Kane & Lynch: Dead Men is a game with a promising pedigree. Developed by IO Interactive, the makers of the widely successful Hitman series and published by Eidos the game shows real potential. The fact that co-op is fundamental to the game is refreshing and reflects the current trend towards working together. Sadly, Kane & Lynch falls short of expectations delivering a mediocre game.
The initial set up is well executed and shows what the game might have been. Kane is en route to his own execution after spending years on death row for some sort of massacre in Venezuela. Suddenly, he is broken out by masked men and Lynch introduces himself, informing Kane that he is tasked with his protection. After a daring escape, Kane's saviours reveal themselves to be members of shadowy criminal organisation, The Seven, who feel that he double-crossed them.
They promptly inform him that they have his wife and daughter captive and want their missing money returned. Due to his past actions, he will be killed anyway, but he has the chance to save the lives of his family. The Seven then assign Lynch to be their watchdog, reporting in on Kane's progress, creating the uneasy partnership.
The story moves along at a fast pace moving from location to location as the duo try to recover the money with several twists thrown in for good measure. Whilst the story is interesting and different, it does resort to some clichéd sections which stand out as weaker. Lynch is revealed to have a psychotic medical condition which occasionally manifests itself to provide an additional challenge and to help keep things exciting. The game forms a third-person shooter with an added cover system, yet there are numerous problems with it. The controls are sluggish and unresponsive, which never really makes you feel fully in charge of your character's movements. It just isn't slick enough and quite often you amble around whilst enemies rain lead down on you.
Since Gears of War, a cover system seems mandatory in third person games and Kane & Lynch is no exception. The system is poorly implemented and incredibly frustrating, as standing in the open for more than a few seconds usually ends in your death. The idea is that you stand next to cover and your character automatically moves into it for protection. The reality is that you spend most of the time standing around getting shot at whilst your character does nothing. There are no real ways of telling what the game classifies as cover: objects which seem to work on one level are deemed unacceptable on the next.
The collision detection of the game is also frustrating. In later levels you have access to RPGs which are incredibly useful for taking down groups of enemies, machine gun positions or vehicles. Most of the time your RPG will explode on the edge of something you were aiming past, usually resulting in your own death. This happened to me on so many occasions, even when I tried extra hard to avoid the detection issues by aiming well away from objects.
The game begins as a gritty crime drama, yet by halfway through completely changes direction. Instead of the early levels robbing banks for cash, negotiating hostage deals and kidnapping you instead move to warzones. This sudden switch in focus creates different styles of gameplay you suddenly have to adapt to and stretches any sense of realism or believability to the limit.
In these sections you tend to work as part of a small unit who are under your control. Using a simple series of commands you can order them around which does work rather well; the fact that other team members tend to pass you ammunition when you run low is also a nice touch. The AI of your team mates is generally pretty good; they rarely run off to their deaths and can handle themselves which allows you to focus. Working together in co-op mode with a partner is generally fairly satisfying and the decision to give Lynch a shotgun and Kane a rifle means that one pushes forward whilst the other covers. This creates a difference between the two characters and both feel different to play as. However, whilst there are nice touches to the game, as a whole it never feels satisfying.
Lynch's psychotic condition is underused considering how much is made of it by the characters in the game. The characters are never really likeable and are pretty unsympathetic. They seem somewhat superficial and Lynch especially has a confusing backstory which is underdeveloped. The game desperately tries to be adult, which essentially means that everyone swears in every sentence. Rarely do any exchanges of dialogue pass without a tirade of expletives which grows tiring. The game's graphics are good, though never manage any truly memorable environments. There are some nice lighting effects, but generally it never really feels as next generation as other similar titles. The sound of the game is also above average with some good voice acting and some interesting music by Jesper Kyd, the Hitman composer.
The title is also short and lacks any sense of consistency. It often feels like a selection of different locations slotted together to make a game. Similarly there seems to be an attempt to diversify the gameplay. An escort mission, vehicle gunning section and even a stealth mission are included which feels out of place. They seem to have been included to avoid "lack of variety" criticisms, but they merely stand out as strange.
With the shortness of the title, it seems the developers compensated by ramping up the difficulty of certain sections. Playing this through with a veteran of co-op shooters, there were several unfair sections which had us repeating them in excess of 20 times due to psychic enemies who could accurately shoot us from half a mile away. This sort of gameplay decision just feels tedious and is an arbitrary extension of a game's lifespan.
The multiplayer mode proves to be a more positive experience. Forming a team of criminals taking part in a bank job, you work to the vault and then start stealing money. The winner is the person who steals the most money. However, you can choose to turn on your fellow team mates, kill them and steal their share. If you do so, the team will then turn on you and get a reward for your death. Killed players then respawn as members of the police SWAT team who are sent to prevent you escape. This is a nice idea and is rather satisfying; however it still suffers from the problems of the third person system and controls from the main game.
Kane & Lynch: Dead Men has some good ideas and tried hard to do something different. The problem is it is let down by some poor gameplay elements and some bad design decisions. These problems combine and prevent it from becoming anything other than an average, story-driven action game. However, it does have a compensating feature in an interesting multiplayer mode. It seems inevitable that Kane & Lynch will receive a sequel: here's hoping that the problems will be ironed out.
Kane and Lynch: Dead Men (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
The game is average, with an even mix of positives and negatives.
Kane & Lynch: Dead Men is a game with a promising pedigree. Developed by IO Interactive, the makers of the widely successful Hitman series and published by Eidos the game shows real potential. The fact that co-op is fundamental to the game is refreshing and reflects the current trend towards working together.