Dead Men Forever
It’s always disheartening to hear of a talented development studio losing a chunk of its staff, an unfortunately recurrent trend for this outgoing generation, but hearing the news of Denmark based IO Interactive shedding nearly half of its workforce and cancelling all future projects that weren’t stamped with an Agency barcode back in June has really dwelled on me as of late. Sitting in the camp that loved the divisive Hitman: Absolution, it’s confidently reassuring to know that what’s left of IO will be pouring all of its efforts solely into the future of Agent 47. And yet, at the same time, that is also what saddens me. Sure, the studio may not have always hit the mark when they’ve strayed from their defining baby, but, as the saying goes, you shouldn’t put all your eggs into one basket. Just what were those cancelled projects?
Judging by job listings over the past twelve months, one was almost certain to be Kane & Lynch 3, a game I was secretly rather looking forward to seeing. Before you ask, no, this is not a joke, and yes, you may scoff. Go on, get it out of your system, I can take it. With all seriousness though, even if it wasn’t exactly at the top of my unannounced game wish list, I was still more than a little excited at the potential of a new Kane & Lynch. And now the plug has been pulled, gaming’s self-proclaimed most notorious criminals join the likes of Bulletstorm, Freedom Fighters (another IO game) and The Getaway as a short-lived series of games I really wanted but will probably never see anything more of, games which, in my honest opinion, deserve another chance to set the record straight, or a chance to get the recognition they deserved in the first place, or both.
So why do I even care about Kane & Lynch? I’m well aware of the damning receptions both Kane & Lynch: Dead Men and sequel Dog Days were on the receiving ends of, with both games’ Metacritic scores sitting uncomfortably around the mid-60s. While I’ll come to my defence of the misunderstood sequel a little later, there’s no denying that the first game suffered horrendously from shoddy mechanics (a despicably unreliable automatic cover system and inaccurate weapons with whiplash inducing recoil for starters) and a jarring switch from Michael Mann-style heists and shootouts to a civil war in Havana. But at the very least I always admired what IO tried to do.
What you have to understand is that Kane & Lynch was born in a time when Gears of War was in the process of popularising the cover shooter we all know so well today, with dude-bros wearing bandanas, high-fiving each other and revelling in the blood-soaked carnage, cracking jokes and flexing muscles as they go. Kane & Lynch was never like that. Granted, kill counts were still mountainously high and mechanically it was just another cover shooter, but it was a cover shooter minus the dude-bros, a cover shooter where the protagonists weren’t ripped space marines or impossibly perfect pretty boys, a cover shooter where there were no real heroes so to speak of. Kane & Lynch was familiar in its format but strikingly different in other departments, specifically its cast, and for me that was enough to stand out and give it a chance.
To say Adam “Kane” Marcus and James Seth Lynch have issues would be an understatement. They’re not cut from the same clean cloth as the Nathan Drakes, Leon S. Kennedys or cigar-chomping Captain General army men of the gaming world. They’re a pair of ugly, deranged and decrepit psychopaths who no-one in their right mind would aspire to be. They’re bad people in a bad world doing bad things to similarly bad, if not worse, people, and if innocent bystanders get caught in the crossfire then so be it. That’s collateral damage for you. Dislikeable, yes, but there’s a difference between bad characters and bad creations. The market is flooded with near impossibly perfect heroes, usually falling under the same ruggedly handsome, mid-30s white male archetype, and Kane and Lynch are (or were) part of the antidote to that. Less chiselled, more grizzled. You hate them, but you love to hate them, and that’s entirely the point.
What’s surprising, then, is that by the end of the second game you can’t help but begin to root for them, maybe even pitying them. Having endured an undignified 48 hours of hell in the seedy underbelly of Shanghai, subjected to torture, loss and betrayal, you really want these guys to make it out alive, because Kane and Lynch of all people are actually the best men still left standing. Mentally and physically exhausted, the brilliance in IO’s trick is to make you feel exactly the same as the two leads, intentionally or not. While not even half as bad as its predecessor, weapons are still unstably scattershot, the crucial difference here being that it never feels like the game is at fault. Instead, it reflects how the murderous old codgers aren’t exactly the sharpest shot on the block. Guns are unstable killing machines in the steadiest of hands, let alone these two’s, so if you want to make a kill you have to get in close until you can see the whites of your quarry’s eyes, making for some truly fast and ferocious fights. Adding to this is an inspired Bourne-like shaky-cam effect, something I’m equally surprised and disappointed by the fact nobody has tried to copy since. You only have to disable it in the options menu to see just how much the video-nasty vibe adds to the atmosphere, its deactivation bringing to light just how basic the core game actually is. It’s a presentational feature pulled off with such gusto it can almost singlehandedly be attributed to saving the game.
