The Dead Men are back. For those of us who slugged through the original Kane & Lynch game, news of a sequel was encouraging. The first game felt unfinished and rushed, yet, despite its numerous flaws, the story and lead characters were intriguing. I-O Interactive had created a new IP and it was good, but the execution for the game simply wasn't, for whatever reason.
Fast forward three years and Kane & Lynch have returned in a much more impressive form. Once again the game features a campaign that can be played solo, split screen, or online with a friend. Multiplayer modes are back, including the original Fragile Alliance and a couple of new modes. There is also now an offline Arcade Mode that mimics Fragile Alliance, giving players a chance to earn cash and resources to use online.
I've spent most of my time with Dog Days in the campaign, which was an enjoyable ride. I dabbled in Arcade mode, but haven't experience multiplayer yet (I missed the final press play session and I haven't been able to find anyone to play tonight). So if you're looking for an in depth review on multiplayer, this isn't it. That said, let's get started.
Take Cover, Take Aim
The campaign takes places in Shanghai, China, over the course of forty-eight hours. An opening cutscene shows Kane and Lynch tied up to chairs, being tortured. The game starts about a day before that event and then a significant portion of the campaign takes place after that, too. The story sees Kane, the leader of the original game who managed to save his estranged daughter Jenny, meeting up with Lynch in Shanghai to execute some kind of major deal. Their relationship isn't the best, but Kane decides to team up with Lynch again to do one last job so that he can make a ton of money and use it to rebuild his relationship with his daughter. Of course, things don't go as planned, and the two end up having to rely on each other to survive against corrupt Chinese police and gangsters. Despite being a completely action-based and relatively short campaign, the story is pretty good -- I don't want to spoil it for you so, I'll leave it at that.
Dog Days differs itself from Dead Men in a variety of ways. For starters, you control Lynch while the CPU controls Kane. In the original, players controlled Kane but were also able to control Lynch but issuing simple orders such as 'go there,' 'attack this person,' and 'come to me.' Dead Men also had you controlling up to three other characters. The control scheme worked out well, but the AI was always a big issue.
In Dog Days, I-O Interactive did away with all of that. This game stars solely Kane and Lynch and you have no control over Kane. You're also not responsible for keeping him alive, either. Dead Men forced players to keep their crew members alive, but the AI made that a tremendous pain. In Dog Days, you aren't nearly as bound to your AI partner, and this time around, the AI does well for itself. In many instances, I honestly felt like I was playing with a live person; CPU-controlled Kane did a nice job of sharing the load against steady streams of enemies. That said, the AI isn't perfect. While Kane can take care of himself, you will sometimes catch NPCs (citizens of Shanghai) walking casually about while a massive firefight is going on around them. A time or two I caught an enemy AI spaced out as well.
The forty-eight hour story can be completed in about six hours, during which time you will face and defeat several hundred enemies. There are no boss fights, upgrades, collectibles, puzzles, or frankly anything other than room-to-room firefights. With fragile lifelines, you have to take advantage of the cover available in the environment which can be anything from a desk or car to a luggage carousel. A lot of the cover can be destroyed and some of it looks really good when it's being damaged.
Most scenes boil down to 'corridor-fights' in which Kane and Lynch enter a room or area on one end and enemies pour into the area on the other. It's up to you to take cover and peck away at the enemies, steadily moving closer and closer to the next area. At times I felt like I was playing whack-a-mole with the enemy AI as I would take aim from behind cover and wait for them to pop their head up. It doesn't always happen like that, but I couldn't help but notice it. This isn't the kind of game where you will charge at the enemy and attempt some kind of melee strike. You have to stick to cover and slowly move forward as the situation permits. Stealth, like in the first game, is somewhat available, but it rarely works out. If you can manage to sneak up on someone, you can grab them and make them a human shield.
The combat in Dog Days is pretty damn fun. Initially I had concerns as the first weapons you get are wildly inaccurate uzis, but you'll soon get your hands on some really fun weapons. Players can carry two weapons at a time. Weapons do not have names, but there are several pistols, two or three shotguns, several semi-automatic rifles, and a couple of high power rifles. Naturally, keeping some kind of combination is most effective so that you're not bound to the short range of a shotgun nor to the low power of a pistol, for example. My favorite combination was an assault rifle from SWAT and a high power rifle for being able to get those longer reach kills. Weapons don't degrade, and running out of ammo is the only reason you will have to change between the dozen or so available guns in the game. There are no grenades in Dog Days, by the way. However, there are fire extinguishers and tanks of fuel that you can pick up and throw with X, and then shoot with R1. I liked that you didn't have to manually aim at the thrown explosive after you've thrown it -- simply press R1 when prompted and you are guaranteed an accurate shot that will explode the object.
