Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is a buddy movie crime caper is the guise of a third-person shooter. It's gritty, violent and visually striking. But how does it play?
This is the first hour of Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days. Below I’ll describe what I saw, what I did and what was going through my head at the time. It’s not a review, it’s my first-hand impressions of what I’ve played so far.
00:00 - I hit Start and am presented with four difficulty levels to choose from. I opt for Medium, the default setting and the second of the four. As the opening titles roll, a short and quite confronting cinematic plays. Unfortunately, Square Enix has insisted the details of this scene are not mentioned in preview coverage, presumably for "OMG spoilarz!" reasons. It's a bit weird though, given it's the first thing any player will see. Oh well. Moving along.
00:01 - Cut to Lynch on the phone to his wife (or girlfriend perhaps?) telling her he's just got to take care of something and he'll meet her soon. We find Lynch in the heart of Shanghai, standing on a busy street corner. The camera wobbles and jerks and spasms, like someone is filming the scene on their mobile phone while being jostled by passers-by. Bikes and vans joust on the street while people mill around kerbside food vendors. There's litter everywhere. Buildings are cover in graffiti and pockmarked by ubiquitous air-conditioning units. Kane's just flown in and greets Lynch en route to his hotel, luggage in hand. Lynch says he's got to have a word with someone and then they'll get to the hotel. There's a job tomorrow for someone named Glazer. They head into an alleyway and the game begins.
00:02 - The grainy, jerky, handheld camera vibe of the cut-scene wasn't just for show. The whole game is presented in such amateur fashion. When playing the camera is tight on Lynch's shoulder and wavers nervously even when you're not moving the thumbstick. The effect is at first disorientating because it's not the precise, smooth camera control we're trained to expect from a game.
00:03 - I walk Lynch into a filthy courtyard off the alley. Tatty cardboard boxes are piled in one corner, dumpsters overflowing with garbage are in another. Apparently Brady, the thug Lynch needs to put the heavy on, lives somewhere round here. Pressing right on the d-pad points me towards the next objective: in this case a door on the first floor of the complex.
00:04 - At the door, I hit X and Lynch kicks it in. Startled, Brady inside leaps off the couch with a semi-naked girl and fires wildly at his intruders. We duck for cover then give chase as the guy legs it out the back, girl in tow.
00:05 - We follow Brady out of his flat and through the tight, twisting apartment complex. He turns to shoot a few times and I'm told to hit A to take cover. The sticky cover system works much like you've seen in countless third-person shooters, from Gears of War to Uncharted. You can pretty much duck behind any waist-high object and the environment is littered with solid balconies, tables, chairs, fridges, rubbish bins and the like, all ready to stop bullets for you.
00:07 - Holding down LB allows Lynch to sprint and, as we head over the rooftops, I'm catching the dude. I shoot him in the back a few times and see splashes of blood to indicate I've hit, but he keeps on running. I guess it's scripted and I'm not meant to kill him... at least not yet.
00:09 - The chase hits street level and soon we're crashing through an underground arcade full of cheap jewellery and pirate DVDs. As we arrive, groups of heavily-armed thugs ambush us. It's here, amongst the neon blues and pinks, that the full impact of the crazy colour bleeding will hit you. Bullets are flying everywhere, glass is shattering, and the camera's going berzerk as I guide Lynch from cover to cover. Lynch takes too many shots, he stumbles to the floor, the screen filling with red, and I mash the A button to get him up and back into cover.
00:12 - Through the arcade we emerge into a night market where we're assaulted by yet more heavily-armed thugs. Again, I'm crouching behind counter-tops and stalls, popping up to empty a clip then back down to reload. You can only carry two weapons at once and so far I've seen a couple of handguns, a couple of SMGs and a shotgun. I settle on an Uzi and the shotty, but really there's not much to choose from and the streets are littered with weapons and ammo from the dead thugs.
