Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days Review: Grime StoryS

Partners in crime, Kane and Lynch, meet in Shanghai for one more score. An arms deal goes—how else?—horribly wrong, resulting in death, double-dealings and grisly torture. Kane & Lynch 2 made me sick, perhaps my favorite part.

Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days tells the gritty, foul-mouthed and bloody tale of Lynch's life turned upside-down after the arrival of Kane and their ensuing escape from China. The third-person shooter from the Hitman development team is presented documentary style, as if viewed on a third-hand VHS tape. Every aspect is coated with a stylish filter that impresses, but also contributed to that aforementioned motion sickness. Dog Days excels at looking bad, putting the player in a slimy world they'd never want to visit in real life.

The sequel to 2007's Kane & Lynch: Dead Men improves upon many of that game's worst points—the cover system is much improved, players can take human shields for defense, and it controls much better—but is still saddled with some of its less attractive qualities. But since this is a game about unattractive people in unattractive situations in an unattractive setting, it seems appropriate.

Loved

Bootleg Style: Dog Days' most noticeable change is its new, bold visual style, a gritty, low-fidelity treatment that apes the style of a bootleg video tape. Light sources believably wash out; levels don't load, they "buffer" like a streaming video; the game's camera wobbles wildly when running, as if held by a sprinting cameraman; blood and water splash on the lens; a constant filter affects the visual clarity of every scene. Kane & Lynch 2's most graphic moments—nudity and intense gore—are automatically censored with heavy pixelization. The entire presentation is vaguely nauseating—intentionally, I presume—and remains the game's most consistently endearing feature.

Pretty Ugly: If one of Io Interactive's goals in creating Kane & Lynch 2 was to make me never want to visit Shanghai, consider that endeavor achieved. The urban hell of Dog Days runs through the seediest of underbellies, a hyper-realistic sequence of sweatshops, dripping wet alleyways and basements, all painted intensely with neon and fluorescent light. Combined with the game's dizzying visual style, Kane & Lynch 2 is the most attractively rendered ugly thing I've ever played.

Fragile Alliance++: Kane & Lynch: Dead Men's most lauded feature, its innovative cooperative/competitive multiplayer mode, is made better in Dog Days. In Fragile Alliance, your team of thugs will attempt to steal money or drugs from, say, a bombed out bank or an airplane hangar, then make a run to the escape vehicle and share in the loot. The trick in Fragile Alliance is that any player can choose to turn traitor, kill a teammate and make off with his own personal haul. It makes team-based play uneasy, unpredictable and exciting, but not frustrating to be on the receiving end of a double-cross. Fragile Alliance play sessions are short, thrilling bursts, even if they become a bit repetitive over time. Two more multiplayer modes, Undercover Cops, in which your Fragile Alliance team contains one secret agent, and Cops & Robbers, a team-based loot grab, add some variety to this strong multiplayer mode.

Raw Arcade Thrills: Even if you're playing offline, you can enjoy the escalating tension of Fragile Alliance solo. A capable single-player "Arcade" version of the team-based mode allows players the opportunity to become familiar with Fragile Alliance maps and escape routes, and, as you approach the higher rounds of each Arcade map, a chance to really challenge oneself.

Better Cover: It may be a bit wonky at times, but Dog Days' cover system is a marked improvement over its predecessor. Moving through, over and in-between cover—and K&L2 is positively packed with things to hide behind—felt graceful at times. There's room to grow, as attaching to cover can occasionally be hit or miss, but its other cover-based improvements make up for it. Players can be knocked down by gunfire, and remain alive ("down but not dead," they call it), letting them crawl to safety while wild-firing. Better, players can recover from being downed and into a cover position, easing the frustration of heavy assaults.

Kane's Capable: Rarely in cooperative games does it feel as if your AI-controlled partner is of any worth. Not so when playing the computer is controlling the non-playable Kane in single-player. His contributions (kills) made life in Dog Days much easier. Online and split-screen co-op play, which I briefly tested, makes AI Kane a non-issue, but he was a good sidekick to have when playing solo.

Hated

Ad Nauseam: Too much of Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is spent crouched behind cover, waiting for enemies to pop out from behind their cover and land a headshot. Occasionally, you'll find an acetylene tank or fire extinguisher to toss, shoot at and explode, but that's the rare injection of diversity. The game's repetitive nature becomes tiresome, with too little variety in weapons and tactics to make the core experience feel interesting or unique. Furthermore, there are too few standout set pieces, resulting in one long, rarely changing gun battle. There is one blockbuster action-style set piece late in the game, but it seems like a silly, illogical addition instead of a dramatic contribution.

Dull Gunplay: For a game that's nothing but shooting, Dog Days' combat is terribly unsatisfying. Rifles and sub machine guns feel woefully underpowered and inaccurate whether used in a wild spray or in short bursts. The game's shotguns felt like the most reliable option in its arsenal and, oddly, best as a long range option. Somehow the game's targeting reticule never felt quite dependable enough.

They Can't Fuckin' Believe It & Neither Could I: Wave after wave of Chinese thugs, crooked cops and military forces attempt to take down Kane and Lynch throughout the game and time after time, Kane and Lynch just cannot fuckin' believe it! How does this continue to be a surprise? You just shot through hundreds of people, guys! That's just one of Dog Days' irksome storytelling and narrative inconsistencies that increasingly annoy as the six-hour-long campaign progresses. The game's story isn't all that compelling (or particularly easy to follow), thanks to mostly insult- and expletive-filled dialogue that doesn't have much to say.

I loved Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days for its style, but was disappointed by its substance. While, visually, it is successful in capturing a gonzo documentary-style presentation, its gameplay runs from sometimes exciting to simply capable to bland. Messrs. Kane and Lynch and every other personality in the game are just as unlikable and purposely abrasive as ever, hurling insults and grunts at each other, so it's difficult to really care whether anyone lives or dies or succeeds in their efforts.

Like the original Kane & Lynch, it's the game's multiplayer component that stands out as its most appealing gameplay attribute. Fragile Alliance and Undercover Cop are a blast in short bursts, less so in longer sessions, but always unpredictable, frenzied fun.

Dog Days atones for some of the original game's sins, as should be expected, but still has a few lingering, distasteful issues. If Kane and Lynch reconnect for a third outing, however, these dogs had better learn some new tricks.

Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Day was developed by Io Interactive and published by Square Enix for the Xbox 360, PC and PlayStation 3 on August 17 in North America. Retails for $59.99 USD. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played single-player game to completion, tested co-op, "Fragile Alliance" and "Undercover Cop" multiplayer modes.

Confused by our reviews? Read our review FAQ.