Two ugly games with two ugly men, but were they that bad?
Whenever I think of Kane and Lynch: Dead Men, I have a distinct memory of talking to my friend in a pub – back when I went to pubs and had friends – quite heatedly, about this game. I told him that it was made by IO Interactive – the developers of Hitman – and that, surely, it must be worth a punt. He, without any counter argument, disagreed and said it was a load of shit.
This was back in 2007, when I was still going strong with my PlayStation 2. I understood Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were the brand new, shiny toys but for a long time, there was no reason for me to upgrade. I appreciated and understood that the newer consoles were more powerful but I just didn’t see any games that appealed to me.
Then I saw the trailer for Kane and Lynch: Dead Men. It ticked off each box I wanted for a video game at that time: Guns, swearing and themes of the more mature variety.
I couldn’t blame him for reaching this opinion. Critically speaking, Kane and Lynch: Dead Men didn’t fare well and that, inevitably, influenced his viewpoint. Kane and Lynch: Dead Men has a Metacritic average score of “mixed or average reviews,” from 24 industry critics. In fairness, they weren’t exactly wrong about their analysis. Kane and Lynch: Dead Men, was a janky, ropey experience. The shooting was imprecise and floaty, the contextual cover system was temperamental and prone to failure, and the enemy AI was flawed. It is also a game that drags on for too long with scenarios of infuriating difficulty, due to a combination of the poor shooting mechanics and that some enemies were just bullet sponges.
Conversely, Kane and Lynch: Dead Men was also a game filled with flawed, multi-dimensional and interesting characters. Very rarely has there been such despicable, horrible little men who elicited such empathetic reactions from their audience as Kane and Lynch. Sure, they weren’t the type of people you would want to know in real life, but the best characters always are. After all, we all love Walter White from Breaking Bad, but you wouldn’t operate within his circle, unless you were a drug dealer or user, and if you are, then this is a poor comparison.
From a technical point of view, it was also one of the more graphically advanced titles for its time and one of the first to include destructible environments, in addition to lighting effects not seen in many titles before. This is without even talking about the squad-based mechanics and while they didn’t always work, it was an exciting prospect for a game that was so heavily marketed towards completing heists. It could be argued that, as a launch title for the new generation of consoles, technology like that couldn’t be utilised on previous hardware, but it doesn’t dismiss the fact that Kane and Lynch: Dead Men was, for a short while, a technical showpiece.
Though it is perhaps the most infamous aspect of Kane and Lynch: Dead Men’s legacy that has persevered. In 2007, Jeff Gerstmann, then Editorial Director of GameSpot, reviewed the game and gave it a “fair” score, outlining and recognising many of the flaws other reviewers had also identified. Shortly afterwards, Gerstmann was released from GameSpot. Incidentally, GameSpot had received a large amount of advertisement revenue from Kane and Lynch: Dead Men publisher, Eidos Interactive. GameSpot denied the termination of Gerstmann was related to the review, although Gerstmann, in a 2012 interview, said the opposite is true.
That Kane and Lynch: Dead Men was the catalyst and centre-point about an emerging discussion surrounding the growing influence of advertisers (always being publishers who dictate which publications receive review copies) in games media did not help its cause. It is a stain on the reputation of a game that would have been remembered as being mostly good. As with most videogames that are touted to be the one to revolutionise the medium, Kane and Lynch: Dead Men faded into near obscurity. That is, until 2010 rolled around.
Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days picks up several years after the events of the previous game. Both Kane and Lynch have moved on with their lives. Kane is still involved in his nefarious endeavours and Lynch has moved to Shanghai, has found love but is still involved in his own illicit activities. The setup is that Lynch enlists Kane for one last job, a weapons deal that, typically, goes awry.
Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days is a game that is contrasted in so many ways to its predecessor that it appears the developers have actively tried to address past criticisms, but almost to their detriment, they end up going too far in the opposite direction. Gone are the squad-based mechanics and you control Lynch for almost the entire experience, whereas Kane is simply an ally A.I, which feels a bit more responsive than last time around. Where this goes someway to make the game a less frustrating experience, it also simplifies it to the point of hand-holding. This is also coupled with scenarios that lack variety. You move from one shooting gallery to the next except for one scene where you shoot an M.G from the side of a helicopter. The game is also significantly shorter than Kane and Lynch: Dead Men and takes around 4 hours to complete. A middling experience for a game that cost £49.99 when first released.
Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days’ biggest achievement is its unique visual style. It strives to achieve the presentation of user-generated footage or that of an amateur documentarian. The camera follows behind you in a shaky, bobbing movement, which intensifies when your character starts to run, and the screen is filled with visual artefacts such as lens flare, colour bleeding and light-smearing. While it is initially jarring, it is a style you can come to appreciate after some time and, even if you can’t get used to the shakiness of the camera, this can be turned off in the options.
It was the final scene of Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days that stood out to me. Kane and Lynch are at an airport to highjack a plane out of Shanghai. They are sprinting down the runway when two dogs appear left-of-screen. They are easy to gun down and are the last obstacle to overcome before boarding the plane, which cues the end credits.
The ending was derided as being bad – a lacklustre ending to a lacklustre game. In any other game, there would have been a big bad waiting on the tarmac, or a hoard of enemies to overcome before making it on to the plane, but here we have two dogs who die with one shot each. Just like Kane and Lynch: Two old dogs in need of putting down.
There was no sequel to Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days. The franchise died with those dogs on the runway, the fate of both Kane and Lynch after boarding that plane will never be known. It is an ending that is a great example of sequel bait. Perhaps a sequel was planned and eventually canned, following IO Interactive laying off half its staff in 2013 and, according to rumour, cancelled development of any title that was not Hitman. Or maybe that Kane and Lynch 2 struggled to sell over a million copies halted any plans to continue the franchise. Like the saying goes, every dog has its day, and Kane and Lynch were lucky enough to get two.
I did not pick up an Xbox 360 until 2011, late enough into the consoles life for most of games on the platform to be dirt-cheep. Two games I picked up for pennies were both Kane and Lynch titles and, at the time, I loved them. Since then I’ve own various consoles from all manufacturers and played some of the greatest games ever created, so I’ve come to discover, at least in my own personal tastes, what distinguishes a good game from a bad one.
Since then, I’ve moved onto current generation gaming platforms and, even if I wanted to, I don’t think I would enjoy either Kane and Lynch title. I couldn’t, I’ve seen what a truly great game is and Kane and Lynch were there for me at a time when gaming was new to me again and I didn’t know any better. I still look back at those games fondly, as they carried me into the next stage of my gaming hobby and helped foster that passion I have for the medium. They were there to guide me in and, through their shortcomings, created a thirst for bigger and better experiences. So if anyone asks me if I think the Kane and Lynch games were good, I’ll tell them no, but they weren’t bad either.