Kane & Lynch 2 Impressions: Take Cover

The first Kane & Lynch was much like its antihero protagonists - someone whose potential was washed out by dysfunctional and self-destructive traits. IO Interactive's sent the series to rehab and vows it's gotten clean with Kane & Lynch 2.

To recap: Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days puts the focus on Lynch, who's emigrated to Shanghai and is on a kind of self-medicated life-avoidance path. He's gotten fat and is making ends meet with the low-hanging fruit of underworld gigs. One such job comes up and, because it involves smuggling arms, he calls in Kane, who has expertise with such things. The simple plan goes to hell fast, and the two find themselves in a city teeming with lowlife, everyone set against them. That's where the game opens.

The first Kane & Lynch was panned for balky controls - especially shot inaccuracy and an inscrutable cover mechanic. IO Interactive has instituted a button-based cover system to take care of any confusion there - just hit A or X and you pop into the correct posture behind a bar, wall, post or whatever. You may still disengage with the button or by moving away from the cover with your stick. Just remember if you were standing straight up when you went into cover, you'll be standing straight up when you go away from it. Crouch is on your left thumbstick, I'd advise getting a cover-disengage-crouch sequence committed to memory.

Without much firsthand exposure to the first game, I can't say how much the shooting accuracy has improved. I will say promises of an aim assist seem a bit optimistic. If you're experienced with third-person shooters or know how to fine tune the stick response to your liking, this should be little problem. I never seem to be one of those guys. However, once I had my crosshairs on a target, I usually hit what I was aiming for. The last game suffered from complaints that automatic fire was too random in its spread.

In the singleplayer level I played, it became apparent that cover and patient shooting are going to be the keys to getting out of the deathtraps tossed your way. I was in a bar beseiged by a SWAT team that definitely delivered on IO's promise of aggressive flanking tactics. You've got no radar, so keeping an internal awareness of how many foes are left and where they might be is key. Fortunately, the set pieces I saw were pretty straightforward in layout, and a lot of my deaths were attributable to my poor shooting and lack of sensible cover use.

When you get taken down, you have one last chance before your character dies. This is the down-but-not-dead aspect IO's referred to in the past. It's functional in single- and multiplayer, and the camera snaps back to whomever took you down, giving you one last chance to blast him away, get up in-cover, and recover. Carsten Lund, the game's director, says in multiplayer you'll see guys writhing on the ground, kicking and pushing away from each other, trying to land the finishing shot. It has the potential for some desperate finishes to a firefight, but mostly I just got blown away once I was on the ground.

Kane & Lynch 2 Impressions: Take Cover

The level I played was of a pretty basic design. Survive this, run here, take cover, shoot those guys, make your escape. Kane & Lynch 2 ramps up the grit in its presentation in two ways. One, as mentioned before, everything is presented as a kind of dingy, chaotic lowlife documentary, very desaturated colors, blown out lighting and a shakycam perspective that a designer vowed can be deactivated if it makes you sick. I think a lot of people will want to play the game authentically, and inhabit the persona of these no-good bastards, but the camera - combined with Lynch's out-of-shape, drugged and limping gait, makes getting around and observing your world a bit discombobulating. On the floor, I couldn't hear much of the dialogue or in-game sound, but visually, the game does deliver an oh-shit-how-do-we-get-out-of-this-one pacing.

In multiplayer, I played a new "arcade" version of the game's signature Fragile Alliance. It's intended as an introduction to more difficult multiplayer levels, which will require some tactics. You're still jumping someone else's heist, still stealing as much money as you can, still with the option of backstabbing a teammate and grabbing his share of the loot. (He'll respawn as a cop; if you're killed as a traitor, you don't respawn.) You get three lives and multiple getaway cars if you miss the first one, though if you collect no money, your mates will shoot you rather than bring you along.

Other modes discussed but not seen is an Undercover Cop level that sounds very fun. The game will secretly pick one from the cooperative group and designate him as the mole, whose job it is to stop the escape from within. The police AI will not shoot at him. Hanging back from the firefight also risks exposing him as the mole. It's Fragile Alliance with a generous dose of paranoia, requiring even some role playing within a shooter, which is novel.

Again, I am not the best judge of this game, being admittedly poor at its most basic expectations. But in talks with IO's team and what I saw on the floor, they have taken to heart the criticism and disappointment of Kane & Lynch: Dead Men - they've definitely admitted the problem, the first of the 12 steps in recovery. But I wasn't the one wronged by the first game, so it's up to others whether Kane & Lynch 2 has earned forgiveness.