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Review: Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days

Two of the most notorious criminals gaming return in Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days. For those who aren't familiar with these characters, Kane is an ex-mercenary while Lynch is a self-medicating psychotic killer. A lot has changed since the conclusion of the first game, most notably, how these two guys went their separate ways. The sequel focuses on Lynch, who now lives in Shanghai with his girlfriend and earns money as a henchman. A big smuggling job comes up, so Lynch naturally calls Kane to fly in and help out. Nothing ever goes well when these two come together, and this case is no exception. A simple errand goes wrong, and things escalate into a full blown gang war. Before you know it, Kane and Lynch are hitting the streets and shooting... well... everyone.

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One of the most striking features of Kane & Lynch 2 is the unique artistic direction, which is meant to look like a mock documentary style shot using a low-grade digital camcorder. The player gets a sense they're watching a streaming video from the internet, with key elements like nudity and headshots pixilated out to keep it from being banned. Things generally look grainy, lights are flared out and reflect on the lens, and there's very noticeable pixilation. Although the art style gives the game a dirty look that matches the theme and characters, it also makes the game look really cheap, especially when running through the slums of Shanghai and during cut scenes. The camera shakes quite a bit during gun fights and even more so when the characters run. So if watching movies like Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project make you kind of queasy, we strongly recommend skipping this game.

Meanwhile, the excruciatingly long load times will test the player's patience. The game loads an entire level into cache so that there's no interruption during gameplay, but you're stuck staring at a mostly blank screen waiting for the buffer to fill. You could definitely get in a bathroom break and maybe balance your checkbook while a single stage loads up.

The campaign is pretty short and pushes your suspension of belief to the limit. Players battle everyone from criminals, to police and a private military. Yet the story is too over-the-top to be taken seriously, and takes itself too seriously to be considered satire. Take for instance the sequence when Kane and Lynch hit the streets naked, covered in their own blood after escaping a torture session, and fight off dozens of armed police. Things become so absurd that we kept wondering to if it was all just a fantasy seen through Lynch's psychotic, distorted, reality. We're still not sure, since game doesn't make any distinction between reality and perception.

There are plenty of very exciting moments, with the blood-covered nude gunfights ranking high among them. However, the ending feels a bit drawn out, especially since it's easy to get turned around and lost. There's a hint button that directs players to where they need to go, but it indiscriminately points straight through walls. Sometimes we couldn't tell whether the hint was pointing us to a destination or to Kane. The finale is a bit of a cliffhanger, which we're guessing will be wrapped up in future DLC releases.

Gameplay is pretty straightforward, since the AI isn't all that smart. They will run in, spread out to take cover, and in brief moments of intelligence, will try to flank you. More often, computer characters will try to run straight at you and are quickly gunned down. There's a decent weapon selection that balances between accuracy and power, and players will have to decide which two they want to lug around, but we the sniper rifle usually gave us a bunch of zero effort kills. Submachine guns are the most plentiful and least reliable, since players can practically unload entire clips at enemies without killing them. It can be hard to tell if an enemy is dead or just wounded and ready to get back up to shoot you. As an added bit of unintentional humor, enemies run like spastic marionettes when shot.

There's no way to coordinate with your partner unless you get a co-op multiplayer session going. Fortunately, as far as we can tell, computer controlled Kane can't die, but he also does a really lousy job watching your back. It's not uncommon for an enemy to walk right past him and kill you from behind.

Destructible cover and limited ammunition keep players keep moving, but it's hard to feel any sense of peril, even when surrounded by over a dozen heavily armed soldiers. Death often came when we became reckless and ran into rooms without looking, getting gunned down by a character hiding in a corner. Fortunately, Kane & Lynch 2 has a recovery system where a player has a chance to get back up and find cover after being downed. However, this is countered by the fact that the screen gets very blurry as the characters take damage, making it difficult to figure out where shots are coming from.

The variety of multiplayer modes is a strong redeeming factor for Kane & Lynch 2. Apart from co-op, all modes are variations of "Fragile Alliance," where a group of untrustworthy criminals must work together to pull off a 4 million dollar heist in four minutes. The score is shared, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for greed and betrayal, like ditching low performing players before they can reach the getaway car so you won't have to split the take with them. Turning around and shooting allies can earn extra money but marks you as a traitor, making you fair game for everyone else. There's a cash bonus for shooting traitors, and dead players respawn as cops itching for revenge. Other variations include Undercover Cop, where a random player is charged with trying to stop the robbery by systematically eliminating players without being discovered. Lastly, Cops n' Robbers basically boils down to team based PvP, where dirty cops and criminals face-off against each other for a cut of the ill-gotten loot.

The multiplayer is very exciting because you can never know who to trust, but it's also a little unforgiving. If someone accidentally steps into the line of fire and gets killed, you're automatically marked for death. Treacherous behavior shows up on your record when you appear in game lobbies, which adds a nice bit of tension at the risk of taking away some of the surprise. Despite the touchy betrayal system, multiplayer is quite a bit of fun and is one of the game's strongest features.

All things considered, Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days isn't bad, but there are certainly better action games out there. The game gets credit for its unique look and setting, but much like the characters themselves, it has a tendency to sabotage itself. The aesthetic style, which probably won't appeal to everyone, is far too serious for the story. Throw in the long load times, lackluster AI, and short campaign, and you don't end up with much incentive to rampage through Shanghai. The multiplayer makes up for much of the game's shortcomings, but then you'd be better off waiting for a sale or price drop before picking up the game. If you're in serious need of an action game to pass the time, Kane & Lynch 2 does the job. Otherwise, you won't be missing out on too much if you let it get away.

Final Verdict

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