You remember Kane & Lynch: Dead Men
, don't you? Y'know, that game that got Jeff Gerstmann fired from GameSpot for giving it a 6. Besides that, I'll be surprised if anyone can remember this game that in the eyes of many, floated on by from new-to-bargain-bin like a rotten log on a Canadian river. This was a game that only got praise for a multiplayer concept, but everything else dragged it down into mediocrity. The writing, the graphics, the gameplay, all of it not bad enough to offend but not good enough to raise eyebrows. Now, this is something I wish to proclaim, I want to scream it from the rooftops, I want it to be heard:
I love Kane & Lynch
's writing, and gameplay.
I want to explain to you why I love Kane & Lynch: Dead Men
as much as I do. As much I believe the multiplayer concept needs to be adopted by another series, or used in Kane & Lynch if they make a third, there's no use talking about that. While there are some who like it, and some who hate it, it's hardly controversial to be in love with the psychological game that is Fragile Alliance mode. However, the gameplay and the writing, those are the things that it got shredded for, and thus I will describe why, in my opinion, Kane & Lynch: Dead Men
provides a beautiful gutsy tragedy, and gameplay that backs all this up.
In the UK, there is a phrase called “Sod's Law”. In the USA, the phrase is called Murphy's Law, and some people may have heard it been called Finagle's Law by someone (most likely the same place I've heard it: Wikipedia). To quote Wikipedia, Murphy's Law is “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”. Sod's Law follows a very similar train of thought, with the bonus “at the worst possible time”. The story of Kane & Lynch: Dead Men
is a story of Sod's Law. Every turn, Kane is confronted with being betrayed by life. The Sod's Law switch gets turned on the second he wakes up, upon being broken out of jail, and persists to the very end. He shoots his mouth off, demanding to know who they are and what's happening, and is rewarded with a broken nose. He finds out that the people who have saved him may be the worst people he could have been saved by.
It's the police, isn't it?
He is saved by his old gang: The 7. After a botched robbery, Kane presumed the rest of the gang to be dead and stashed the money before he got arrested. However, in the eyes of The 7, he betrayed them, and with accordance to the rules must be killed. The only thing keeping him alive, the only thing that stopped The 7 from just getting someone to gut Kane in prison, was Kane knew where the money was. So he is tasked to get the money back, or his wife and child will be killed. Kane knows straight away that he is a dead man, someone who is going to die by the end, but lives just to save his family. To make sure Kane does his job correctly, The 7 decides to ask someone to look after Kane. Meet Lynch, a schizophrenic violent man who killed his own wife, and proceeds to help ruin every chance Kane has to fix things. Kane is fated with bad luck from the start, and it persists to the end in all the colours of the rainbow.
However, understand this: Kane is not a good man. He isn't above kidnapping someone just to get what he wants. However, the little good in Kane is trying to fix things in the only ways he knows how. Kane is trying to save the only people he loves, people who are shown to despise his guts, for his own mistakes. The combination of Sod's Law, and him being a pretty bad guy, makes the excessive swearing actually feel real. You can feel the frustration of just trying to get the money back, as it forever sits just millimetres away from his finger tips. In the end though, it does what very few games have the guts to do: It gives you bad endings. It follows the idea of “bad things happen to bad people” all the way to the end. Oh you have multiple choices, and both endings are bad endings. Even the achievement names back this up, with the ending achievements being “Damned if you do” & “Damned if you don't.” In the end, Kane struggles against the tide to fix things, and he is paid with everything just continuing to go wrong. From beginning to end, it is an absolute tragedy occurring to a bad person. Despite Kane being a bad individual, I am sympathetic for his situation, as nothing does go right at all, and I very much appreciate the gutsy move to have no good endings. Both negative endings don't ever come off as Shoot The Shaggy Dog. Neither ending makes the rest of the game inconsequential.
Bad people just doing simply terrible things.
So with my love of the story out the way, there is only one gameplay element I feel is worth discussing. All other complaints about the gameplay (the groans of the “UGH, COVER BASED SHOOTING!”, the sighs of “why do the guns have too much recoil” and the tuttering of “they really had to go with adrenaline shots to heal”) were problems I didn't mind. The cover system worked, the recoil existing was refreshing and made the guns feel powerful and the healing system worked and backed up the narrative. The one gameplay element that slides under the radar a little undeservedly is the co-op mode.
Co-op mode allows your friend to play as Lynch in the game. On the surface, this comes off as another instance of “big brother plays Mario, younger brother plays Luigi”. However, remember when I mentioned Lynch was a schizophrenic? We're talking classic Hollywood schizophrenia, with the hallucinations and the delusions. In this case, Lynch hallucinates people as police officers. Whoever plays as Lynch gets to see and act out the schizophrenic hallucinations, further backing Lynch up as being just absolutely insane. I wouldn't spoil the moment when this becomes the most problematic. All I'll say is this: The hostages become police in a scene. If you're Lynch, you're given the chance to shoot “the police”. Letting you enjoy being an absolutely insane bad guy.
I understand that most people do not want to be bad people in things. My love of Kane & Lynch: Dead Men
(and how I consider it the best character writing I've ever seen in a game), is born of me enjoying anti-heroes and loving tragedies. I love it when stories subvert, and go off the beaten path. So Kane felt very real to me, and his story was a tragic tale. A character really has to go far to become unsympathetic no matter what, and in this case Kane doesn't cross the line. If Kane didn't care about his family, the line would have been crossed and he'd lack motivation. If he didn't care about his wife and child, considering the events of the game he would have probably blown his head off an hour in. However, his struggle to fix a problem he caused, and how much the game embraces Sod's Law puts this firmly among my most favourite games of all time, and Kane as a symbol of how to do a bad guy correctly in a game.
So that is why I love Kane & Lynch: Dead Men
Now imagine just how disappointed I was when Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days turned out to be an absolute train-wreck.