It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days isn’t a fantastic game. Its visuals are great, combining a careful attention to gritty detail with a shakycam-filled, YouTube-inspired presentation that makes it unlike any other game we can think of. The clumsy action of the first game has been streamlined into a straightforward, no-frills, cover-centric shooter that’s like Gears of War without the chainsaws (or most of the arsenal, actually), and your enemies are smart, tough and fast enough to keep you from getting too complacent behind cover.
It’s when you combine all those elements with the game’s story and characters that it starts to falter. Kane & Lynch 2 follows its titular goons – a couple of uncharismatic, intentionally unlikable criminals who spend most of the game grumbling the word “fuck” at each other – through the streets of Shanghai after a seemingly insignificant botched job leads to the entire city breathing down their necks. Oh, and this time around, you play as balding psychopath Lynch (who’s gotten his mental illness mostly under control) instead of mercenary Kane.
That’s really all you need to know, because in spite of its lavish presentation, snappy writing and stellar acting, the story – like the gameplay – cuts straight to the point: Kane and Lynch are in deep shit, and the only way to get them out of said shit is to gun down an army of cops, gangsters and soldiers. There isn’t any elaborate backstory to delve into, or even any secondary characters that stick around long enough for you to get attached. There’s no redemption, no real attempt to make the characters interesting, and no sense of triumph when they win. There isn’t even really an ending. There’s just a couple of fragile cretins you're supposed to empathize with, a bunch of dudes for them to joylessly shoot and a whole lot of dingy-but-super-detailed environments to marvel at through the game’s hazy grain filter.
If that doesn’t already sound like a good time, then you’re probably not going to find a whole lot to like about Kane & Lynch 2’s story mode.
If, on the other hand, you couldn’t give a rat’s ass about story or characters and just want a brutal, intentionally ugly, tough-as-nails shooter to slog through, then you’ll probably enjoy Dog Days for the five or so hours its story lasts. Most of what didn’t work about the first game’s action has been thrown out; the aiming’s improved, the menu system’s been simplified, and pretty much anything not related to shooting has been tossed altogether rather than improved (so long, rappelling).
Above: Also, dogs!
What’s left is a fine-tuned (but occasionally finicky) sticky-cover system that allows for blindfiring, a simple two-gun inventory (which you can fill with a wide array of pistols, submachine guns, shotguns and assault rifles) and the ability to take human shields if you can get close enough to an enemy without them just killing you. It’s also pretty common, when you’re near death, to get knocked to the ground, which momentarily takes you out of your enemies’ direct line of fire and gives you a chance to gun them down before they realize what’s happened. Or to scramble back behind cover so you can regenerate your health. Whichever.
Above: Gamertags blurred to protect the traitorous
There aren’t any grenades, though, and that’s kind of a pain in the ass, because there are plenty of moments when you’ll face down a swarm of bad guys and desperately want to use one. Instead, you’ll have to rely on finding things like fire extinguishers and propane canisters, which can be picked up, thrown and detonated with a shot. The nice thing about these is that you don’t have to aim to detonate them; wherever they land, your next shot will make them explode.
That just leaves Kane. Unlike in the first game, you’ll never issue your partner commands; instead, he’ll just follow you around and aggressively gun down whatever enemies he sees. He’s also more or less unkillable, so you never have to worry about rescuing him from bad situations – except for the one time that you do.
Above: This happens
While Dog Days is mostly about Kane and Lynch thudding their way through one crowded firefight after another, it takes a few interesting detours, although these are rare. Twice, you’ll briefly fight alongside a squad of allies who soak up bullets for you. Another time, you’ll need to sneak around naked, unarmed and bleeding to rescue Kane and find a gun. And at one point, you’ll snipe masked bad guys who are trying to snatch Lynch’s girlfriend off a balcony, one of the few points at which the duo fight to protect anyone but themselves.
The game’s little deviations from formula come to a head in the game’s second-to-last level, which has you machinegunning an office building’s windows from a helicopter, and then fighting other helicopters from inside that same office building. It’s fast-paced, destructive and fun enough that it almost makes the bleakness and repetition of the rest of the game forgivable. But then it gives way to a frustrating slog of a final level, and the game’s one brief moment of nihilistic joy is forgotten.
It’s also worth pointing out that, even in its most over-the-top moments, Dog Days is strangely bloodless. It spills little of the red stuff when people get shot, and even less when they supposedly get their faces blown off by point-blank shotgun blasts; in lieu of a bloody explosion or tattered red mess, the game simply slaps a mosaic blur over your victims’ heads. It’s disturbing in its own way, as it leaves the gore up to your imagination, but look closely and you won’t see much red under that mosaic. In a game with such a relentlessly nihilistic attitude and a “Real is Blood in Your Teeth” ad campaign, it’s bizarre to see it pull its punches where so many other games have gone for broke.