00:15 - Still chasing Brady. We appear to be in some sort of fish market now. I dunno, it kinda all looks the same by this point. I find some fuel cans which I can throw and then shoot. They explode, taking out a bunch of thugs, as long as you can get your head around the fiddly aiming mechanic. I toss my first two fuel cans into the stall where Kane is crouched, despite pointing the camera well to their right. Fortunately friendly fire appears to be permanently off and my buddy emerges unscathed.
00:19 - Eventually, after disposing in standard stop-and-pop fashion of another wave of thugs in another identikit market, we corner the thug we've been chasing across town. He tries to use the girl as a hostage, but Kane shoots her. Brady then pulls a knife on himself and slices his own throat. That's... uh... not really the outcome Lynch was hoping for.
00:21 - With that mission ending in disaster, Lynch calls Glazer and arranges to be picked up so they can discuss the actual job they were brought in for. The game's second chapter opens with Kane and Lynch riding in the backseat of Glazer's car. Glazer, clearly some cockney gangster, asks Lynch waht he thinks of Shanghai. "I fucking hate it," comes the reply. Hmm.
00:23 - Suddenly the car is hit from behind and bullets start pinging the outside of the vehicle. We jump out to find ourselves surrounded on a highway being shot at by Chinese thugs. The task here is complicated by the fact that the thugs are shooting Glazer's car as he tries to crawl through the traffic jam that's formed all around. It's an escort mission, essentially, where Lynch has to keep pushing forward, taking out the enemy quickly before they destroy the car.
00:24 - Thing is, it may as well be the arcade or the market we've just been through, save for substituting abandoned vehicles for stalls loaded with fish. I move from one cover point to the next, emptying a clip, reloading, and moving on again. There's nothing especially challenging happening, aside from how these seemingly unarmoured thugs - they're just wearing civilian clothes after all - can soak up a phenomenal amount of bullets. With the low accuracy of the automatic weapons and how well such flimsy objects as the frame of a car window afford protection, each engagement becomes an overly drawn-out affair.
00:26 - We follow the highway a short distance and veer off down an exit ramp. At the bottom, some more cars pull up and more thugs pour out. Rinse and repeat. I'm getting more irritated with how many bullets you have to put into a guy's exposed head before he keels over. Then some cops show up. So we shoot them too. Stop-and-pop. Stop. And pop. Stop... and... pop.
00:30 - With all the cops out of the way, Glazer leads us down into an underground carpark where he makes a call for us to be picked up. But as we're waiting, more cops descend, maybe a dozen or more of them swarming down into the carpark. The openness of this area makes for a more interesting combat space. Cars and pillars provide cover while the sheer size of the carpark allows for multiple routes and flanking opportunities. Fire extinguishers conveniently mounted on the walls can either be shot if a cop's nearby or thrown towards the cops and then shot. I fare better with these than the earlier fuel cans. Like the thugs earlier, these cops are still bullet sponges, but the variety in this section means it's considerably more enjoyable.
00:35 - We make it out of the carpark, up some stairs and tumble out into a half-demolished building. Glazer's muttering something about a guy called Hsing, some local crime boss whose turf we've been on. He could be behind these attacks, and the cops are probably in his pocket. The abandoned lot stretches out about fifty metres or so before hitting the busy street again. The foundations of the building are exposed in irregular rows of concrete all about - yes! - waist height. As we step into the yard, the cops pour in from the other side.
00:38 - I get cocky and charge forward about halfway across the yard, failing to see one of the cops had flanked me on the left. Even though I've taken cover behind a slab of concrete, he's got enough of an angle on me that he can get a clear shot. I hit the ground, taken by surprise. I mash A to get back into cover, but he's still got a bead on me and down I go again. This time I'm dead.
00:39 - I respawn at the checkpoint just before the yard. Although my approach is more cautious this time, the AI pretty much does the same thing. A few take up positions at the rear, a couple come to my right, and the guy who got me last time once again moves left. Once they're all behind cover, they remain there, popping up to shoot, crouching down to reload. I watch for a while as they repeat this pattern, mixing things up with the occasional shuffle to adjacent cover but essentially caught in a loop, repeating the same scripted actions. They're not really out to get me, they're merely an impediment to my progress. I stop and I pop and eventually finish them all off.