Dog Days’ refreshing purity is also to be commended. IO wisely stripped out the squad commands, decided against hiding collectible audio logs across Shanghai, no driving sections… heck, there aren’t even any grenades, unless you count lobbing a fire extinguisher into the air and shooting it as it hits the floor, John McClane style. Nope, there’s just good old-fashioned shooting, with the exception of a welcome solitary on-rails section towards the game’s finale that doesn’t last long enough to wilt. The same could be said of the game as a whole because, at four hours long, Kane & Lynch 2 doesn’t outstay its welcome, lasting just as long as it needs to.
It’s a pure, lean and gimmick-free shooter with barely a minute of downtime and manages to forge an identity of its own, and be its own thing. Its duration may be roughly an hour shorter than the last five CODs, but even on Veteran difficulty CODs’ most extreme fights aren’t nearly as frenetic as anything you’ll find in Dog Days.
So what would I want from a Kane & Lynch 3? Not meaning to be vague, but ‘whatever IO had in store’ is the honest answer. On a technical level, the mechanics only need to be as good as they are in Hitman: Absolution, but I’d still like the gunplay to retain a slight feeling of deliberate instability to encourage the nasty up-close-and-personal tactics. Also, the capability of the Glacier 2 engine (perhaps Glacier 3 by this point) means we could have even more impressively reactive crowds to weave in and out of during large scale shootouts in bustling city streets. Oh, and the return of that shaky-cam presentation is a must, as is the return of Fragile Alliance.
For the uninitiated, Fragile Alliance is Kane & Lynch’s masterful multiplayer, and I have no reservations in saying that the sequel’s iteration stands shoulder to shoulder with Spies Vs Mercs, Rush and Horde 2.0 as part of the elite of multiplayer gaming. No, it is not merely a team deathmatch bolt-on. This is something else.
The rules of Fragile Alliance are simple: up to eight players band together to deprive a designated mark of its valuable loot. Get in, grab all the money, diamonds, or dope you can bag yourself, and make it to the getaway vehicle without getting killed by the boys in blue. But, as with all good multiplayer modes, there are a few twists to keep players on their toes. Fragile Alliance’s genius is in letting any player turn on anyone at any time for the sake of a bigger cut of the prize. The guy in front of you may be carrying more money, but bear in mind that the guy behind may be carrying less. Greed can bring out the worst in people, but luckily anyone who succumbs to a bullet-ridden backstabbing will respawn as a cop, back from the dead to enforce the same fate upon their once partners in crime. Meanwhile, in the Undercover Cop mode variant, one player is randomly cast as a mole, tasked with the unenviable job of bringing down the seven other desperate criminals while trying to keep their cover intact. So trust no-one, watch your back, but, at the same time, keep an eye out for any by chance opportunities that may arise.
In the event of a comeback, Fragile Alliance would need to up the ante with the advent of Grand Theft Auto V and Payday 2 helping to sate our taste for virtual criminal activities online. Larger scale and deeper customisation options are a given, but it’s the mode’s uncanny ability to heat up paranoia levels to breaking point that will forever set it apart from the competition. Only Assassin’s Creed’s multiplayer taps into similar wavelengths, meaning that in the shooter crowd Fragile Alliance is practically unchallenged. If Kane & Lynch 3 is never to happen, a standalone release on Xbox Live Arcade and PSN of Fragile Alliance could potentially earn it the recognition it never got when shipped with an off-putting campaign.
Now don’t mistake my words as a recommendation to go out and pick up a copy of either Kane & Lynch game, because that’s not what I’m getting at. I’m not saying that they’re great games, I’m saying the first is a mechanical shambles with a largely good premise at its core and the second is an acquired taste that can be one of the most intense and adrenaline fuelled shooters you’ll ever play if you let it. What I’m also saying, however, is that, even if you don’t like them, there is always a place for a Kane and a Lynch in the gaming world, other than cameo appearances in future Hitman games, which is probably where they’ll remain if IO or another team aren’t allowed to resurrect the brand. The world won’t be a sadder place without them, but they will be leaving a void that needs filling. Any takers?
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