Welcome to another completely, utterly subjective review of Kane and Lynch: Dead Men.
Somehow, just somehow I hyped myself up to looking forward to this title, clinging to my fantastic memories of Hitman: Contracts. Contracts was the last IO Interactive game I'd played and I simply realized I was left wanting more. Enter Kane & Lynch!
The game's premise - two ruthless & (frankly very angry) lawless mercenaries hooking up together for the sake of sheer necessity and ultimately survival - is undoubtedly some of the freshest in my recent memory. The anti-dynamic duo finds themselves surrounded by very unadmirable events and against undesirable odds that further enhance their Alyx-Gordon -type relationship. Half-Life 2 was clearly a model for the writing of this game as far as its character interplay goes. In a good way.
There are plenty of retorts and playing bits of this clever dialogue over (the load times are very modest compared to Source engine games, too) load screens was a great idea.
Indeed, the character interaction is the one major pluses of the game. The dialogue is well-written, yes, and holds up to a standard (definitely fresh enough throughout), yet the overall story arc sadly never quite develops the spunk and/or oomph of the two main characters, leaving them rounded enough but ultimately just that, a shiny new 8-ball with little wear and tear, let alone cracks. So much much more could have been done with Lynch, the more interesting partner of the duo, who remains largely his "own" pseudo-psychopathic self throughout the entire game.
I definitely consider this a flaw with the writing of the general story arc. The very fact that we players receive all the usual, compulsory twists and turns we normally expect from an action hero psychopath underlines the lack of punch with it. For instance, the primary "bad guys" of the game (the crime group The7) are never fleshed out in any manner or to any considerable degree. Who would've thought? Nameless, characterless bad guys in Kane & Lynch? Wow. That's a mindfuck.
Don't let me dishearten you from giving the game a go though; the writing remains far better than in most other games in recent memory. The problems presented here are gripes of wasted potential. This is true of the storyline, too: The first half of the game offers several exciting moments, but the game ultimately dissolves into sporadic and illogical locations. You wouldn't notice this if the writing was half-assed, for then it would fit, but in a well-written game these various jumps from location to another seem an eyesore.
In terms of visual delights, the game's gritty image never reaches its maximum potential either; There are no scenes that would truly relish video game violence as a formidable art form. No Ichi the Killer moments. No cringeworthy moments, even. No psychotic massacres. No murderous rampages. A massive body count, yes, but achieved through the utilization of a repetitive run-and-gun routine - an issue that has to do both with writing and with core gameplay.
This is also where my fist-shaking begins. *shakes fist* The aiming system is sloppy and most of the weaponry (shotguns have so little range you're better off forgetting them instantly) in the game are woefully underpowered. Level design varies between ultra-linear and highly confusing and this often results in your actual struggle being the process of finding the "right" path through a level - one that is usually dictated by enemy placement rather than cavernous map structure, though. Same thing, different implementation of the same trauma I guess.
Strangely I had the objective screen fail me randomly (pressing the key would only bring up the objective radar less than half the time), often leaving me with no directions altogether. The difficulty level of the game fluctuates wildly between childishly easy and hellishly difficult; There are three or four locations in the game that will leave you wondering what the developers were thinking. No answers are ever given. Not in this review. Wait, maybe they are: The safer - one could say the more boring - your play style is, the easier you will find the game.
Daredevils better stay at home: There's no jump key, no rolls, dives or any special moves in the game. Sorry, no Matrix-esque lobby battles, though quite a bit of the environment (pillars especially) can actually be shot to bits.
Indeed, the majority of the game consists of shooting enemies, duckin' 'n' coverin'. Which is frankly speaking being brought down by a very, very unpolished cover system. Often you will have no idea whether you can actually take cover behind an object or not; It may take two to three attempts to merely get your character "stick" to a wall and take cover. Taking cover becomes a real chore and often enough you'll find yourself rushing headlong to open space instead. At least theoretically, as this more often than not results in getting both yourself and your team killed.
Other reviewers complained about the team AI. I have very little to say about that, except that they feel rather nondescript. The squad control features are, too, apart from some compulsory situations, completely unnecessary. A similarly under-used feature is a Hitman-type close combat feature - approach enemy, press tab. It is rendered largely unusable since you are frankly dead meat if you even consider approaching enemies that are equipped with firearms, and even if you do manage to engage your target, he (apart from one character there are no female enemies in the game) still has a chance of fighting you off. Useless.
Positively the minimum requirements are very low and the game was playable enough on my computer, but this comes at a price: The graphics, while well-designed and pretty, are not too "flashy" and the spunk department is somewhat lacking: Especially grenade explosions are so lame and so hopelessly underpowered that you will find yourself utilizing the grenades seldom up until the very final scene (depending on your choices). There's very little glitter and gold overall, and console woes too become apparent in the PC port: You will sometimes spot minor jagged edges, shadow problems and other such glitches.
How can a game I've proceeded to bash to such a large degree be any good? It can, it can, reservedly and to a point. There is a fine story to be had and even some good times to be played through; Some of the levels are superbly thrilling (The Japan-bound sequence of the game is absolutely riveting) and you will not notice any of the aforementioned problems and issues until you reach the game's latter stages, and even then the realization that something is/was wrong with Kane & Lynch will only truly seep in after you've completed the game.
Sadly enough the game is short, very short. Shorter than Half-Life 2 Episode 2. I said it before, and I'll say it again: Tremendous, fantastic potential wasted. I'm afraid the game's legacy will be described with two words: "Wasted potential".
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"...the public dissolves as fact and fiction blend, history becomes derealized by media into a happening, science takes its own models as the only accessible reality, cybernetics confronts us with the enigma of artificial intelligence, and technologies project our perceptions to the edge of the receding universe or into the ghostly interstices of matter." - Hassan, Ihab: "Toward a Concept of Postmodernism" (1987).
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