Kane and Lynch could have been so good. It comes from the guys who brought us Hitman, after all, and it seeks to provide the player with a much more character-focused, story-driven experience than 95% of the games available on the market today.
Kane and Lynch, as was promised to us, would have been a slam-bang Hollywood blockbuster with interesting, amoral protagonists and an intense crime plot. What went wrong?
A lot, unfortunately. A hell of a lot.
Hit the jump to find out exactly what.
Kane and Lynch: Dead Men (PlayStation 3, Windows, Xbox 360 reviewed)
First, let's start with the good: the game's eponymous heroes are very damned interesting. Kane at first appears to be your stereotypical, scarred badass with a heart of gold; as game progresses, however, the player finds out that he's really more of a self-deluding traitor whose greed isn't limited to money. Conversely, Lynch is totally honest -- but also completely batsh*t insane.
In one of the game's most interesting moments (assuming you're playing through the campaign on co-op mode, anyway; more on that in a bit), Lynch goes crazy on a populated street. Lynch's vision blurs for a moment, and when his eyes clear, Lynch suddenly sees that the entire street is populated with policemen, some of whom are wearing pig heads. The player controlling Lynch inevitably panics, firing at everything he sees, trying to take out the cops before they can take him out -- but the cops aren't actually there. Looking through Kane's eyes, Lynch has simply gone insane and started shooting at random pedestrians. The player controlling Kane sees a psychopathic killing spree; the player controlling Lynch thinks he's simply protecting himself. In this one instance (which, unfortunately, is never repeated again), you really get a feel for the differing mental states of the two protagonists.
The chemistry between the two leads is surprisingly entertaining, as they never devolve into exchanging "witty" banter or cliched, videogame-centric expository dialogue. It's obvious that Kane and Lynch don't like one another, and, were circumstances different, they'd probably be mortal enemies. The plot itself isn't really that interesting (it quickly devolves into your typical save the girl/get revenge on the baddies story, unfortunately), but the narrative is nonetheless made more interesting by the totally amoral characters of Kane and Lynch, and the way they interact with one another.
And, at first, it seems like this attention to character also extends to the gameplay. The very first mission, wherein Kane and Lynch are busted out of a prison van by a group of gangsters, seems ripped straight from a Michael Mann flick. The duo run through public areas dodging and returning gunfire in large, wide-open areas: initially, things feel cinematic and exciting.
This wears off rather quickly, for two reasons.
Firstly, the level design just doesn't make any sense. Upon first glance, the Mann-inspired stages like the street shootout or the nightclub (think Collateral and/or Miami Vice) look pretty good -- they're reasonably shiny, and well-populated. After a few minutes of play, however, one begins to realize how sparse needlessly shiny, and just plain ugly the levels are. While the areas themselves are pretty large, they're just too damned bare. Roughly 60% of any given level will just consist of blank, wide open space; it'd be one thing if these spaces were conducive to the gameplay experience, but given the fact that Kane and Lynch's shooting mechanics rely pretty damn heavily on using cover to your advantage, there's really no reason a nightclub should be completely devoid of decorations, furniture, or architectural structures of any kind. I'm not asking for Stranglehold or anything, but would it have killed the developers to make the environments less minimalist?
It also doesn't help that the graphics are -- to put it bluntly -- hideous. Kane and Lynch's character models look pretty good and are pleasantly expressive during the cut scenes, but everything else looks decidedly last-gen: the walls are too clean, the floors too shiny, the architecture too blocky. I hate to say it, but I've seen more than a few Xbox and PS2 games with prettier graphics than Kane and Lynch.
Kane and Lynch's other main fault -- and bear with me, because this is a huge one -- is the gameplay. Not one or two aspects of the gameplay itself, but all of it, in a general sense. You'll only be doing one thing in Kane and Lynch, and that's shooting bad guys. In itself, this isn't necessarily a bad thing: limiting your gameplay to one activity and one activity alone can still be interesting, so long as that activity is executed in a fun and dynamic way. Unfortunately, Kane and Lynch's shooting mechanics are neither fun, nor dynamic, nor interesting, nor even functional, in many ways.
Take the cover system, for instance: rather than borrowing an idea from Gears of War or Rainbow Six Vegas or any of the other, better 3rd-person shooters on the market today which allow the player to enter and exit cover with the simple press of a button, Kane and Lynch's cover system is entirely automated. When the player runs up to a wall that Kane can take cover against, Kane will automatically do it, allowing the player to blind-fire or aim around a corner without worrying about an extra button press. That's how it works in theory, anyhow. In reality, the structures which you can and can't take cover against seem to have been chosen randomly. You can take cover against a doorway, but not a stone doorway; you can hide behind a soda machine, but not particular type of wall; hell, you can't cover against anything while crouching.
Apart from the useless and sporadic cover system, K&L unfortunately reads like a checklist of every flaw an underwhelming 3rd-person shooter could have: stupid friendly and enemy AI, repetitive mission objectives, wonky damage levels (at times, it seems like the enemies actually have more health than either Kane or Lynch), positively horrendous stealth sequences, so-so on-rails shooting levels, and irritating final stages where a hundred bad guys blast at you with long-range, fully automatic weapons from a mile away and you have to spend a half hour working your way up to their location, only to be killed by a randomly hidden thug and sent all the way back to a checkpoint you passed twenty minutes earlier.
Added to that, there's just nothing satisfying about killing people in Kane and Lynch: the guns have too much recoil and do too little damage, so taking out an enemy doesn't fill the player with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment so much as apathy and a (very) mild feeling of completion. Since you go through the entire game killing wave after wave of policemen and security guards and gangsters, it would have been nice if the actual act of dispatching them was at least mildly pleasurable. Sadly, it isn't.
In order to get a feel for both sides of the game, I played about 3/4 of the campaign cooperatively with my friend Jeff, and the final fourth on my own. While the game's core faults are present in both the singleplayer and cooperative experiences -- crappy level design is crappy level design, whether you're with a buddy or not -- playing the co-op campaign is a significantly more fun experience. Not just because it helps combat the stupid friendly AI, mind you, but because at a few moments in the game's story (emphasis on few -- we're talking three or four times) Kane and Lynch will separate and either have to cover one another, or blast their way through differing parts of a building, or deal with the mental trauma of the other as exemplified above in Lynch's cop-filled hallucination. When you play alone, you play only as Kane, and so the experience is made that much duller. Playing with a friend doesn't afford the players anywhere near as much story and gameplay variety as it should, but I still enjoyed the game far more when playing it with Jeff than when slumming it by my lonesome.
Granted, I could only do this because Jeff was physically in the room with me; for some reason, Kane and Lynch only supports split screen co-op, with no online option. I didn't get to try out the multiplayer, which evidently acts like a CTF game except each team has the ability to betray and kill their own teammates in order to get a higher score. If the shooting mechanics are same in the multiplayer as they are in the singleplayer, though, I can't imagine it being much more than a mild diversion.
All in all, Kane and Lynch is a bad game. With characters like Kane and Lynch, we should have seen more variety in the plot and gameplay -- with developers like IO Interactive, we should have seen better shooting mechanics and level design. While I do consider the six or seven hours I spent with Kane and Lynch a mild waste of my time, I have to say that I'm actually looking forward to the upcoming film, should it ever get made. A few fun levels aside, Kane and Lynch's gameplay isn't particularly fun and the repetitive storyline only serves to further the bland shooting action, but the characters themselves are incredibly unusual and interesting. They'd work great in a film.Unfortunately, Kane and Lynch ain't a film yet.