Nov 16, 2007
On paper, this game should be incredible. It’s got two uniquely grizzled anti-heroes, an impeccable developer (IO, of Hitman fame) and loads of Michael Mann-inspired set-pieces (more on that later). The main men are Kane, a death row inmate who allegedly double-crossed his shady employers, The7, and Lynch, a paranoid schizophrenic who needs to constantly pop medication to keep his anger in check. Kane’s been sprung from prison and forced to find The7’s stolen booty or they’ll kill him, and Lynch is on hand to make sure his new pal doesn’t do a runner. And so the pair goes on a crime-filled rampage - robbing banks, shooting it out with cops and generally being a menace to society. But as Kane & Lynch: Dead Men unravels you soon realise that their partnership is as compelling as Bert and Ernie.
We’d like to say that it starts off promising and then peters out, but we’d be lying. Kane & Lynch maintains a relatively low excitement level throughout and, coming from the developers of the atmospheric Hitman and Freedom Fighters, it’s hard to swallow the disappointment. One problem is that the two lack any sort of personality. Sure, Lynch flips out now and again early on and wastes innocent hostages during a botched bank job, but later on he becomes little more than a swearing nuisance who badmouths Kane rather than following orders. And apart from Kane’s odd milky-coloured eye, he’s your generic lead man - he may as well be called (Milky) Joe Average. They’re total charisma vacuums, and it’s hard to feel involved in their murderous plight. But more importantly - Kane & Lynch isn’t that much fun to play.
From start to finish, Kane & Lynch sees you indiscriminately blasting your way through crowds, locking against cover to shield yourself from bullets, and ordering your buddies - ex-mercenaries who you spring from prison in one mission - around with Freedom Fighters-style commands. You can bark out orders to your criminal mates to either attack a target, defend an area or regroup to your position. Simple. But due to some idiotic AI, your blokes prefer to stand about and get shot to bits like Officer Murphy in Robocop than duck into cover. Here lies another niggle - saving your chums from death with adrenaline needles. Fair enough, you do have a duty to keep them alive - and they will return the favour if you snuff it - but, criminally, they can’t help each other, which means you’ll be doling out more jabs than a pro boxer while trying to survive yourself. Arrgh. Returning fire helps, but since the aiming is iffy you’ll be left frustrated and dead more often than not. The accuracy of weapons improves when you pick up the assault or sniper rifles, but don’t be surprised to see the person standing in your crosshairs continuing to breathe as your bullets inexplicably miss their target.
It’s almost as if this was done on purpose to show off the game’s destructible environments. Marble pillars smash to bits when pierced with bullets, wooden watch towers crumple under heavy fire and car tires hiss as you pop them. It’s all very pretty, and the pinnacle of this is the showdown inside the evil Retomoto’s Tokyo boardroom. You and your boys rappel down the side of the building, plant a mine on the window, and then burst inside in a hail of bullets and swear words as your stray shots rips the interior to pieces. It’s just a shame that set-pieces like this aren’t a mainstay.
Instead, you’re usually dropped into a scenario with only a black screen and Kane & Lynch’s voices to shuffle the story along, and then expected to shoot your way from A to B without so much as a motive. The narrative should have been much stronger to give you a reason to take on the tasks, but it’s dreadful and leaves you wondering exactly how you’ve ended up in Japan or in a South American civil war. We won’t spoil it, but don’t expect any loose ends to be tied up at the conclusion either.
Kane & Lynch also looks as ropey as it plays. Bland textures make up most of the world. It’s lazy, and not what we’ve come to expect from 360 games. Even the Collateral-inspired club scene - the one that got us all excited about Kane & Lynch in the first place - is bitterly disappointing. At a glance it looks amazing: loads of people are having a little dance as you casually barge through them, but on closer inspection you can see that they don’t look particularly good on the dance floor. There are about four different character models - all wearing black and all dancing in the same way - so the illusion is shattered as you stand near the bar wondering whether to unload some shots and make them scatter or quietly slip past. Considering Hitman Blood Money delivered a hectic and beautiful New Orleans’ Mardis Gras on PS2 that contained hundreds of people, Kane & Lynch should have looked much better. Even locking to cover is too difficult - when you stand near a wall, your character is supposed to quickly press against it, but the procedure takes too long and, because you can’t cling to cover while moving, you’ll often find yourself stepping away and into a barrage of gunfire.
Apart from the Retomoto office battle and the lovely bit where you bust into a prison to round up your men for a big job, Kane & Lynch will leave you cold. You’ll get plenty of gun-toting action and plenty of baddies to carve down, but for every moment you go “Wow, this is pretty good,” there’s another when you’ll be cursing it to hell.
Take the bit where Kane’s daughter is brought to a building site to be executed. She’s cowering in a hole as a screen-filling dumper truck rumbles toward her. It does make you gasp as it thunders along, but taking out the driver is needlessly tricky - the windshield seems to be made from bulletproof glass. A couple of clips from a machine gun help, but IO have made it seemingly indestructible in order to prolong one of their money shots. They’ve done the same thing with the police cars’ tires during chase sequences, as aiming at the wheels while hanging out of the getaway van will only knock the cars off course for a split second. This unfairly makes the game more difficult than it needs to be, because Kane & Lynch is easy enough to pound through in about six hours. It’s that short.
This isn’t what we expected from this gritty crime sim. Kane & Lynch: Dead Men had the potential to be something special but the chance has been missed. And it doesn’t even come with an online co-op mode. Let’s just hope IO have one eye on making a quality Hitman sequel rather than pouring any more of their efforts into these lifeless souls.