Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is a complete reboot of the series. Set in gritty Shanghai, the game tells the story of an ordinary deal gone terribly wrong. Dog Days boasts a unique handheld-camera visual style, but does the gameplay live up to the styling? Read on to find out.
Kane & Lynch 2 is available now for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.
While we jest a bit with our headline, Io Interactive's latest take on the Kane & Lynch franchise propels the game into stylistically uncharted territory. It's by far the title's most attractive feature and easily the most impressive. Anyone who has shot on a budget MiniDV camera in low-light situations will instantly identify with the graininess and imperfections that are deliberately inserted into gameplay. Between the intentional pixelation, rough cuts, and dropped frames, Dog Days creates a consistent uneasy feeling throughout.
It's clear the developers spent a lot of time in Shanghai for research purposes, but we're not sure they did the city any service in terms of generating tourism. Dog Days is an ultra-violent and dark tale, with a healthy amount of scenes that include pretty graphic imagery. At times the content borders on campiness (something we actually enjoyed) whether intentional or not.
Gameplay doesn't quite live up to the unique visual style we're treated to. The vast majority of action is cover-based gun play, and we found a lot of the weapons to be underpowered. Enemies seemed to be able to take an awful lot of damage before defeat, and occasionally their AI would throw them into vulnerable cover.
Negatives aside, we really enjoyed the amount of environmental destructibility in the world. Most wood, paneling, and furniture disappears quickly, which kept us on our toes, adding to the chaotic atmosphere.
Kane and Lynch 2 is surprisingly short, with the main campaign lasting just less than five hours. That said, there's a fair amount of difficulty (even played on medium) that should provide gamers with a challenge. As we mentioned above, the star of the game is its run-and-gun documentary-style presentation. Unfortunately, there isn't much substance beyond it.
The visual language of video games has long been limited by a prime directive that everything must be designed to "read" clearly, and eliminate any chance of player confusion. The long-standing effect on game design has been to default to visual clarity and razor-sharp focus, with elements of fog, depth-of-field, and dynamic lighting used rarely enough that they are often called out as a special feature (I'd add that incorporating dynamic depth-of-field is one of the best things a game can do to add an element of visual immersion).
But much as the sonic studio precision of the '70s and '80s made way for lo-fi music, television and film have also experienced a visual revolution over the past decade by embracing digital video, shaky handheld cameras, and nontraditional color palettes. Video games are finally feeling free to adopt these lo-fi visual standards, as popularized in films such as Michael Mann's "Collateral" or "Cloverfield".
Kane & Lynch 2 owes much of its interest to this new (to games, at least) visual language, forcing players to examine the world around them carefully, instead of having their attention drawn to a perfectly in-focus glowing icon at the far end of the street or a giant floating arrow pointing the way through a well-lit landscape.
Like the YouTube-style handheld camera aesthetic the game mimics, Kane & Lynch 2 distracts, confuses, and at the same time immerses with blown-out video, oversaturated colors, skipped frames, and other hallmarks of the Flip cameras, mobile phone video, and security cam footage that have become such a big part of the language of online video.
In the case of this video game, it's all so much sleight of hand, to be sure--like a big-budget recording studio adding hiss and crackle to a band's pristine audio recordings--but that doesn't mean it's still not one of the freshest-looking games of the year.