Posted – 12.18.2007
Allowing players to dance on the dark side is old news thanks to Rockstar’s GTA series, Volition’s Saint’s Row, and IO Interactive’s Agent 47 as the clean shaven Hitman. Stepping back into the ring, IO’s newest title, Kane & Lynch: Dead Men, casts you as a brutal ex-mercenary reluctantly partnered with a psychopathic partner in a third person shooter sending you on a bullet filled trip of revenge. Soaked with bullets, blood, and a healthy dose of criminal tendencies, Kane & Lynch comes off as a title that desperately wants to be edgy.
Kane & Lynch follows the story of Kane, former husband and family man turned mercenary now toiling away on death row. After fourteen years in the slam, his day of reckoning has finally come until he’s sprung from the truck carrying him to his fate by his former comrades, The7 (which is how it’s really spelled in the game), with the help of fellow prisoner, the drugged up psychopath, Lynch. On his last job with The7, everyone in his squad had died leaving him the only person to get away with the goods, but the authorities caught up with him first putting him out of reach until now. The7 want what’s owed them, they believe he still has the good stashed somewhere, and Lynch is going to tag along for the ride. Lynch made a deal with The7 to take Kane’s former spot as long as he made sure that he did what he was told. As an added incentive, The7 also have Kane’s wife and daughter as hostages.
The crime drama unfolds as a gritty story delivering plenty of opportunities for creative mischief whether it’s robbing a bank, breaking into a maximum security prison to recruit a crew, or fighting it out in a crowded Tokyo nightclub. This is what it does best as you dive into Kane’s ruthless world where bullets make the decisions and polite society is just in the way of what he needs to do in order to see his daughter again. Unfortunately, the title’s idea of character development is to put everyone in permanent anger mode. Unlike Michael Mann’s “Heat” where the criminals had at least some charisma, that’s lacking here thanks to the heavy handed method with which much of the dialogue substitutes character development for the occasional string of F-bombs and angry whining. It’s something of a miracle that anyone would even work with each other in this game.
The best parts of the dialogue between Kane and everyone else in his crew are when it focuses on being criminal entrepreneurs, failing only when it tries to give any meaning to their actions. Kane’s clumsy ability in switching between desperate father to cold blooded killer is glossed over by how shoehorned it feels within the story, as if it were just plugged in to keep it from feeling like a full on hate fest which it doesn’t exactly manage to avoid. The dialogue from your enemies also has a tendency to come off as pretty generic when they often repeat the same phrase in whatever dialect that they’re using over and over until you finally put an end to it yourself. At least the music provides some great stuff to listen to.
As for the rest of the story, it does start off strong with plenty of shootouts and takedowns as Kane, Lynch, and a few other assorted thugs wage war against the law with plenty of hard edged scenes and setups, but halfway through the game, it suddenly loses a lot of steam. The second half of the game that puts you in the midst of a civil war is particularly weak, much of this due to the gameplay, as it demonstrate just how far Kane is willing to go. When you’ve finally reached the end of this criminal saga, the ending that you get is simply one of the worst that you might see in a high profile title such as this one making everything you worked towards feel like a waste of time.
The graphics also don’t fare much better thanks to the uneven quality that is spread throughout the title. Early levels appear to look fantastic, from the bank shootout to the maximum security pen that you’ll be breaking into, but some of the later areas can look pretty generic with flat props and textures and the clone army of enemies that you’ll be shooting at against a bitmapped horizon. The special effects aren’t anything to get all excited about with weak pyrotechnics and generic weapons, but the physics behind the soldiers you take out or the concrete that flies from a column help to make up for some of this. The cutscenes help the story along and add to some of the eye candy if you can forgive the plastic appearance of some of the actors within them.
But many of these problems would be easier to forgive if the gameplay behind them was as solid as you might expect from a development house responsible for Freedom Fighters and Hitman which makes it all the more disappointing when it isn’t. The game is played from third person allowing you to aim using the onscreen cursor or to focus in to improve your chances of hitting something which has mixed results. Focusing down your gun isn’t a guarantee that you’ll hit something as you might see your shot completely miss them more often than not…unless you’ve got a sniper rifle. Each weapon has a different feel, most of it loose, in trying to fit in a tactical angle of control that feels as if you were shooting while standing on Jello.
Getting around is easy enough to do, but the cover system can also be a little flaky. Hiding around a corner or a barricade is much harder than it should have been as the character you control can sometimes ignore the fact that they can actually lay flat against something to protect themselves. The third person camera does a decent job in keeping your view focused on the action, but it would have been nice to switch your viewpoint to help get in those surgical shots and it can be tricky in trying to get it to simply look straight up or at any angle higher than your head.
