Kane & Lynch: How it feels to be critically panned

Bad games. How dare developers inflict them upon us? Whether it's through a critical panning or the righteous retribution of the internet, the people responsible for these insults deserve everything they get, right?

Wrong. You see, while no-one likes a disappointing game, what may just seem a quick, innocent ALL CAPS forum post is also a savage indictment on several years of blood, sweat, tears and inhumanly late nights in the life of another human being. So we wanted to give the devs a chance to let us know just how a bad review feels. We wanted to humanise the game-making process and show you the flip-side to the fallout of a bad critical reception.

We contacted several companies with our questions, but unfortunately, only one got back to us in time for deadline. But very fortunately, that company is in a prime position to discuss everything that can go wrong. So we now present the candid words of Jens Peter Kurup, Director of Kane & Lynch at IO Interactive. It's a revealing talk, filled with a frank openness we wish we saw more of in the industry.

Above: Things didn't start out as badly for Kane & Lynch as the internet backlash may lead you to believe

GamesRadar: On a personal level, how does it feel to have a game which you’ve put so much time and effort into be critically maligned upon release?

Jens Peter Kurup: I’ve had several sets of emotions in the last year. Just around launch I felt pretty confident and okay. The review scores that we had already seen at IO looked to be a tad lower than expected – some 8/10, some 7/10, but some 5/5’s as well. We also had a good feeling about some of the bigger sites because it seemed that the latest hands-on sessions had gone well, especially with the Fragile Alliance element of the game.

Even though we received nice scores in a lot of the mainstream and lifestyle press, the more specific gaming press started to give it mediocre scores, and we knew that we wouldn’t hit our Metacritic mark. That felt confusing and unfulfilling, but by and large I was still emotionally unaffected by the criticism. I agreed with the existence of most of the game's issues and I knew that it was all something we could deal with professionally when the team took the franchise forward.

Then GameSpot reviewed the game. And they didn’t like it one bit.

I’m not quite sure why, but I remember that review hit the team like a hammer. You can just 'absorb' a bad score but there was something in the tone of that review that was tough on people, and on me.

Above: IO's last squad shooter previous to Kane & Lynch was the excellent Freedom Fighters, so pre-release expectation was high

It’s a review that I would like to forget (like GamesRadar's, by the way) , but unfortunately the GameSpot review had its own wicked little life and Eidos, GameSpot and of course the game got entangled in what I guess is best described as a conspiracy theory. And if there’s anything the 'net loves, it’s a good conspiracy.

It was surreal to sit in Copenhagen and watch the game get shredded in forums for reasons and feelings that didn’t all seem entirely based on the game itself. I know this might sound like a sissy song of “Boo-hoo! This isn’t fair” and other unproductive thoughts, but you asked me how I felt and I did feel like that for a couple of weeks after the GameSpot review. Pathetic I know, but in glimpses I still feel it, because when I meet somebody who hasn’t played the game, I can be fairly sure that his or her opinion is based on the GameSpot review. It just won't go away.

Except for that, I feel fine today, and the franchise is doing well. Sales have been okay, the movie deal is moving along nicely, and most importantly we’ve learned a lot from K&L, and it seems that it’s all being put to use in our future products.

GR: How fair do you feel critic and gamer reactions were to Kane & Lynch? Were there any points you particularly agreed or disagreed with?

JPK: Critic reactions to the game have been harder than the gamer reactions, but in general I’ll call it fair. I do agree on most issues raised on the control scheme. In production the quality went up and down and it required daily maintenance, a sure telltale that some core mechanics need to be changed instead of tweaked. I regret that I wasn’t clear-sighted enough to make the design changes when we had the time.This experience has dramatically changed the way we review code internally. We test the products harder and earlier.

I do however not agree with the critics that simply just didn’t like the characters or the story. They didn’t like the characters as people and had problems relating to them. If you want to mirror your happy face in shining knight's armour then Kane and Lynch 1 isn’t the place to look, and people have every right to dislike that. I just don’t agree. I’m sick of likeable characters. I like Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven. I’m done with Mel Gibson in the Lethal Weapons.

Above: Kane and Lynch themselves. Impossible to like?

That said, I would have liked to introduce a few redeeming moments earlier in the game. In K&L it doesn’t really happen until the last level, which is too late for most people.

I do think we received some unfair flack for a few weeks, and that it did taint the perception of the game somewhat, but that’s just how it is. It’s also a bit painful when a review thinks that a bug is a design decision. I know the player won’t know the difference and that the point is valid, but it still annoys me as a developer, maybe because it’s something that we could have done better.

On a boring number note, the Nielsen agency ran an online survey with some 900 participants or so after the release. The report is fairly critical on some of the same issues like control etc., but it’s worth noticing that the players enjoyed the game more than reviewers did. Of the buyers of the game, 2% did rate it as a poor game, 3% as fair, 25% as good, 44% as very good and 25% as excellent. Players rated it slightly more realistically but still way more positively than the reviews, and also more positively than I perceive the game personally.


  • Herschal - September 11, 2008 11:09 p.m.

    I hate it when hyped games aren't as awesome as they were built up to be, this is why I never let myself get exited about any hyped game. Except Halo 3, I KNEW that would be awesome.
  • Marioninja1 - September 11, 2008 8:58 p.m.

