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Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days – first look

Applying the effect to a game makes it feel like you’re a mixture of observer and participant: when Lynch runs through the levels, it’s like he’s gone off by himself and you’re pelting along behind, trying to keep the camera trained on him like something from The Blair Witch Project. When he moves to different lighting conditions, the ‘camera’ adjusts, street lights spreading across the screen. Even the sound has the tinny quality of something playing on a mobile phone. Kane & Lynch 2 comes pre-squinted. It’s been YouTubed.

It works, supplementing the action, which feels more immediate than Kane & Lynch: Dead Men. Throughout the restaurant fight, your enemies are never more than ten feet away. It’s chaotic, but they move with purpose, diving for cover when necessary and returning fire to keep you suppressed. The screen artifacts start piling up when Lynch is in danger or taking damage – a digital representation of the hallucinations that plague him.

Kane and Lynch move through the chaos, yammering away at each other like a married couple. Kane keeps out of the line of fire. Not only is he fun to listen to, but he backs you up, firing from the side or behind. He’s one of the few in-game AI characters we think we could tolerate. They both escape through sheer brute force and disregard for their own safety; tactics take second place to improvisation.

Out into an alleyway, then onto the Shanghai streets, Dog Days genuinely feels like a shakycam video ripped from a website. Art direction in games is something that’s maturing; IO realise their city through a mixture of impressive level design and filters. Shanghai, a place we’ve never visited, feels vital and busy – like Lynch has crashed into someone’s holiday video. The YouTube gimmick here works so well that we half expected it to buffer.

The streets are more dangerous than the restaurant, as everyone piles out into the open. A linear battle rips through the area, digital artifacts hammering the screen as Lynch ducks behind parked cars. Shanghai is a dense city; we move through the streets, through tight, awkward buildings and into a construction site. Even though it’s a big space, the violence still feels immediate.

Truth be told, the fights aren’t a whole lot different from the original game. There was intensity there as well, but it’s now been supplemented by improved enemy AI (in Dead Men, your opponents were nothing more than ‘shoot me’ signs) and a cover system that actually provides cover, rather than leaving you both frozen in one spot and exposed enough to be hit. It’s more polished.

In fact, it’s been streamlined. IO want K&L2 to be a crowd-pleaser, and are focusing on stripping the annoyances that plagued Dead Men. The aiming has been tightened to remove the floaty, imprecise controls that brought a pot-luck element to the first’s firefights. The original PC version demanded that co-op be played on one PC, using a combination of keyboard, mouse and Xbox 360 controller, but that’s finally matured into online co-op with a friend controlling Kane.

The multiplayer Fragile Alliance also returns – a betrayal-based co-op game where a team of players rob a bank or gas station, but with a paranoia-fuelling twist that enables you to turn on teammates and take the pot. It has a chance to make a small but interesting niche for itself. There’s nothing more fun than legitimised team-killing.

If the first game left you cold, should you care about any of this? We put it to IO that this is a sequel that we didn’t ever expect to see. They explain that from their point of view, it sold well, they liked the characters, and they were stung by the criticism that snowed over the original. They have something to prove and have spent years doggedly perfecting their Hitman games, which have blossomed over four instalments into one of the finest series we’ve ever played. It required time and patience from both developers and gamers for Hitman to achieve the heights it reached, and we’re sure they’ll get there with Kane & Lynch too – eventually.

Jan 15, 2010