Not content with releasing a game with one of the most depressing narratives ever, Kane and Lynch Dead Men, the team at IO Interactive have brought us a grimy, despair-soaked sequel Dog Days. Regular readers of the site will recall we were genuinely surprised by the game when we got our hands on the demo, but how does the full game stand up to scrutiny?
Kane and Lynch have had something of a transformation since the their first outing. Where Dead Men drew inspiration from glossy heist movies such as Heat, and coupled it with basic squad-based gameplay, the sequel draws its inspiration from the opposite end of the visual scale, YouTube videos and news footage, combining to create an incredibly unique looking game.
Taking place in Shanghai, this time you play as the medicated psychopath Lynch as he waits for his old friend Kane to arrive in the city to help him with one last job. Before starting the job however, Lynch has some unfinished business with a low level criminal that he needs Kane’s help dealing with.
If you play the game in co-op player two will control Kane. However, should you decide to play the game in single player, Kane will still be there to back you up. Unlike AI partners you may be used to, Kane is perfectly able to hold his own in a fight, will aggressively pursue your enemies, and likewise your enemies will attack the AI Kane as frequently as they attack you.
In terms of gameplay there is very little here that you won’t have seen before; the typical third person experience with an over the shoulder viewing angle and cover based shooting. That’s not strictly a bad thing however, and the cover system is a vast improvement over the original’s; though on odd occasions it can still be a little difficult to get out of cover.
One welcome change to the formula that Dog Days brings is the ‘down by not out’ system where, if you take enough damage, gun shots knock you off your feet. Where games like Army of Two and Gears of War have had this be the end of you unless your partner revives you, in Dog Days you are able to crawl around on your back, shoot, and dive up immediately in to cover. This feature is incredibly useful as there are numerous occasions when you will find yourself facing off against dozens of enemies.
While the gameplay is nothing to write home about, where the game really stands out is in its visual design. Much has been made of the game’s intentionally low-tech YouTube-esque graphical design, with bleeding colours, pixelation, and the wobbly camera that turns stomachs. It’s unlike anything that has been seen before in a game and will doubtless be copied in the future.
While the vomit-inducing camera shake can be turned off in the options, the pixelation of extreme violence and nudity cannot. It is a design choice that will annoy some, but I felt it really added to the whole low tech news footage angle they were aiming for.
The character designs for Kane and Lynch are some of the most apt in gaming history. After just one look at Lynch in particular you already know exactly what sort of person he is; only one type of person would have that type of haircut. Speaking of hair, their (further) receding hairlines and soiled clothing are something of a departure from the sleek gloss of the original game.
Just from looking at these men you know they are a pair of shambling wrecks, down to their last dime, with nothing to lose. While Kane and Lynch are vile human beings that do terrible things, at times they display an unusual vulnerability: when was the last time that you saw a game lead sobbing to themselves after an intense gun battle?
As Lynch is now a medicated psychopath, the game’s depiction of Lynch’s illness is far more subtle than the original game. In Dead Men Lynch would hallucinate, seeing enemies that were not there or mistaking hostages for Policemen on several occasions. In Dog Days, Lynch’s illness is displayed in the incidental dialogue, particularly when under heavy fire. One instance has Lynch frantically trying to reassure himself by repeating “You’re the man! Come on, you’re the man!” however his voice waivers considerably, displaying the fact that the strain is getting to him.
There are about a dozen levels to shoot through, each lasting around 20 minutes each, making the game quite short. Levels take place in a number of locations, from dark grimy alleys, to the up scale skyscrapers of Shanghai. The brevity of the game is enhanced by the rapid pace of the action; you are perpetually running from one bit of destructible cover to the next, constantly being pursued and under heavy fire. As such it is entirely possible to finish the story mode in one sitting on the lower difficulty levels.