00:43 - Outside on the street I can see the glare of flashing police car lights. They've cordoned off the area and are waiting, maybe another dozen officers crouched behind their cars, for us to emerge. I run up some crumbling stairs to the first floor for a better view. Here I find a bunch of fuel cans I can toss down onto the street below. Most of the gathered cops are caught in the resulting explosions and we swiftly finish the rest off as we burst out onto the street. Glazer's getaway van finally shows up and we pile in.
00:46 - While the next episode is loading, Lynch calls his wife again, telling her he's just run into a bit of trouble, but he'll meet her at the restaurant later. "Don't worry, I'll be there!" he reassures her.
00:47 - Glazer wants Lynch and Kane to pay a visit to Hsing and find out what he wants, assuming it's him behind all this. As the level starts, we find ourselves in another filthy alleyway with some of Glazer's men. It's grey and dreary and dirty, just like every other location we've seen so far. We head inside a building into one of Hsing's sweatshops. Women are huddled behind sewing machines in every room, alarmed but not as terrified as you might expect as a bunch of dudes with shotguns come barrelling through their workplace.
00:49 - The peace and quiet doesn't last long though - no more than five rooms really - and soon Hsing's goons are shooting at us. So we shoot back, ducking behind doors and tables and benches, clearing each tiny room before heading into the next one that looks much the same. I'm running around with two shotguns now as they seem much better suited to the kind of close-range combat the game seems to specialise in.
00:52 - More cluttered grey rooms pass by in a blur of shouts, gunfire and dead bodies. At some point we run into Glazer's men who were with us earlier but apparently become separated from. Or something. I'm not sure. Perhaps the designers just didn't want all six of us squeezing through the narrow corridors of the sweatshop. Regardless, we find ourselves in a courtyard in the building's centre. Thugs pour in and take up positions behind all the up-turned tables, dumpsters and pallets cunningly crowded into the area. I keep repeating my pop-up, empty clip, crouch, reload routine. Hey, it works here too!
00:55 - We head into the next building and continue clearing out more anonymous thugs populating very small rooms. I wait at the doorway of each until the enemy inside stands up from cover to shoot, then pump a slug from my shotgun into his face. Most of the time he goes down with one shot. We walk through what is obviously the sleeping quarters for Hsing's sweatshop. At the sight of the rows of tiny bunk beds, one of Glazer's men says "Fucking animals!" I'm not sure whether he's referring to Hsing or the poor unfortunate slave labour who sleep there.
00:58 - The building beyond that is a warehouse. It's empty, save for an enormous number of crates. In a room off to the side, however, we find Hsing. He plays it cool under Lynch's primitive interrogation techniques, casually advising that the girl Kane shot back in the market is actually the daughter of Shangsi, allegedly the most dangerous "businessman" in Shanghai. All the shit that's gone down since has been a direct result of that incident. Glazer's men aren't impressed and decide it might be best to put both Kane and Lynch out of the picture. The cut-scene ends as they open fire upon the fleeing duo.
00:60 - And that's a wrap.
To its credit, this is a stylish game: the tight camera lends a real sense of intimacy to the action while the grainy desaturated colours lend it a unique look that is suitably evocative of the dense urban environment in which the games takes place.
But it's just not a very interesting shooter. The pace is constantly tuned to "in yer face", a one-note tune that quickly becomes tiresome; the combat is very repetitive with no need for a tactic beyond "stop and pop"; enemy variety is limited to which of the three weapon types they use; the level design mostly repeats the same boxed-in, cramped environments with their obvious cover points and little in the way of room to manoeuvre.
Perhaps as Dog Days moves beyond its first hour it does receive a much-needed injection of variety, in terms of its pacing, its weapons, its gunplay, its level design, and its range of enemies. I hope so.