Grumpy Old Killers
It’s rare that a video game protagonist is middle aged, let alone that a game would feature two middle-aged men as its lead characters. Instead of freaking out at the looming presence of death and buying little red convertibles, dying their hair, getting a tattoo, and finding a girlfriend half their age, these two middle-aged guys plunge headlong into self-destruction, self-mutilation, and insanity. No early morning jogs or tofu scrambles for these over-the-hill men. They head into their golden years with guns blazing.
[image1]Kane & Lynch: Dead Men brings the Hollywood buddy picture genre to the gaming world. I can’t remember a game that has more faithfully captured the personality, humor, and tension of the best buddy films. True, most of this game’s best moments are rip-offs of just about every Michael Mann film ever made, but it’s presented with such a perfect blend of compelling story and gameplay tension that you often forget about the game’s rather obvious influences.
Within minutes, Kane & Lynch has more than earned its M rating. “The mother of all dirty words” appears pointedly right in the game’s opening sequence, as does the unapologetically brutal slaughter of countless officers of the law. Even before you begin the game, you’re asked to choose a difficulty based on which painkiller you’d like to abuse: aspirin (easy), codeine (normal), or morphine (hard). It’s not a particularly bloody game, but it is very much an adult game. Kane’s partner Lynch suffers from some sort of schizophrenic disorder that sends him spiraling into murderous blackouts, and you’ll be killing more policemen than you can count.
From the get-go, Kane & Lynch begins a brilliantly arranged series of action set-pieces that don’t let up from beginning to end. You will stage escapes, kidnappings, bank robberies, protection missions, car chases, and more. It’s impressive to see just how many different gameplay devices the developers have packed into this thing. There’s a tense escort mission for a broken down escape van, a manic shootout in a crowded nightclub, a drug raid, and a hostage situation that goes horribly wrong. It’s evident that an enormous amount of thought went into designing and developing these sequences, and it’s even more evident that this game can’t get past its celluloid origins.
Despite so many great action sequences, Kane & Lynch also suffers from some serious deficiencies. The developers got so caught up in trying to recreate the feeling of a movie that they forgot to make a good game first. Perhaps they have an eye to the future, considering Kane & Lynch was optioned as a movie before the game was even released. Whatever the cause, the game has some painful shortcomings.
[image2]First, the game is very short. This is forgivable if a game has some replay value, but there’s very little reason to replay the single player campaign. At 4-5 hours, the game is barely longer than the movies to which it pays homage. While multiplayer adds some replayability, the game’s total package still seems anemic.
Kane & Lynch also looks a lot like a game from last generation. It has some next-gen features such as an increased resolution and a greater draw distance, but don’t expect any fancy shading or texture work. Character models are so simple looking that you could probably count the number of polygons with the fingers of one hand. However, it’s a testament to the game’s movie-like presentation that you almost don’t notice how undetailed the environments are. But if you’re paying attention, you’ll be hard pressed to distinguish the game visually from some of the more recent PS2 games. The faces of the two main characters are about the only detailed textures you’ll find.
Worse, the game also plays like a game from last generation. Enemy A.I. is about as smart as a sack of rocks and far less mobile. While enemies are capable of using cover, they rarely do. Worse, they’ll often stand one behind the other, so all you have to do is keep the trigger pulled and you’ll mow through three or four enemies in a row. They won’t move if you start shooting at them, and they don’t react to any other characters in any way. Don’t expect any physics details either; killing an enemy by shooting him in the foot leads to the same animation as a well-aimed headshot.
Adding to the pile, the camera is really wonky. Not only is it off-center and over Kane’s right shoulder, but Kane sits so far to the left of the screen that I kept wanting to overcompensate by swiveling the camera around to the left. It feels horribly awkward, dizzying, and confining. Similar to Eternal Darkness, the camera becomes further skewed as you get more injured. The technique is effective, but it only amplifies the already nauseating camera position.
The game also features a simplified cover system. Approach a wall or object with your weapon drawn, and you’ll automatically “stick” to the cover. While great in theory, the system doesn’t always work when you want it to, and in the four short hours of the single player campaign, I experienced a handful of fatal clipping issues where I got stuck inside of walls and objects. Ignoring these issues, though, the cover system still doesn’t serve any real purpose. There’s no real difference between using cover and simply standing or crouching behind an object. It just presents a lot of headaches for no useful reason.
[image3]In single-player, you command allies with a fluid squad system. Your allies aren’t incompetent and generally do what you want them to. The game is also playable in offline co-op which is where its “buddy” genre roots shine even more brilliantly. In either case, your allies feel like useful and engaging additions to all of the many tasks throughout the game. The squad commands keep the pacing going well, and your squad-mates can even save you from death with an adrenaline shot from time to time.
The online multiplayer game is a refreshingly new take on multiplayer gaming. All players begin as a group of criminals stealing money and fighting off a group of npc police. If you all succeed, you divvy up the money. But since equity is boring, someone will invariably shoot one of his buddies in order to take his loot. The injured party then returns as part of the police force out to stop the criminals from succeeding. The traitor wears a black shirt in the next round so everyone knows who to hate. It’s a game designed to breed animosities since it’s all about immediate betrayal and vengeance. As such, it’s best played against friends because what’s the fun in pissing off anonymous strangers? Although the unwashed masses will do in a pinch.
There’s a lot in this game to like. It’s got real personality, and the well-wrought action sequences are among the best ever to appear in a game. Kane & Lynch could have been a stand-out title last generation, and there’s no technical reason why it couldn’t have been made for a last-gen system. But when faced with the fierce and forward-looking games of the past year or two, this game can’t get its head above water. Like the two aging men at its center, Kane & Lynch is a game full of regrets and missed opportunities. But also like those two men, it’s still got plenty of bullets left in the clip. Maybe that new girlfriend wasn't such a bad idea after all...