[27 August 2010]
PopMatters Multimedia Editor
Playing a Kane & Lynch game is a bit like listening to an album that has only two or three really great songs on it. I mean, they’re really great songs, but I just want to fast forward to get at them.
I have only the vaguest recollection of the first Kane & Lynch game. What I think that I remember is really liking the initial level (a prison break(?), maybe), which launched the player into a near immediate overwhelming frenzy of violence and gunplay. There was (again, I think) a really neat sequence near the middle that involved a bank heist gone wrong that worked very well. Then, there was some really silly level at the end, set in a South American country (I believe), that involved firing guns from a jeep or something. There was a time when you chased a plane?
The fact that I only played this game two years ago and yet I am only vaguely sure that I am even talking about sequences from the first game (I might be mixing them up with some other game), and I can’t remember what came in between these segments makes me think that the game was less than memorable.
My experience of the game’s sequel strikes me as an experience that is potentially equal in its ability to cloud the memory.
However, Kane & Lynch 2 has some tremendously great moments. Again, the opening sequence is a promising one, featuring an adrenaline charged chase through the crowded streets and back alleys of Shanghai. The really excellent quality of this first level is only revealed later in the game when it is revealed that a seemingly incidental killing that occurs as a result of this chase has tremendously damaging and tragic consequences for our two ne’er do well protagonists.
I spent time earlier this week discussing the kind of realist aesthetic that the game is committed to presenting, one of a world where life just ain’t that pretty. The literal vision of the world, presented to the player through the grainy lens of a shaky handcam, supports this aesthetic, and despite the game’s attempts at creating an “ugly world,” it is an incredibly beautiful presentation of such ugliness.
The sequence that I allude to earlier and the fatal consequence of a seemingly trivial act works perfectly into this naturalistic vision of the world of Kane & Lynch, making the world as about as hard boiled as any good neo-noir written by, say, Frank Miller. It is the very simplicity of the catalyst to the plot that sold me on the premise. Sometimes stupid things happen and there are dire results of such “insignificant.” Fair enough. I get it: Kane & Lynch in the title equals a brutal, brutal world.
Likewise, a later torture sequence featuring Kane and Lynch in pain, followed by an escape with both characters left naked, bleeding, and exposed (something that I also covered in the aforementioned post on realism in Kane & Lynch) is pretty compelling because it presents a very unique experience in a game. It is the rare game that knocks gaming’s traditionally near superheroic protagonists down in this way and then forces us to play wounded, naked, and afraid.
As a result of these really amazing moments in the game, I want to love it.
But (yeah, you saw that coming) . . . but why does the rest of the experience have to feature so much repetitive gameplay? So much, in fact, that I grew bored enough to take breaks mid-level and found myself choosing to turn the game off to come back later (not caring if it saved or not), rather than just finish a damn level.
The unfortunate reality of Kane & Lynch is that while providing some amazing moments and a provocative atmosphere, the actual game that underlies the experience of the world of Kane & Lynch is so very underdeveloped. This is a simple third-person shooter, find cover and shoot stuff.
In that sense, the intervening episodes of the game frequently boil down to entering a room, finding cover, shooting some guys, possibly advancing (though your initial cover might work well enough), finding some more cover, then shooting some guys until the room is clear. Then you move to the next room to repeat this process. Then you do it again and again until the end of the level is reached.
The excellent level design and uniqueness of presentation in a few levels works really well, but the return to the only real mechanics that the game supports (cover, shoot, cover, shoot) leads to a tedious, yawn inducing experience over the long haul.
In some sense, the direction of the narrative reflects this idea. While the two aforementioned scenes work very well in evoking a response from the player, the rest of the plot fizzles with nowhere to go with the resulting revenge plot. A great start of a story becomes contrived as the same kinds of predictable plotting rounds out the game. The story is repetitive in the sense that you have seen or read it in a hundred other films or books (or games).
I also recently wrote about hanging in there with games that are “slow starters,” by which I mean games that struggle a bit for the first few hours before they gather steam and become really great experiences (in my own estimation, a number of titles released earlier in the year fall into this category, like Assassin’s Creed II, Deadly Premonition, and Alpha Protocol). These games might seem like they are not worth it four or five hours in and then the game finally blossoms, and you’re in for a good time. Kane & Lynch 2 strikes me as the opposite kind of phenomenon; this is a game that sizzles initially and then about midway through is reduced to a slow smolder.
The sections that are great here are truly worthy of experiencing; you just may yourself wanting to fast forward through all the rest.