    I like the Hitman Series and never tried Kane & Lynch and I wont because most of Co-op games usually suck like Army of Two :( That game was frustrating with the A.I. and another player alike
  • Holy Diver - September 11, 2008 12:13 a.m.

    I'll be a little less harsh to the folmks at IO from now on. Good article guys
  • mellowdaddee - September 10, 2008 6:26 p.m.

    I think it's rather funny how they admit being aware of all the issues most gamers had with the game before it was released, and they released it anyhow. I mean come on what do expect? If you knew the problems were there and didn't do anything about it: you got what you deserved. I personally bought the game and thought it totally sucked. And I can definitely say I won't buy into another half-assed Kane and Lynch title....EVER
  • CarlosX360 - September 10, 2008 3:35 a.m.

    I hope they learned their lessons. And the feelings he felt should be a clear reminder of what not to do. Controversy is good. But it can also be bad, it depends on what you do.
  • Amatarasu - September 10, 2008 12:37 a.m.

    i personaly didn't thing the game was that bad
  • londonjack - September 9, 2008 10:16 p.m.

    i was never going to buy this game it looked boring. i was assured that i didnt want to play it when it didnt get good scores, if it had got like 9/10 or something i would've rented it.
  • Jimmyjammy - September 9, 2008 8:09 p.m.

    I played the demo and wasn't overly impressed so I didn't buy it. Really enjoyed this article though. More like this please!
  • ELpork - September 9, 2008 6:57 p.m.

    I still hold them with high regards. I mean how bad could they be if they released Freedom Fighters.
  • Juriasu - September 9, 2008 5:34 p.m.

    I was going to buy this game (mainly because i got trapped in the hype) but After I read the GameSpot review I just didn't want to buy it. The whole thing was a scandal, and I'm sure the game didn't deserve that.
  • SunKing - September 9, 2008 12:04 p.m.

    If you ask me, it's not the average reviews that put me off this game, it's the suits at Cnet who fired Gerstmann OVER the score. It casts an ugly shadow over the game. Bad PR.
  • St-Falco - September 18, 2008 11:17 a.m.

    Great and insightful interview. Thanks for it. This is to Kurup if he is reading the comments on Radar. I had a great time with the characters - even both made me flinch. The beginning escape scene was brutal and not like any game I had experienced. It's weird but I felt 'guilty!' Which was awesome, so I have no problems with unlikable characters. The situations are also quite brutal as well, but then, it is all about the experience. I really didn't like the console like control scheme - I mean it's on a PC, so why not optimize it for KB+MOUSE? I felt that IO Interactive was too lazy. It was an unusual unique experience and I took it as such. It was a great plot that kept me going, wanting to know what happened next. Since I can't html here, I did a review at my blog, and generally thought it was a good game with some flaws and that it has limited appeal. Take the learnings and improve upon the next game. Good to hear the developer side of the story occasionally.
  • EvoAnubis - September 11, 2008 10:49 p.m.

    I liked the game just fine.
  • ultimag17 - September 10, 2008 10:12 p.m.

    I really liked this game and thought it was just as good as Freedom Fighters. I mean, comon, just because ONE site gave your game a 6/10 dosent mean you shouldnt buy it. I admit the controls were kinda bad, but that dosent mean the story and characts were bad.
  • anduin1 - September 10, 2008 7:34 p.m.

    the game was not great, some of the criticism wasnt deserved but it had many things wrong with it. Dude should've stepped his game up but now he got pushed to the back.
  • Smeggs - September 10, 2008 12:44 a.m.

    Screw characters you can relate to. In a game where I run around shooting people, blowing up cars, and using super powers or W/E, I'd rather not relate.
  • Schuultz - September 9, 2008 8:43 p.m.

    I actually bought and enjoyed K&L, I would definitely say it was a AA, though not AAA title. The only thing that ended up putting me off was the lack of A) A mission creator/T-Hunt or something like that ; and B) A lack of a simple multiplayer mode like DM or TDM. What's up with that nowadays? Do developers think people don't want that anymore? Sure, your creative mode is great, and I'm sure it's fun every odd time, but if I just want to play an online match real quick I don't want to go into some great lengths to have this epic online battle (Something that was extremely annoying with Crysis and it's "Either too complex or too simple" mechanics)
  • MW3M - September 9, 2008 8:29 p.m.

    Freedom Fighters was awesome. Kane and Lynch was so disappointing it was almost insulting. That level with the garbage truck where you have to save Kane's daughter highlighted everything wrong with that game. Just BUGGY!
  • kingboruc - September 9, 2008 6:51 p.m.

    I never thought how negative reviews actually affected developers and its good to see there reponse, but no offense to the guy at IO, the only reason people thought the game looked good before it hit shops is because it is hard to judge preview code and most journo's would have expected those bugs to be fixed by the time it hits the shop.
  • airtoast - September 9, 2008 6:22 p.m.

    Couple cheap shots at Gerstmann. Too bad he's legally not allowed to respond to them. Some funny "boo-hoo" lines in this one like "It’s also a bit painful when a review thinks that a bug is a design decision." LOL! It is a design decision. Leaving bugs in a game is a decision made in order to hit release dates and maximize profits. The consumer comes after those two. Bugs in game = Not enough QA testing = Design decision.

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