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Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Release Date: Aug. 17, 2010 (US), Aug. 20, 2010 (EU)

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


PS3/X360/PC Review - 'Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days'

by Brian Dumlao on Aug. 25, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is a raw and brutal crime shooter designed to take players on an even more intense story experience, following two of gaming’s most disturbed criminals, through the gritty Shanghai underworld.

The original Kane & Lynch is remembered more for the controversy surrounding it than anything else. The review score and subsequent termination of the reviewer's career at an online publication as a result of the review garnered more attention and ire than the game itself. When gamers looked past the incident and at the game's merits, they found something that had a good amount of potential in the characters and story but mediocre gameplay, with the exception of an intriguing multiplayer mode. The developers at IO Interactive, home to both Freedom Fighters and the Hitman game series, seem to have read the feedback and set forth to make some radical changes in the sequel. Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days certainly looks different than its predecessor, and while there have been some improvements, there are still a few more things that need to be worked out for the title's full potential to shine through.

The game takes place years after the incidents in Kane & Lynch: Dead Men. Kane is still emotionally hurt from his past events and is trying to let go of his past to reunite with his daughter. Meanwhile, Lynch has moved to Shanghai to live with his new girlfriend, and he seems to have taken control of his schizophrenia and turned his life around. The duo reunite for a job involving arms smuggling to Africa, with the payout big enough that Kane could use it to leave his old life and start anew. However, like all best-laid plans, things go completely wrong the minute Kane lands in Shanghai. Both men have 48 hours to complete the deal and make it out of Shanghai before the cops and the Chinese criminal underworld get them.

The bulk of the single-player portion is spent in Story mode. Unlike the first game, the player takes control of Lynch through the levels of mayhem. You and your partner will go through various locations — apartment complexes, back alleys, construction sites and office buildings — shooting up everyone around you with whatever guns you can find, though you can only hold up to two at a time. For those hoping to keep their hands clean, the squad and command mechanic are gone, so you have to take care of a bulk of the enemies yourself, though your partner helps out. The cover mechanic returns, though it won't always save your life. Destructible cover and the fact that you'll rarely keep yourself unexposed will ensure that you'll be running from spot to spot quite often.

There are a few things that you'll notice right away, and the first is the overall AI. Kane is competent as an AI character, and while you can't sit back and let him clear a room for you, he will kill a good number of enemies along the way. He also isn't stupid enough to go and let himself get killed, something that remains a constant worry in any co-op title where the AI takes over in single-player mode. That same AI is also applied to the enemies, who intelligently take cover as well as employ some flanking techniques when given the chance. Very rarely will you be lucky enough to catch someone out in the open and even if you do, it'll usually be a sniper or someone with a combat shotgun.

Another good mechanic utilized in the game is what the developers have dubbed "down but not dead." Players will be able to take a bit of damage before keeling over on the floor. They aren't dead, though, and have the option of staying or crawling on the ground while firing or immediately getting up into cover and waiting to heal. The effect is similar to the one in the Army of Two series, though you don't need your partner to help you back up. Like the improved AI, foes also have this ability, so it's a good idea to shoot at fallen bodies since they could unexpectedly fire off a shot.

Finally, the story is quite good. One of the complaints levied against the first game was that the story started off interesting but lost focus and never regained it. In Dog Days, the story is more structured; it underscores how things went wrong and how the duo can escape their predicament. There are never any fights or scenes that seem out of place, and the emphasis is on the action as opposed to throwing in an unnecessary stealth sequence just because they can.

There is some high praise for the game's Story mode, but along with the praise come some complaints. First of all, there doesn't seem to be a cursor color change when you're targeting enemies. You'll often get your aiming cursor change from white to green when it hovers over your partners, but when the reticle is placed over an enemy, it stays white. If you use the color change to figure out who you should be shooting at, the lack of color change is fine since you end up shooting just about everyone anyway, but if you're using it to determine whether or not you can hit the guy hiding behind cover, you'd be better off firing anyway to see if the enemy can be hit.

As good as the story is, it ends rather abruptly. The tale starts off rather well and establishes how the events unfolded, but when it ends and the credits roll, you won't feel a sense of closure because there isn't much of a resolution. Finally, the largest gaffe would be the game's length, which, at the medium difficulty level, lasted about five hours from the opening shot to the last line of the credits. The action is intense, the story is gripping, and the experience is fun, but it runs shorter than similar titles. It could be debated whether or not some more levels would have tarnished the experience, but for gamers who thrive more on the single-player than the multiplayer aspect, Dog Days can easily be finished in an afternoon.

The game features another single-player mode: Arcade. Instead of being completely different, Arcade mode is simply a single-player survival mode of Fragile Alliance, which was introduced in the original title. You play as a crook in a team of similarly minded people as you race toward the loot location, ransack as much cash or valuable goods as possible, and speed off to the getaway vehicle — all within four minutes. The same rules from the Fragile Alliance multiplayer mode also apply here. You'll lose if you get killed by cops or miss the final transport vehicle as time expires. You can still die at the hands of one of your compatriots, or you can kill them if you wish to be greedy and keep more of the loot. You can turn against your fellow crooks at the last minute by paying the driver to leave early, or you can stall him for the benefit of the team. You can also buy new weapons for the next round of play.

