes across less as an eye-opening look at the slimy underbelly of the criminal world and more like the kind of heavy-handed gore schlock that made horror director Eli Roth rich.
Stuff like that makes the game feel really shallow, and nowhere is this more evident than in the bizarre presentation. The onscreen action mimics the output of a cheap handheld camcorder; the screen shakes when you move, and blood will even splatter on the "lens." Although it makes the graphics look a little ugly, it's a neat gimmick, except for one crucial aspect: it makes no sense whatsoever within the context of the game. They literally do it just to do it (unless I've either missed something essential to the plot or there is a third character who mutely follows the guys around with a camcorder strapped to his head, which makes even less sense), and that's the problem with Dog Days: stuff just happens and there's really not a whole lot of substance or logic behind any of it.
The action part of the game fares a little better, thanks to the groundwork laid by games like Gears of War and Uncharted 2. There's a familiar 'sticky' cover system, a ton of guns and ammo lying around, and an army of similar looking bad guys to shoot at. But like the story, there are a few holes here as well. For one, the enemies take full advantage of cover (though sometimes they will rush you like lunatics), but it turns every gunfight into a game of Whack-a-mole: wait, fire a few shots, wait, fire a few shots, and so on; the enemies are also incredibly hardy, able to absorb an entire clip's worth of ammo before finally falling. There are also no grenades or explosive ordinance in the game other than the rare gas canister, propane tank, or fire extinguisher, so ferreting out dug-in enemies is next to impossible. There's also a "monster-closet" vibe to the way enemies suddenly appear out of nowhere; you can almost see the trigger points that activate the next wave as you run through them.
And even though you shoot up large parts of the Shanghai scenery, you never really feel like you're on a wild tear through the streets of a vibrant city; instead, you just feel like you're going from one contained kill arena to the next. The action does ratchet up nicely -- two memorable scenes feature a firefight on a crowded freeway and an aerial assault on a high-rise -- but again, without the benefit of a strong narrative, there's no sense that you're building up to anything. You're killing just to kill, and I hate games that make me feel that way.
Sadly, the aspect of the game that holds the most promise was the one that I couldn't experience: the multiplayer (remember that I played the game before it launched, so the servers weren't even up, but I will say, in the interest of full disclosure, that I was offered private online sessions with members of the dev and PR team, which I didn't take part in because it's not really a fair estimation of the actual online experience). There's a couple of interesting gimmicks in there, but the "every man for himself" vibe that they're trying to instil probably works better in theory than it does on paper. In the Fragile Alliance mode, for instance, you're cast as a member of a criminal organisation that has to pull off heists and escape with as much dough as you can. The twist is that you can betray your comrades for your own gain, but you suffer their wrath by becoming a marked target.
Again, it sounds interesting, but any mode where you have to trust other online gamers to stick to a nuanced honour system probably isn't going to work (sorry, but my faith in the online community and humanity in general was eroded during my Modern Warfare 2 days). I will say, though, that in the right circumstances, the multiplayer, especially the Undercover Cop variant where one gamer is secretly chosen as an agent working to bring the heist down from the inside, probably offers some worthwhile moments.
But if that's the best thing I can say about a game, it's not exactly one I can recommend. I'm sure some gamers will appreciate the nihilistic violence while others will gladly turn off their brains and just revel in the mindless carnage, but personally, I was disappointed by the game's shallow simplicity. I felt like I could have developed some sort of emotional connection with Kane and Lynch if only they had been presented in the right light, but ultimately, the only thing I felt at the end of my time with the game was a vague sense of relief that I didn't have to spend any more time in their company.
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