A squad command system is also in place, although it doesn’t help when your fellow mercs can often ignore the enemy unless they’re right in their face. They’ll take cover and even mount machine gun nests in order to help as best they can, supply you with ammo until they tell you that it isn’t their problem, or bring you back from a near fatal wound by hitting you up with an adrenaline cocktail. Getting another shot of adrenaline too soon after a previous one will also kill you as you overdose, but your team will at least try to save you if they can. You can do the same thing with your fellow mercs who, despite having bullet holes in their head and other vital areas, will get back into the fight.
You can carry one main weapon and a pistol along with a set of grenades whether it’s smoke, tear gas, or your usual frag, and you can even give weapons to your teammates because they’re apparently not smart enough to pick up something better on the ground. They’ll occasionally do this on their own, but it’ll be up to you to try and keep an eye on your fellows before sending them into danger. As useless as they can sometimes be, if any of them die, it’s game over, but they can take a good deal of punishment before that happens. Additional, nameless, mercenaries will occasionally join up with you although they can’t take even half as much damage as your own crew can so once they’re down, they’re down, which happens often thanks to the single minded AI that may keep them standing out in the open as targets.
Even with these problems, much of the action can still be pretty exciting early on from the gun battles pitting Kane and his crew against a police crackdown to a high speed chase through a highway tunnel. Later in the game, though, it can often start feeling like a repetitive exercise as it starts pouring enemy soldiers in your direction in a seemingly unending human wave. Since enemy soldiers won’t reach too far into their strategic handbook when they attack, many of these battles can degenerate into simply waiting for someone’s head to pop up from behind cover or in running out into your line of fire. The civil war portion of the second half doesn’t come off as much of a war as a result as it becomes more of an excuse to simply throw more soldiers at you.
Later, you’ll run into “bosses” which is merely a euphemism for “suffering and torture” in this game. Two in particular demonstrate how broken the gameplay can be. One is a giant dump truck that comes to try and run Kane and his daughter over unless you kill the driver by shooting at the cab. Nevermind that the glass seems to be bulletproof, or that it randomly kills Kane’s daughter when it passes over her making you wonder just what the hell happened. Forget the fact that you can’t run up to the thing when it pauses and climb up the ladder on the side to get in an shoot the guy. This is one encounter that just asks you to shoot at something without any idea of whether it’s actually working. Another encounter pits you against a helicopter which, at least, isn’t as timed as the truck one is, but is equally just as unsatisfying as it turns into a predictable, patterned “whack-a-mole” experience as it pops up for the shot that you’ll need to make several times before it finally goes down.
At least there’s some multiplayer to look forward to and you and one other person can co-op through the campaign as Lynch. There are even achievements for playing Lynch “in character” as a drug addled psycho with a death wish, but I was kind of hoping that solo players had the option to play as him instead. The other part of the multiplayer experience is the unique “Fragile Alliance” mode where up to eight players take part in a crew as they pull off a heist whether it’s to steal jewelry, rob a bank, or raid a coke exchange for the blow across a series of maps. Together, they’ll need to contend with security guards and the like before they can move in on the score and start collecting money, working towards pulling off the score. The winner of the match is the one that gets away with the most which adds in a twist of allowing players to turn traitor and kill each other for the loot. Knowing when to turn traitor is all a part of the strategy if you want to score big. Getting killed spawns you as a guard that now has to stop your former teammates from getting away, and you’ll also get a cash reward for recovered loot as well as revenge for offing the player that took you out. Using your loot, you can buy gear in between rounds to give you an added edge over the guards…or the rest of your crew.
Fragile Alliance is pretty fun stuff, but only as long as players actually manage to stick together and play the way that it was intended which can be frustrating when everyone decides to simply kill each other from the start. There aren’t that many servers to begin with, and it can also be easy to accidentally kill a team member that runs in front of you while you’re busy killing a guard making you the traitor. There’s also the occasional lag issue, dropped connection, and a nearly empty lobby. There are also no other modes of play in the game other than Fragile Alliance which limits what it has to offer, but if you can find enough people to play with, the unique experience can be exciting stuff as everyone starts looking over their shoulders.
Kane & Lynch starts off as a hard boiled crime drama that attempts to sell a story of vengeance by wrapping it in the thin premise of a dysfunctional father and daughter relationship that it tries to force into the violent narrative. There’s a lot of potential here from the start until the less than polished gameplay, meat fisted dialogue, boring second half, and uninspired ending conspire to rob the brutal action and fantastic moments of criminal carnage of the fun that they can actually deliver. The unique multiplayer doesn’t fare much better, although it can be exciting with the right people which is what friend lists are for. But given how repetitive much of the action can feel later in the game and how its biggest selling point, the story, doesn’t come off as epic as it could have been, players looking for a dramatic next-gen crime drama might want to rent their time out to this crew instead.
– World 1-1