Aside from the lack of online play for the mode, the only differences are the presence of lives (you get three for the whole time the mode is played) and the increase in difficulty per round. The difficulty increases are noticeable, as subsequent waves bring in more cops, dogs, crooks shooting at you, and an increased likelihood that your team members will betray you. The Arcade mode is quite fun, especially as the difficulty increases, but the difficulty doesn't seem to ramp up by much per round. Things don't start looking dire until round 10 and up, when the game decides to pile on more cops to thwart your progress. The routes to the loot and escape point remain unchanged as the rounds progress, so any enjoyment that you'll gain from this mode could be short-lived.

Just about everyone who played the first Kane & Lynch title agreed that it had very original multiplayer modes. The multiplayer for this sequel hasn't undergone any radical changes, but it has received a few tweaks. The aforementioned Fragile Alliance is still available for multiplayer with the same rules and restrictions as before, and up to eight people can participate. Like the first game, any crook who gets killed by one of his fellow men is resurrected as a cop and tasked with getting revenge on the traitor.

Undercover Cop is a variation on Fragile Alliance, as one team member is randomly picked as the cop for the round. His job is to try to get rid of the rest of the gang, but he can only do so once one of the gang members has committed a crime. There's Cops & Robbers, where the Fragile Alliance blueprint is used once more, but the team of cops is human. Finally, the complete single-player campaign can be played in co-op both online and offline, with either player deciding who gets to be the ex-mercenary or the regressed psychopath.

Again, all of this had been done in the previous game, but the network code seems to be tighter this time around. During the review period, it took about two tries before a game could be found, but the games that were played were lag-free even when people dropped out of the match. It's really surprising that the modes haven't yet been duplicated by other games, despite being around for three years now. With no games attempting it again this year, Dog Days will be the only game in which you can experience these unique multiplayer modes, so it's a blessing that things run and play well.

The controls are much more streamlined in comparison to the first game, mostly due to the lack of an equipment wheel and not needing to give orders to your AI companions. All of your necessary functions like aiming, reloading, shooting and sprinting are placed on the trigger and bumper buttons, while the face buttons handle weapon changes, item pick-ups, getting behind cover and taking hostages. The lack of the equipment wheel makes gun changes quick, but it also highlights the fact that you lost some attacks along the way. You no longer have access to grenades, for example, and melee is completely gone. They have been replaced, though, with gas can throwing for impromptu firebombs and a limited ability to take hostages, provided their backs are facing you. For the most part, the controls work fine, though there is an issue with the cover becoming sticky at times, depending on how far you are from objects.

From the beginning, Dog Days' graphics made the title feel radically different from its predecessor, and in the end, the graphics shine the most. From the outset, you see the game through the lens of a bad digital camera and a cameraman who forgets to turn on image stabilization. The camera shakes violently as you run. There's the presence of digital grain in most of the shots. Light bloom from car lamps and police lights gets out of control, and some colors from TV sets and neon lights are overly saturated. The camera pans so often in cut scenes that it sometimes doesn't focus directly on who's currently speaking and gets a few shots in bad angles.

For any other game, these would be considered huge drawbacks to the graphical package, but because we're informed from the beginning that this is amateur camerawork, these flaws actually add to the gritty atmosphere. Even if the camera tricks weren't present, this would be a beautifully ugly world that one wouldn't want to visit.

The environments look great, with a nice mix of clean and filthy places. The city streets have alleys filled with small water puddles, heaps of garbage and junk littering every side. Meanwhile, you have a fight in a pristine mall — before bullets tear it down. The character models look great and detailed for the protagonists, though they tend to look slightly plastic; they're nude in the opening sequence, and their skin sports a slight sheen. While the particle effects are great, there isn't much blood being shed when a person gets shot. You'll see blood spurts when someone gets hit on the body, but the game places a pixel blur on any headshots or nude character parts. For a mature-rated game, it's strange to see this censorship occur, but when you take it from the context of someone chronicling the game's story, it begins to make sense.

The sound takes full advantage of the graphical setup by complementing it rather well. The usual assortment of gunfire and explosions come off cleanly most of the time, but there are a few effects that get distorted when the faux cameraman stumbles after a big hit. This would usually be seen as a bad thing, but considering how the game is presented, things like the wind noise when Lynch takes off for a run are considered nice, detailed touches instead of sound flaws.

The same thing can be said for the music, or lack thereof. At no time during the game does a musical score make an appearance, whether it's through a climactic moment or in a cut scene. In fact, the only time you hear any music is when there's a nearby radio playing a song. For those afraid that they'd litter the virtual airwaves with popular music from the U.S., you can take solace in knowing that the team opted for original compositions that sound like they came from a Chinese variety station.

The voices also shine thanks to their grit, though they falter in their delivery now and then. There are times when the delivery of the lines is a bit too intense for the given situation, but it doesn't happen often enough to ruin the experience. The lines of dialogue become a big reason for the game's "M" rating. Curse words are constantly being spewed by everyone in the game, and while there are enough words to make up for the presence of pixelated spots covering the more visceral shots, the expletives don't become gratuitous or annoying. All in all, it's worth turning up the speakers for the sound in this title.

Like its protagonists, Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is flawed. The single-player game is quite short, the story ends rather abruptly, and the difficulty of Arcade mode ramps up a bit too slowly. Despite those rather large missteps, the game does do a great number of things right. The AI is great, the multiplayer is still unique, and the graphical style is a refreshing change from what gamers are used to seeing. Even though the story is short, the tale is a major improvement over the last game and remains gripping from beginning to end. Unless you plan on spending a significant amount of time on the multiplayer aspect of the game, though, it might be best to rent this title first.

Score: 7.5/10

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