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It's an improvement, but Kane and Lynch's latest job still falls into the game of two halves...
Kane & Lynch had their fair share of problems when they originally bumped onto the scene. Despite the well chronicled story behind the original Kane & Lynch, IO Interactive came up with a couple of characters that at least packed enough substance and background to merit a further chapter.
Dog Days begins with Lynch, the deranged psychopath of the reprehensible duo, picking his old buddy up at Shanghai airport for... one final deal. Although there's a lot to love about the unhinged and hapless duo, you quickly get the feeling that Kane and Lynch are undoubtedly bad for one another and it's not long before things go completely tits up and they face Shaghai's most ruthless gangs and cops as they try to get the hell out of town. Surely even they must be contemplating whether it's worth returning after this one.
One thing that immediately stands out, over and above its predecessor, is the stylish and effective visual theme that IO has painstakingly recreated. The original Kane & Lynch wasn't exactly a looker on this generation of consoles, but we get the feeling that underneath the filters Dog Days wouldn't look much better. IO's track record on this generation of consoles has been a little patchy to say the least, but to give IO some credit they've been extremely shrewd when it comes to Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days.
IO has gone to considerable effort in order to create something that is deliberately pretty crappy. Inspired by the general crumminess of YouTube vids and CCTV footage, Dog Days manages to easily stand out from the crowd with its highly distinctive style. Gruesome headshots are hidden under pixellated blurs, the picture quality breaks up under intense movement, and bright light sources play havoc with the lens. The style is heightened further by the wobbly camera that follows the pair, presumably a cameraman who has come along for the Channel 4 documentary! Bouncing around onscreen the erratic motions add a further grittiness and authenticity to the pretty harrowing cut-scenes and a satisfying sense of unease to the proceedings during the game. It all adds to the effect, but reminds you that IO's going after the controversy without ever really delivering it.
Not only does it look unique and portrays the rough, gritty style admirably, but also hides what would be the game's quite apparent visual inadequacies. It's hard to say what Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days would look like without the excessive filtering effects and motion camera, but we suspect it wouldn't look anywhere near as memorable. By going out of the way to make the game look rough and untidy, they've actually managed to get past the inadequacies and create something that looks fantastic.
Unfortunately the same spark of ingenuity doesn't extend into the actual game, which quickly boils down to a series of repetitive cover-based, gunfire sequences. Disappointingly Dog Days just falls flat after the initial grittiness makes a dramatic first impression, and given the woefully short duration, it never manages to find the time to truly get going to change that opinion.
There's nothing in the campaign in terms of scripting - both narrative and design - that leaves a lasting impression. Once the deal inevitably goes south it just turns into an escape, which consists of little more than a series of increasingly forgettable gunfights. The second stage puts up the challenge of progressing through the stage while attempting to defend the contact's limo. Ok so it's nothing revolutionary, but it's the type of idea that soon gets completely forgotten about as Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days quickly looses any aspiration to carve its own identity instead of slipping into the category of derivative Gears clones.
Admittedly it's a decent enough example of the archetypal Gears third-person shooter, but it's never more than that. And to be entirely honest we expect a little more from IO Interactive. Yes it improves in virtually every part from the pretty woeful original, but it's crying out for a little creativity, a stunning set-piece here or there to remember, a smart idea, something to lift beyond the sheer monotony that often characterises a poor man's Gears of War. As it stands the only section that left any memory was staring at Kane & Lynch as they ran around the streets of Shanghai stark bollock - yet pixellated - naked.
Lynch loosing somebody towards the tail end of the game should have provided the motive for IO to delve into his psychosis, but it doesn't really come through. Such a sequence should have been the defining moment in Dog Days and provided the scope for something that could have offered a little variety from the core gameplay. As it stands Lynch's loss is soon overcome and we roll onto yet more gun battles while peeking out of cover. Played on a higher difficulty than the default setting helps to lift the monotony, as the need to flank the opponent is much more necessary. Those who wish to try out the Extreme setting, however, will need an unnatural perseverance with the incessant deaths quickly becoming an insurmountable barrier to actually having any fun.
Just when you're hopeful things might begin moving the game's abrupt conclusion springs into view. With only about five hours - at a push - Dog Days is not only devoid of memorable moments, but also severely insufficient in the longevity stakes. It's not necessarily a problem of duration - although five hours is a little brief - because quite often the best games come in 7-8 hours, but it's the fact that those five hours quickly pass and leave you thoroughly underwhelmed at the end! I'm still not entirely sure whether I've missed a Part II.
Such a short and largely underwhelming campaign is ultimately disappointing, but there is some long-term value to be found in the additional modes. Multiplayer was one of the few things that the original got right with its innovative Fragile Alliance mode. Dog Days expands this area significantly with extra modes and features, including an Arcade mode that puts up an online leaderboard for single players in Fragile Alliance along with multiplayer variations of Fragile Alliance and classic multiplayer modes - all of which will undoubtedly last long after the single-player is finished. With such a short and largely forgettable campaign it's not the single-player mode where Kane & Lynch are making a mark, however the series has never been focused purely on a multiplayer experience. Going forwards IO might want to consider exactly what it is the series should be remembered for and focus on that.