While I think most third person shooter fans will find this game easy on the default difficulty, you're certain to die a few times. Interestingly, you can take a severe hit but still stay alive in Dog Days. I thought I-O did a nice job of giving players sort of a second chance on some occasions. This doesn't happen every time you take heavy fire, but many times, you will simply get knocked down. You can press X to stand up right away, often snapping directly into cover, or you can stay on the ground and shoot, reload, and crawl away. Some of the more memorable kills in Dog Days that I experienced were made while Lynch was lying flat on his ass. Good stuff.
I thought the campaign moved along at a fine pace and it was a lot of fun. I certainly wouldn't have minded if it were longer than six hours, but at the same time, the gameplay didn't change at all from the start to the finish, other than the scenery. I can see playing through it again with a co-op partner, but I'm not sure there is much reason for me to play it again by myself. There are no collectibles or upgrades or alternate paths or anything like that, at least that I'm aware of, to make it more enticing.
Presentation And Other Modes
K&L 2: Dog Days has a visual style that I don't think I have ever seen from any other game. While played from the third person perspective, the entire view is presented as though it's being seen through a camera lens. Don't worry, this isn't some kind of Blair Witch crap -- what I mean is that the graphics are intentionally altered to give that 'through the lens' look and feel. So as you pan the camera past lights, you will see a thin, vertical, purple line, just as you would see if you point your digital camera at a bright light. There are also scenes with intentionally 'splotchy' visuals, and naked characters or explicitly violent images (headshots) are blurred out in a very pixelated manner. The camera can get shaky at times (never a distraction), too. It's certainly not the visual style I would have guessed for a game like K&L 2, but I thought it worked really well. I think the idea was to try and present as grim and gritty of an atmosphere as possible, and I think the choice to go with this 'through the lens' style worked.
Besides the unique look, Dog Days maintains a smooth framerate with very acceptable load times in between scenes. On that note, most scenes end with an Army of Two style sequence in which both characters must tag team a door or give one another a boost over a wall. For what it's worth, both Kane and Lynch look a little bit different from Dead Men, and throughout the campaign their appearance will change a couple of times, including going in the buff for a period of time. As for the enemies and the NPCs in the game world, there isn't a lot of variety here. You will see the same enemies over and over again, which reduces the immersion a little.
I'm happy to say the audio uses a lot less of the f-word than the previous K&L game. The toned down language makes the characters more believable and interesting because it doesn't feel like they're forcing themselves, if you get my meaning. The rest of the audio presentation is good. I especially liked how Kane and Lynch would yell back and forth during some firefights. That really added to the intense atmosphere.
So in addition to the campaign, which again can be played split screen with a friend or online, there is Arcade mode, which is an offline version of the Fragile Alliance mode that the original game introduced. In Fragile Alliance, you are part of a small team of criminals working a heist. The goal is to execute the heist and get away with as much money as you can. Rounds get progressively harder as the cops bring more and more firepower to stop you. The game keeps track of your stats, and a ranking system is included too, as well as a leaderboard. Maps include Subway, Bridge, Airport, Fish Market, Harbor, Financial, and there are also listings for Dry Dock, High Rise, and Radio Tower, but these will become available via DLC. These areas will feel familiar to anyone who plays through the campaign.
For online multiplayer, there are three modes (not including co-op). These are Fragile Alliance, Undercover Cop, and Cops and Robbers. So again with Fragile Alliance, the idea is that you are on a team of criminals making a heist. You have between three and five minutes to pull off the heist and escape (time varies depending on server setting). During this time, you must work together, but the actual winner of the game is the one that escapes with the most money. To do that, eventually, you're going to have to turn traitor on your partners and take their share. When you die, you actually respawn as a cop and your goal is to try to stop the heist. I never played this mode in the original K&L and I haven't been able to experience it with Dog Days, but, it was one of the few saving graces of the original game so it should be pretty good.
In Undercover Cop, you take the framework of Fragile Alliance and add another layer. One player, chosen at random, is the undercover cop on the team of criminals. Your task as the undercover cop is to stop the heist and kill the criminals. You have to do this while acting like part of the team.
Finally, Cops & Robbers sees two teams battling to either steal or retrieve the loot. Robbers must obviously obtain the loot and escape in vehicles that periodically show up. The cops try to get the loot back; the winning team is the one who has the most money at the end of the round.
These additional multiplayer mode give the overall K&L 2 offering some much needed additional content, given the short campaign. Additional content is coming at the end of the month via DLC with Multiplayer Mask Pack, Alliance Weapon Pack, and Doggie Bag Pack. Each of these expands upon the multiplayer modes by adding new mechanics and play locations. Should be interesting if the online community takes off on this game.
With that, let's get to the summary...