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As Kane & Lynch's release date looms, here's one final all-encompassing preview to wet your whistle with...
Kane & Lynch is going to be in amongst the big boys when it sees release in a couple of week's time. Notable game releases this month include CoD4, Assassin's Creed, Super Mario Galaxy and Haze. It's the sort of crowd that, if they were to gatecrash your party, you'd only be able to explain the mess to your parents by saying "Bigger boys came." IO Interactive (the Hitman games, Freedom Fighters) will see their labour of love, Kane & Lynch, enter this savage pool of November games like their toddler traversing the Cape of Good Hope in armbands. But they shouldn't worry, because K&L looks like it has an armoury up its sleeve that can stop the big November bullies in their tracks and make them take heed.
Continuing with the adult themes throughout their Hitman games, Kane and Lynch will be characters who you wouldn't exactly invite home for tea with your grandparents. Kane, for example, is a classically styled anti-hero. After his young son shot himself accidentally with a loaded gun that Kane kept in the house, Kane left his family and began work for The 7 (presumably because he's such a tortured soul or something like that). The 7 are an elite group of mercenaries who, in short, don't do particularly nice things. Of course, they decide to make that one last big heist that'll set them up for life. They get away with the loot but it all goes wrong and Kane ends up in jail sentenced to death - he presumes that the rest of the group are dead.
He's busted out of detention prior to his execution by The 7 but they're not happy. They think he took the money from them and they threaten to kill him and his family if he doesn't get it back to them. Luckily, they'll only kill him and spare his wife and daughter if he gets the loot back to the mercenaries. The 7 assign a psychopath called Lynch (who's also busted out of detention alongside Kane) to watch over Kane and make sure he doesn't pull a fast one. The catch is, Lynch suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and he's sentenced to death for killing his wife. So, I'm sure you can see how this sets up the single-player experience quite nicely.
You only play as Kane, although there is the chance to give squad orders to Lynch and a number of other accomplices who join you throughout the game (more on that later). Once you've passed the tutorial level at the game's start, you and Lynch are joined by one of these accomplices who you've agreed to rob a bank with. It would seem that Kane wants to rob a bank in order to get his own money - quite comical if you think about it, but necessary if you're a country's most wanted criminal.
The heist operation you undertake on the bank is really quite extravagant. After taking out a number of guards silently with some nicely choreographed close quarter combat cut-scenes, you then have to get up on the roof and put gas in the vent system to incapacitate the tellers and remaining security guards etc. You then rappel down the building and attempt to get into the vault, but this is about as organised and stealthy as the action gets during the level. As is the general mood of K&L (although there are the occasional stealth sections), fevered and chaotic third person shooter action is the order of the day.
Having reached the vault, Kane had to take out oncoming policeman while the vault breaker got into the safe - this was a chance to see some of the gun combat in action. The cover system is smoothly intuitive as each time you get close to an object or wall, Kane will automatically move into a covered position without even the need for a button to be pressed. Of course, there is the option to crouch in open play if needs be, but this fluid and automatic transition into cover is definitely well integrated and moves the gameplay along nicely.
As far as weapons are concerned, IO has made the guns on offer quite hard to control. Short bursts of fire are the key to success otherwise you'll soon find that your out of control weapon is pointing at the ceiling. That said, some guns are easier to control than others, but the gunplay is generally hard to tame and this compliments the frenzied combat style well. As you might expect, once all the police are dealt with it turns out that the loot isn't there (which is wholly unsurprising, otherwise it would be a very short game).
Grenades also cause quite a stir and will dent the fully destructible environments unrelentingly. Speaking of these crumbling environments, we also got a chance to play a much later level of K&L called El Capitol. Eidos and IO wouldn't tell us exactly how or why, but Kane and Lynch apparently get themselves involved in a full-on Venezuelan civil war in the latter parts of the game. During this level you're placed on a rooftop and tasked with taking out some tanks, followed by helicopter gunships and then gun emplacements, with the various rocket launchers that are strewn across the rooftop. Once the mammoth task was finished and we looked across the crumbled roof, it had been destroyed so comprehensively that it didn't even appear to be the same rooftop it was before - quite impressive.
