Kane & Lynch: Dead Men

IO Interactive’s (of Hitman fame) latest game is currently known for its speculated role in the Gamespot controversy over the firing of long-time editor Jeff Gerstmann. When the much-talked about game got mediocre reviews, it came and went without much attention.

This is unfortunate, because Kane & Lynch is a brave game. The central idea is that there are no positive characters in the game. Every one is a bastard and no matter what the protagonist Kane does, it all goes wrong. The game puts the player in an intriguing position. For instance, you are not punished by the game in any way for gunning down bystanders. Being a nice guy, I avoided this to a great degree. When it finally happened (in the crowded nightclub scene), and the game did not notify it in any manner, I felt much more responsible than I would’ve been if the game highlighted it or restarted the mission. You only fail if one of your comrades falls.

Nevermind the bystanders, but your “legit” foes include ordinary security guards and police officers, in addition to gangsters. You are not given any valid excuses to be shooting at the police, even though Kane believes he’s doing the right thing. He just sees the cops as obstacles.

You obviously try to relate to the main characters, but the game constantly reminds you how wrong it all is. They manage this without making caricatures of the characters, which is no minor victory.

The game’s closing doesn’t offer any respite. Whatever you do, everything goes wrong and everybody suffers. This is not a spoiler – it’s obvious from the game’s tone, but I was nevertheless surprised by the unrelenting manner they carry it out with. In the end, Kane becomes desperate and he keeps telling himself that now he’s got it right, but it all just tumbles further out of control. This determination to carry its tone all through sets Kane & Lynch apart from other “edgy” action games, but on the other hand, you’re left wanting for some sort of positive emotional experience.

There are more fundamental problems. The gameplay consists of cover-based fighting with teams. This remains intuitive and tactical despite some problems with the cover mechanic. A bigger problem is the dumb AI. Your comrades can get themselves killed awfully easy. I only really learned how to order them to fight effectively in the last two levels.

The game takes place in very effective locales. They feel like a pastiche to Michael Mann’s urban crime dramas, with brilliantly realised moments. (My favorite is the streetfight in Tokyo.) Unfortunately, the locations are undermined by the somewhat lacking graphics. Textures and lighting are never quite up to the level of quality you’re expecting. At places, I felt like playing an original Xbox game. Then again, there are several bewilderingy effective scenes and I didn’t feel that any of the stages were unwelcome. Clearly they’ve trimmed all but the necessary elements. This results in a very brief game – I clocked in at around six to eight hours, with a healthy dose of repetition included due to the more challenging moments.

I don’t think the game could be much longer, though. When there is nothing positive, emotionally, in the game, you kind of want it to end. In closing, this is a game I’d urge anyone interested in storytelling in videogames to check out, but unfortunately, maybe the contemporary videogame market isn’t quite the right venue for Kane & Lynch. As a full-price videogame, it’s too brief, too monotonous and too lacklustre in execution.

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