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Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days's release will likely be met by confusion by a few people. "Didn't that come out in January?" they'll ask. No, that was Army of Two: 40th Day, another co-op shooter sequel set in Shanghai. Another similarity between the games is that their predecessors were released at a time when two-player co-op was uncommon. The challenge for both games is thus the same: offer gamers something beyond mere co-op. AoT: 40th Day tried a bunch of new features that didn't pan out but Dog Days doesn't even make the attempt.
Dog Days stars Kane and Lynch, a pair of mercenaries in Shanghai on their latest job. Want to know something interesting about Kane and Lynch? So would I. For a couple of people run around the world killing people, they are surprisingly boring. They're hard to even tell apart. Kane has a daughter and Lynch has a girlfriend; that and hair length are all that separate the two. They're two perpetually pissed-off people who swear a lot and seem to find no joy in anything. I don't expect them to be comedians but they could at least be slightly engaging. Their conversations are always something like this:
Kane: Ah shit, Shangsi's men are here!
Kane: Shit, the cops are here, too!
Kane and Lynch: Shiiiit!
The plot of this game: Kane and Lynch kill someone who's connected to a powerful man. The powerful man decides to kill them. Kane and Lynch must therefore kill him. With such a paper-thin storyline, I guess the duo didn't need to be interesting characters. Kane and Lynch could've been giant cheese sandwiches with guns and it wouldn't have mattered. Anyway, the plot plays out through a series of gunfights with nondescript Asian men in generic cityscape (a warehouse, apartment building, airport, etc.). The game's supposed to be set in Shanghai but all that means here is that that the crates have Chinese text on them - wait, no they don't. Every pillar of the game's story - plot, characters, setting - suffers from a lack of effort.
Rather than offering up a compelling narrative, Dog Days tries to hook players with a unique visual style. The entire game is made to look like it's being recorded on a camcorder. The notion of someone shadowing these two mercs and filming their exploits sounds interesting but there's no indication that there's an actual character doing this. Anyway, the camera is grainy and sways when the characters move. As you take damage, your view becomes blurry and tinged with red. If your character is knocked down, the camera falls as well and if you die, it clatters to the ground. Someone prone to motion sickness might not have too much fun with it. I found it tiring after the few levels and opted for the "steadicam" option that reduced the shakiness a bit. It's a bit weird for a game to look like shit on purpose. While you might call this whole exercise "visually unique," that's a lot like calling a three-armed boy "special." It often feels like this camcorder style is just sleight of hand to distract you from other issues, like the uninteresting locales and the limited number of character models for enemies.
In terms of basic shooter mechanics, this game feels behind the curve. Most of the weapons sound muffled and feel underpowered. Enemies can shoot you from across the map with pinpoint accuracy even if you’re behind cover. Granted, some of the cover is destructive but enemies are often able to hit you even if you’re ducking behind something more solid like a pillar. There are no grenades in the game, but you can fling fire extinguishers and fuel cans and then immediately shoot them (sort of like in Uncharted 2). However, you have no fine control over where you throw these makeshift bombs so their usefulness is minimal. Kane/Lynch have a tendency to just noodle-arm it a few feet in front of them. You’re stuck, then, playing whack-a-mole with enemies who hide behind cover and poke their head out at the same spot every 15-20 seconds. Try not to get impatient during these battles, though, because enemies can easily one-shot you. The lethality of the enemies makes each gunfight a long and tedious affair.
There’s some flirtation with stealth. At one point you’re running around naked and unarmed and at another, you’re given a silenced pistol. However, the underlying mechanics necessary for stealth simply aren’t there. Once one enemy spots you, he and all of his comrades nearby know where you are immediately and they don’t de-escalate even if you hide. There’s also no way to kill foes quietly in all the instances when you don’t have a silenced pistol. You can run up and hold an enemy as a human shield but this alerts his friends and even if it didn’t, the only way to dispatch an enemy you’re holding is to blow his head off. The human shield mechanic, by the way, only works well in the situations that the game has clearly scripted for it – for example, when an enemy is standing in a doorway with his back permanently to you. Taking a hostage during combat is ineffective because you’re more than likely going to get killed while charging a foe.
As with the first K&L, Dog Days’ strong point is the multiplayer. It features a Fragile Alliance mode in which 8 players work together to complete a heist. To do so, they must battle through A.I. cops. Players who die spawn as cops as well. The biggest hazard, though, are fellow criminals. Once the squad has recovered the loot, you can turn traitor and kill your comrades to get their share. Betrayal (or at least the prospect of it) injects a healthy dose of paranoia and tension into the missions. In the middle of a gunfight, you’re not only thinking about how to defeat the cops. You’re also wondering whether it’s a good time to ambush your teammates or if someone’s about to do the same to you. If you’re without an Internet connection, note that you can play this mode with bots in Arcade Mode.
The issue with Fragile Alliance, though, is that there’s not much incentive to turn on your teammates. Granted, it’s a lot of fun to grief strangers and even more so to punk your friends. Apart from that though, the risk/reward ratio for being a turncoat is poor. If you die during the heist, you get no money so your safest bet is to work with other teammates to fight through the cops rather than fighting them. Even if you did bump off a few teammates and escape with a large amount of cash, though, that won’t do much for you. Cash is only good for buying weapons for the next round. You won’t keep these weapons if you find a new match and you’ll also lose them if you die. Furthermore, attacking your teammates once is going to provoke them into attacking you in subsequent rounds. They’ll also be extra cautious around you. Everyone’s names are clearly displayed over their heads and your character model stays the same from round to round so it’s easy to keep track of who screwed you over. It just doesn’t pay to be a traitor.
The devs address this incentive problem with a variant game mode called Undercover Cop. It plays the same as Fragile Alliance with one exception: each round, a random player is designated an undercover cop. He must stop the criminals from escaping and will get a cut of the loot recovered from them. They get nothing if the criminals get away, though, so you’re forced to betray your fellow players. Also, these players are less likely to kill you in revenge the next round because they know you were just playing your assigned role. While you can still kill fellow criminals to get their loot or because you think they’re a cop, you’re going to be more cautious while doing so because you know that any dead criminal is one less person that can help you against the police or the undercover. One thing I wish they did to further screw with players’ heads, though, would be to have rounds where no one was the undercover cop.
These psychological multiplayer experiences are the only part of the game that held my interest. It’s a fleeting interest, though, because there’s only a small number of maps on the disc (six, assuming you didn’t get any pre-order bonuses from retailers). Also, the multiplayer relies on the same crummy mechanics that plagued the single-player. While the psychology behind Undercover Cop/Fragile Alliance is interesting, the actual gunfights themselves still aren’t. The game also includes a Cops vs. Robbers multiplayer mode in which one team of six tries to grab loot and run while the other tries to stop them. This is basically Team Deathmatch and, because the shooter fundamentals of the game are so poor, this really isn’t a fun mode.
Dog Days offers up very underwhelming two-player co-op action but the competitive/cooperative team-based multiplayer is intriguing. I wish IO Interactive would take the spirit of Undercover Cop and Fragile Alliance and try to craft an entire game around it. There’s no reason why those game modes should play second banana to a shoddy, 4-5 hour campaign about two miserable pricks. Two things work in Kane and Lynch: Dog Days and it’s not Kane or Lynch. The series' origins are in two-player co-op but the devs may need to move beyond that to keep holding gamers' attention.
Platform(s): Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC
Developer: IO Interactive
Publisher: Square Enix