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Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days (Xbox 360) artwork

Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days (Xbox 360) review

"Avoid Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days like you would a slavering rabies-infested hound, unless you want to see just how depressingly bad a modern videogame can be."

It’s rare to play something as relentlessly depressing as Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days. Don’t let the gaudy pink logo and blue-tinted box art fool you into thinking otherwise. It’s a permanently grey and exhaustingly repetitive cover-based slog, eased only slightly by the mercifully short completion time.

The game markets itself as a “gritty crime” shooter. Again, this is misleading, as grittiness has implications of edge and suspense. Of bleak, but above all, compelling drama. And while Dog Days may well be a dour and miserable experience it lacks any of the real narrative qualities inherent to successful “gritty crime” fiction.

Kane and Lynch 2 is set in Shanghai but that’s more or less irrelevant. The action takes place in a series of dark alleyways, dull underground car parks, warehouses, factories and crumbling apartments. It’s a sleep inducing blur of uninspiring locations. An obligatory neon sign might crop up now and then as if to act as a wake up call, shaking you by the shoulders and reminding you where you’re supposed to be. But aside from a few lazy visual cues there’s practically no effort to inject any character into your surroundings. Dog Days is a linear third person shooter so you don’t expect a tonne of cultural references, but reducing Shanghai to an anonymous mass of grey certainly doesn't alleviate any of the game’s further shortcomings.

The cast fares little better than the setting. There’s potential in the titular duo and there’s no reason why without a little more input they couldn't have been a half decent double act. Explore their relationship further, pad out their practically non-existent back stories a little, give us something, any reason to back their cause. We all like a good anti-hero whether real or make-believe, and not every lead character has to be the knight in shining armour. It’s okay for the moral compass to be askew as long as the protagonist isn't fundamentally dislikeable. Unfortunately Kane and Lynch are just that: angry, murderous bastards with zero redeeming features. The latter (whom you’ll play as for the vast majority of missions) is simply described as a “medicated psychopath”. Now you might argue that Max Payne also exhibits such wonderfully desirable character traits. The difference with Max is that despite all the killing, there’s always a vague sense of reason behind his actions that makes you want to root for him. This is mainly due to his intriguing past, something that these two are sorely lacking. Perhaps if you really want to hunt around online you can dig up some info, but Kane and Lynch 2 makes absolutely no effort to fill in the dearth of blanks.

After a “botched deal” Dog Days quickly turns into a formulaic revenge tale, getting by on little more than a “kill them because they are trying to kill us” philosophy. The supporting cast have all been rolled out from the production line of villainous stereotypes. There’s the generic cockney gangster and the evil Asian businessman, complete with the sort of embarrassing accent you’d expect from the stereotypical evil Asian businessman. The script is so bad at times you might think that it’s attempting to be ironic – a bit like how Resident Evil knowingly hams up the cheesy b-movie acting. But the rest of the game is so preoccupied with being violent and “gritty” it’s implausible that any genuine attempt is being made to humour other games and films.

In addition to the awful dialogue in the cut scenes, Kane and Lynch sporadically spew out one-liners during combat. For the majority of the time these are entirely forgettable; angry, bloodthirsty shouts through the ceaseless din of gunfire. But on occasion a line or two will catch your attention. These are unintentionally funny because they sum up how you’re feeling about the game: “Aaaaaaaaaaaaargh, I’m tired of this shit!”, yells Kane. “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh, this is f***ing stupid!” retorts Lynch. “Too much bullshit… welcome to Shanghai!” It’s enough to raise a wry smile, and you may as well make fun of the game if you aren't going to have any playing it.

You can just about forgive a rubbish story and boring characters if the gameplay is halfway up to scratch. You’re more willing to overlook some obvious contextual flaws if the game offers something resembling entertainment. But Kane and Lynch 2 even struggles to get shooting people in the face right.

The cover system is bog standard and just about serves its purpose, but the gunplay itself is erratic and frustrating. First and foremost the weapons simply don’t function as you would expect. SMGs are woefully inaccurate for some reason, and when aiming from more than a few feet away will spray bullets everywhere except into the torso of the desired henchman. You can line up the reticule perfectly with his head, squeeze the trigger and empty a full clip whilst barely registering a hit. This means that early on in the game a puny pistol is actually of more use to you than a sub-machine gun. But you don’t want to meticulously pick off foes with a peashooter – you want fill them full of lead – yet the larger, and by all accounts ‘better’ gun at your disposal is utterly useless at doing so. Bizarrely, shotguns work really well at range and are often far more accurate than semi and automatic weapons. While you’ll welcome this due to the clumsy nature of many of the machine guns, it contradicts everything we know about firearms. In-game inaccuracies collide with factual inaccuracies.

In contrast, the hordes of generic goons, gangsters and policemen are annoyingly accurate, despite their otherwise poor AI. Pop Lynch’s bald head from cover and the screen is awash with red in seconds. Lynch on the other hand is taking desperately wild pot shots at a guy gyrating behind a piece of grey scenery as he shouts and swears about how crap the situation is. The sheer volume of foes further compounds how irritating they are to actually kill. For a game that so joyously swamps the screen with bad guys, you’re left scratching your head as to why there’s no grenades provided to blow them up with. You've no choice but to find a weapon that actually shoots people (it’s probably going to be a shotgun), grit your teeth and plod onward through the monotony: the endless hail of bullets, ear-splitting shouting and perpetually bland environments.

This goes on for for around five hours with no change of mood, tone (except for one truly bizarre segment involving nudity – you’ll know immediately if you’re brave enough to get that far) or pace. It takes until the second to last level until you’ll play anything that resembles a set-piece, and even then it’s a clichéd mow-down-enemies-from-a-helicopter-on-rails section. Despite the fact that you’ll have seen such sequences hundreds of times elsewhere you’ll welcome it here, if only to provide some respite from the laborious shooting gallery that makes up the rest of the game.

Dog Days does bring one interesting idea to the table. The camera is slightly shaky with a grainy filter, giving the impression of raw documentary footage or a lost camcorder tape. A lucky headshot will then result in the upper torso of an enemy to be censored out with blurred pixels. It’s never really explained and has no correlation to the story, but it certainly helps with that gritty aesthetic that that the game is oh so desperate to implement. But it’s going to take much, much more more than an intriguing visual gimmick to save this wretched, banal production. Avoid Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days like you would a slavering rabies-infested hound, unless you want to see just how depressingly bad a modern videogame can be.


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Community review by Ally_Doig (November 02, 2012)

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