There are no secret collectibles, or audio diaries to distract from the action, which is refreshing in this day and age. While some will lament this, I can’t tell you how many times I have despaired over arbitrary collectibles in games (most recently Alan Wake and those damned Thermoses) that did nothing in game other than artificially extend game time. Dog Days is a game that focuses on entirely on shooting with no distractions.
Having said that, there is currently a slight imbalance in the weapons’ fire power and range. For example, nine times out of ten the Shotgun is able to kill most enemies in one hit even from a great distance, so is your best bet in the majority of firefights. Conversely, machine guns tend to spit bullets all over the place, rarely hitting your target unless they are standing right in front of you.
In terms of Multiplayer, the story section features both online and split screen co-op, meaning you and a friend can play together however you want. Having said that, the online co-op is marred slightly by the fact that you have to meet in a lobby: there is no drop in/drop out co-op to be had here. Sure it’s a minor issue for those that play online, but when compared to other, older co-op titles like Resident Evil 5 and Gears of War 2, that does not stop it from disappointing.
The majority of a buyer’s play time will likely stem from the online multiplayer. The critically acclaimed Fragile Alliance mode returns with two new game modes: Undercover Cop and Cops and Robbers. For those that never played the original game’s ground-breaking multiplayer, Fragile Alliance has you and your team of criminals working together to defeat computer controlled cops and perform the perfect heist. What makes things more interesting is that, at any point, you can choose to betray your team mates and keep the loot for yourself. If you are killed, you respawn as a cop and must try and stop your former team mates from escaping with the money.
The money you earn in one round can be spent on purchasing new weapons for subsequent rounds of the game. You are unable to carry over the weapons your purchase from game to game however, so once you complete your three rounds, your weapons will return to the default selection. On the surface this may seem irritating, but it does go some way towards leveling the playing field for new players and veterans. For the first round at least. The more you play the more experience you earn and, as with most multiplayer games these days, as you level up, more high powered weapons become available for purchase.
Fragile Alliance can also be played in single player via the Arcade mode. In the single-player version, the objective is to complete as many increasingly difficult rounds as possible before running out of lives. While Arcade mode is a welcome feature for those without an internet connection, a lot of the tension and uncertainty that you feel when playing online simply can’t be replicated when playing against computer controlled robbers.
There are about a dozen maps to play through across all three game modes, although each level is fairly small and can become quite predictable after a while: Enemies always spawn in the same place and the escape chopper always arrives in the same point. As such, the multiplayer modes may lose some of their shine rather more quickly than you’d like.
Graphics: 5/5 Sure, some of the character models may look a little stiff at times, but the game’s unique graphical style is superb.
Sound: 4/5 Sound effects are exactly what you would expect, while the voice acting for the characters of Kane and Lynch is brilliant; you can almost hear Lynch’s mind crumbling as you progress further through the story.
Story: 3/5 While the story mode is fairly short, and will leave some people cold, I personally really enjoyed seeing the events of the game unfold. The game continues the series tradition of being bleak and full of despair. Kane and Lynch have no friends, everyone hates them, and everything they touch falls apart.
Gameplay: 3/5 Over the shoulder, cover based, shooting is the main focus of the story mode. Some will tire of that, but perhaps those people will be more interested in the three multiplayer modes. Fragile Alliance and Undercover Cop, with the perpetual air of paranoia and fear of betrayal, are the main highlights, while Cops and Robbers offers a more frantic, visceral experience.
Longevity: 3/5 The story mode will only take you about half a dozen hours to complete, and there are no superfluous collectibles to artificially extend the game’s play time, which is refreshing but will reduce your play time. The real meat of the game comes in the three multiplayer modes…you could almost be forgiven for thinking that the game is actually an online multiplayer shooter with a story mode smuggled in.
Four Medicated Pschos out of Five
Kane and Lynch 2 Dog Days is a grim, gritty, depressing experience for adults only. The game manages to be mature without being gratuitous, which is rare in this indstry. Some will despise it for being brief, while others will love it for not sticking around for too long. Playing the game in co-op, or spending time in the online multiplayer modes should keep you occupied for a good while.