Review by Randomer

"A passionate and visceral game full of twisted characters and intense gunfights"

Every now and again there comes a game which seems to get more than its fair share of hate and dislike. This could certainly be said for Kane & Lynch (K&L) and the difficulty I had in this review was working out why everybody despised it. I have played all the big shooters of recent years and this is the one that stands out to me above all of them. Featuring two characters, each as unlikable as the other but both are extremely addicting. We have Kane, a grizzled British mercenary who is forced to work with Lynch a man with a severely damaging mental disorder in a plot that remains intense and addictive despite its forays into the absurd reaches of Hollywood. Kane and Lynch is a rough diamond of video gaming and worthy of praise.

The gameplay itself works around a simple premise of a cover system. This same system is found in Gears of War and other similar games, it is by no means original but at the same time it is effective. You have a choice to blind fire from different points of the cover or to lean out and aim. On top of this you have the squad commands, moving your AI allies about on the battlefield to give you an advantage. For the first portion of the game you have only a few allies to command, but in later levels each of your allies will have his own troops to command and squad warfare becomes a much larger affair. There are about 16 levels which have a huge range of difficulty, length and setting. There are shot skirmishes on building sites and long drawn out battles in Havana. There are also covert jungle operations and bank robberies in the game. Here lies the first main criticism. Despite all these different scenarios, the gameplay remains the same. This game CAN be repetitive as it requires no change of tactics throughout, there are many different ways to play each level, but you can play the same way every time with ease.

The weapons and enemies in K&L can be lacking in excitement, this is perhaps because the game keeps them down to earth. You do not get any super weapons or enemies. The arsenal ranges from pistols and submachine guns to shotguns and RPGs. The enemies from police officers to soldiers. Interestingly however the enemy does vary their tactics. The police and Gang members tend to embrace cover much more than soldiers do.

The health system is a great new spin on the modern concept of ‘regenerating health'. When you are about to die your screen goes red, you have to duck and hide and wait. If you get hit too much your character collapses, it is up to an ally to inject you with adrenaline without getting killed themselves. Whilst you are here, your character is haunted by screams and past visions as the screen slowly fades to white. When you first encounter this it is a really harrowing experience that a lot of games miss out on. This adds to the depth of the characters even more. However if you take too much adrenaline in a short space of time then the overdose will kill you.

There are three difficulty levels that are interestingly named aspirin, codeine and morphine. The main variations with these difficulty levels are the number of hits you take, the accuracy of your enemies and also the amount of hits your allies can take. On aspirin these are all insanely high and unrealistic, but the higher difficulties level this out.

The story of K&L starts simple. Two men on death row are busted out of jail just hours before their execution. Kane is forced to follow Lynch back to his old employers The7, a ruthless criminal organisation. The game leads into a story of stolen goods and revenge. A killer twist halfway through however spins the game into another direction and the action leaves the realms of gang warfare. Kane and Lynch are, as the title suggests “Dead Men”, they have nothing to lose and go to some extreme lengths for their revenge. The manual describes Kane as conflicted and regretful, his son having shot himself by accident with Kane's pistol. Lynch has a very aggressive case of schizophrenia and his murder of his wife still preys on his mind.

This sort of plot does however mean that a lot of the characters are unlikable, you will build no intimate relationships with them, it is perhaps disgust of these men that makes the game so interesting and the moral situations they face. In one early level as a skirmish beside a US freeway ended I heard a female voice whimpering “don't kill me; I have a daughter, please...” It was a female police officer wounded on the ground. Completely within the AI of the game, Lynch walks up to her and blasts his shotgun into her head several times and curses loudly. That is the kind of game this is. It has no happy beginning, it has no happy middle and it can have no happy end. That is what makes it so enticing and addictive. Just like the philosophy of the best Westerns, from the outset, all characters are condemned. This game is full of morally conflicting moments like that and they are the driving force behind the feel and plot.

With regards to Graphics, K&L is a very good performer on PC. Even on an integrated graphics card this game can run very well. There are some issues with poor performance on other higher spec PCs however and this has led to a lot of negative feedback. Compared to recent releases the graphics aren't amazing anymore, but a lot of the locations are very well designed and the destructive physics are very good. What stood out most for me were the huge numbers of people this game can create. Strolling through a Tokyo nightclub was an amazing visceral experience as well as rappelling down the side of a skyscraper. There are however some glitches, cut scenes can suffer from lag or the clipping of speech and on aspirin difficulty your character can spend some emotionally intense scenes with bullet wounds on his skull and torso that he has miraculously survived.

Sound is acceptable, the music certainly isn't anything too distinctive but it suits the mood, voice acting is however of very good quality. I was expecting some very poor and substandard stuff but even the poorly developed characters and enemies warrant some decent lines and shouts during battle and cut scenes. I was impressive to find that enemies spoke their respective languages and as referenced in the AI scene with the police officer, there are a large variety of different things that can be said. Ranging from cries of pain and insults to orders and one-liners. We receive flashbacks of previous dialogues and even ones that exist outside of the game when the characters suffer their death sequences, the sound is very well integrated into the gameplay as all the characters are linked by ear pieces.

I normally neglect comments on multiplayer in my reviews and sadly I will have to do so in this one, not because I wasn't interested, but because nobody is actually playing this online. The main concept of online play is however sublime. In summary it is a bank heist where all the players start out on the same team, but players have the option to betray the team and escape with the most money. Effectively whoever leaves the bank alive, with the most money wins. Downed players can join the police too and dispatch those that killed them, making for a very varied experience. If you do however have an Xbox controller you can have a second person play next to you on your PC, this even allows for further diversity of gameplay as one of the most infamous scenes of the game (one that you, as Kane, miss in single player) is played out before you. You also get to make far more interesting tactical decisions too,

As far as length goes K&L is surprisingly longer than I expected. Consider the' bang for buck' of each level I would have left satisfied with a shorter game. However this is one of the few 3rd person FPS games that I have actually played through a second time, I found its gameplay allows gripping and interestingly different things happen each time I play, despite its repetitive mechanics. I even received a cut scene that I had never seen before on one replay. The game also offers up two different endings and what is effectively a bonus level if you chose a certain path at the end. It certainly isn't an easy choice.

I haven't played a game that has gripped me like this in a long time. The criticisms are plain for everyone to see, a repetitive gameplay system and a total failure to deliver a multiplayer service due to its poor reception. K&L is however one of the most visceral and brutal games I have had the pleasure of playing. It is like stepping into a revenge thriller. I would love to give this game a perfect score for its plot and feel, but I have to accept its flaws, therefore I am rating it 8/10.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 01/23/09

Game Release: Kane & Lynch: Dead Men (EU, 11/23/07)

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