And no, the absence of gore isn’t really made up for by the scene in which the heroes get tortured with a box cutter.
To be fair, the story is a little less unappealing if you play it the way the developers intended: with a buddy. (You can do this in split-screen if you really want, although Kane and Lynch tend to block most of their respective screens, so we recommend against it). Co-op doesn’t really change the game’s overall dynamic much, but it makes it a little easier to focus on the action and ignore the plot, and gives you a chance to actually strategize with your partner – something that isn’t really possible with trigger-happy computer-controlled Kane around.
Having a second player along can also theoretically prolong Lynch’s life, as it’s possible to revive a fallen teammate if you can get there fast enough. More often than not, though, this just isn’t possible, either because the enemy fire is too thick or because one of you wandered off too far on your own. And if one of you dies, you both die, so try to keep an eye on your buddy.
Aside from that, there isn’t much of a difference between co-op and single-player; there’s a brief part you’d normally play solo as Lynch that gets truncated into a cutscene, and there are a couple of segments when the two briefly split up that you wouldn’t otherwise get to see from Kane’s perspective.
Of course, if you’ve played the first Kane & Lynch, you already know that the story mode isn’t all the game has to offer, and that co-op is just one small part of the game’s multiplayer possibilities.
Rounding out Dog Days are its three multiplayer modes – Fragile Alliance, Undercover Cop and Cops & Robbers – as well as an Arcade mode that’s basically a single-player (read: practice) version of Fragile Alliance. Thanks to a ranking system and the option to buy new weapons between rounds (with whatever money you stole in the last round, of course), Dog Days’ multiplayer has the potential to hold your interest a lot longer than its short story mode. It also has the potential to simply frustrate the hell out of you.
Returning from the first game, Fragile Alliance is the centerpiece here, tasking a group of players with carrying out a heist (or, more accurately, with looting a wrecked vehicle), shooting their way through the cops and escaping to safety in a waiting van or helicopter. Simple, right? Of course not; all your teammates are greedy backstabbers, and everyone’s goal is to make it out of the stage with as much cash as possible.
So if you think you can get away with it, the game encourages you to gun down your teammates, steal their cash and make a break for it before the survivors can kill you in revenge. Depending on the group you’re playing with and how determined they are to target you, this can either be a lot of devious fun, or a huge pile of frustration as the people who were on your side seconds ago camp by the extraction point and shoot you in the back just as you’re sprinting for safety. Ideally, getting killed by a teammate means you can come back as a cop for a chance at revenge, but since most team-kills tend to happen at the end of the level, your killer will usually have escaped before you can get to them.
Above: Better kill them while you still have a chance, then
Undercover Cop, meanwhile, is the same thing as Fragile Alliance, except that one of the players is secretly a cop. This means that his goal is to kill everyone else, and he won’t show up as a traitor unless someone else catches him killing everyone else. Optimally, this means a lot of tension as you watch your back and try to figure out who the rat is. But more often than not it seems to mean that either everyone gets trigger-happy and kills everyone else right off the bat, or you can expect another bullet between your shoulder blades as you’re within sight of the escape van.
Finally, there’s Cops and Robbers, in which two teams take turns either stealing a bunch of money, or trying to prevent the theft as a team of respawning cops. (Criminals don’t get to respawn in any mode, so it’s a good thing the matches are usually pretty short.) This is probably the most enjoyable game type (largely because you’ll always know who your enemies are), although like with every other mode, your enjoyment will largely depend on the group you’re playing with, and whether or not you’ve been saddled with teammates who suck.
Kane & Lynch: Dead Men? Yes. While it feels like a less ambitious game than Dead Men was, Dog Days’ gameplay is a big improvement over the first game’s flaws. Streamlining it into a simpler, more responsive shooter was definitely the right move, even though it’s disappointing that some of the first game’s more interesting touches were thrown away completely instead of improved.
Gears of War 2? No. To put it simply: chainsaw bayonets, laser satellites and grunting he-men > a couple of middle-aged sadsacks who kill people. Kane & Lynch 2 might be the more realistic of the two, but it’s nowhere near as elaborate, or as fun, as what Gears 2 had on offer.
50 Cent: Blood on the Sand? Not that many of you actually played this one (if its sales figures are anything to go by), but yes and no. Dog Days is unquestionably a better-looking, better-designed and more realistic gangster story than 50 Cent’s ridiculous Middle Eastern shoot ‘em-up. On the other hand, Blood on the Sand offers a lot more gleefully stupid cover-and-shoot fun than the more somber Dog Days does, and its bargain-bin status means it does so for a hell of a lot cheaper than $60.
While it’s an improvement over the first game, Kane & Lynch 2’s high production values and streamlined focus are overshadowed by its thudding repetition, narrowly linear design, five-hour campaign and hugely unappealing protagonists. It’s still a decent shooter, but it’s definitely not for everyone.
Aug 17, 2010