Another gameplay facet that we got the chance to extensively evaluate during this level was the health system (essentially because we died so much). The basic system is the same one that most shooters adopt these days: take too much fire and everything goes a bit blood red before you either a) die, or b) find cover and recoup for a bit. K&L's unique touch to this is that when you get near to death and everything begins to white-out/you collapse, if an accomplice can get to you in time then they'll inject you with adrenalin which brings you back to life. Of course, you have to return the favour at times, but it's well worth the trade-off. However, so as not to make the game too easy, IO has limited the amount of times you can be revived in a section before the amount of adrenalin in your bloodstream kills you anyway. At this stage it certainly seems to be a fairly well balanced system.
In addition to these seemingly bountiful offerings for the single-player game, IO has also provided gamers with an offline co-op campaign as well. It features Kane and Lynch as playable characters but, in a twist to the run of the mill co-op format, the gameplay dynamic will be different for those playing as Lynch than it is for the player in control of Kane. Because Lynch is psychotic, he obviously has a tendency to go into delusional states. In the co-op multiplayer game, these are instigated when he sees a lot of action (i.e. he kills a lot of people or takes a few too many bullet hits). Once he enters this delusional state he goes a bit nuts and can kill people more efficiently, move faster and has greater resistance to damage. This state can then be prolonged by continuing on this killing spree for as long as possible. Additionally, Lynch begins to hallucinate and will kill what appear to be innocent bystanders on Kane's screen but appear as enemies to Lynch. It definitely is an interesting take on co-op multiplayer and we can't wait to see how it pans out.
In the single-player game, there is the chance to initiate basic squad commands to Lynch and any other accomplices that join you along the way (up to four at some points in the game). The squad orders that Kane gives out are fairly rudimentary (hold position, attack target, follow me), but they were a necessity in order to provide some significant interaction between Kane and Lynch. Additionally, with many more accomplices promised for latter points in the game, we can only assume that this squad system will open up some interesting and challenging gameplay dynamics throughout the game.
Incidentally, IO estimate that one play-through of K&L will take an accomplished gamer about 12 hours to complete. This is an average length for the single-player campaign, but what should hopefully open up many more hours of play is the 'Fragile Alliance' multiplayer mode.
You can find a detailed breakdown of the 'Fragile Alliance' gameplay here in one of our previous previews, and it's well worth a look as this really could be one of the most original multiplayer modes to grace the shooter genre for quite a while. But, for those of you who want a briefer synopsis, read on...
'Fragile Alliance' basically starts with all the players on the same team. They then have to battle with some AI bots (sometimes coppers, other times rival mobs, that sort of thing) in order to get their hands on the loot. From this point on it's a race to the getaway vehicle. The twist comes with the fact that your accomplices can kill you and take your loot, while those accomplices who have already been killed then respawn on the other team of AI bots. These respawned opponents can then kill anybody getting off with the loot for a hefty reward. Naturally, the winner is the player who picks up the most loot over a number of rounds. This makes for gameplay which is a mish-mash of treachery, revenge and greedy money grabbing followed by a swift, but frenzied, getaway.
IO has definitely succeeded in this sense as the mode really captures the adrenaline pumping act of bank heists/cocaine plundering/fill in your desired unwholesome act here. We've previously seen the 'Heist' map for this multiplayer mode, but earlier this week we were also lucky enough to capture a newly revealed map called 'A Walk in the Park'. This basically places you in a kind of plaza filled with greenery, where your team is trying to steal bags of cocaine from rival gang members. It's the same format as 'Heist', but the slight twist on the map's theme keeps things interesting and we can only hope that the other maps on offer will also provide varied themes as well.
Finally, IO also told us that in the ranked matches of 'Fragile Alliance', the top two players in the world will get to play as Kane and Lynch. In other words, watch your back if either of the game's two lead characters turn up in your multiplayer lobby.