Gaming Today Reviews Kane and Lynch: Dead Men (Xbox 360)

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At PAX this past year, one of my favorite games that I got some hands-on time with was Kane and Lynch: Dead Men. The level I played felt exactly like the street shootout scene in Heat, and that was a very good thing. As I made my getaway from a bank heist, my crew AI reacted just like I wanted them to, the graphics looked pretty sharp, and the whole experience was challenging, but not impossible. Now that the full the game is out, I just want to know one thing: what the hell happened?

Let’s start off with the good points about the game. The best thing about Kane and Lynch: Dead Men is, well, Kane and Lynch. In my opinion, they are probably two of the most complex characters in video game history. After playing game after game where you’re the gritty superhero saving the world or changing history, it’s a little refreshing to play an immensely flawed protagonist who just wants to make things in his own messed up life right. I didn’t particularly like them — they’re some seriously not nice people — but I really wanted to see what happens to them.

kanelynch04-1.jpgThe movie rights to this game were sold before it was even finished, and it’s not hard to see why. For a change, Kane and Lynch has a story that actually sounds like a movie plot. Two guys get busted out of jail and are paired up together for a job, which eventually leads them on a quest for their own separate revenge. Aside from that, the two of them make it obvious that they hate each other, and that makes for some great chemistry and conversation between the two. Kane has been labeled a traitor by all his old cohorts, while Lynch is a heavily-medicated psychopath. In the single player, you play as Kane, and you really get a sense that you’re trying to keep a crazy person from losing it. At times, Lynch will just freak out and start shooting everyone, and when things start to get too intense, you’ll hear him over the radio muttering to his inner demons. All the characters are also expertly voice acted, making these situations all the more eerie.

Unfortunately, the game’s story and characters are about the only thing that will keep you playing this game to the end. The graphics aren’t very pretty; not “last-gen,” but not great either. Kane and Lynch’s individual character models look sharp, but the environments and most everything else looks bland in some places and downright ugly in others. Some levels will sport impressive visuals, like the Tokyo Night club, but will still falter in terms of creative level design. Besides which, there are a number of repeated, terrible graphical glitches. Too many times i would see an enemy just freeze in place or flicker in and out of their position.

kanelynch03-1.jpgThe difficulty as well sways from moderately challenging to almost impossible. You might be going through one level steadily, being careful to watch for enemies, when suddenly BAM! enemies surround you, your whole crew gets killed, and you’re left trying to take cover and revive them all. There are also some levels where you can easily get killed in thirty seconds if your initial shots don’t land. The game is full of truly controller-shattering moments.

The enemy AI can be punishingly difficult. Some are easy to take down, but most of them have the uncanny ability to hit you with an assault rifle from a mile away. The crew AI is even more nerve-racking though. You never really know how they’ll react to your orders. If you tell them to target a specific enemy for example, they might take cover and shoot at them from a distance (smart), but usually they’ll instead charge blindly into a firefight and get killed (dumb). The crew AI is made all the more frustrating by the fact that it’s game over when one of them dies, and you have to start over at a checkpoint that might hav been twenty minutes ago. That’s right, it’s almost an escort mission every level.

The game relies heavily on cover, which is unfortunate because the cover system is terrible. You’re never really sure what surfaces you’ll be able to take cover behind. Not that it matters though, since it’s really easy for the enemy to kill you even from behind cover. Besides which, taking cover happens automatically, but only if you’re in the right position. Basically, every time you take cover, there will usually be a few seconds where you stumble back and forth trying to get your character to take cover. And yes, it’s as frustrating as it sounds.

kanelynch02-1.jpgNow, let’s talk multiplayer. The game received some buzz when the online multiplayer mode, Fragile Alliance, was revealed, which allows up to eight people to team up on a heist, which perform several times in sepearate rounds. Each map starts with you outside the place you’re going to rob and then has you run inside, grab as much loot as you can, and then fight through the cops to get out. The person who escapes with the most loot wins. What makes it interesting though is that any member of your team could decide to betray you all at any moment, taking all the loot for themselves. If you kill a member of your crew, you get labelled as a “Traitor” to everyone else, but you get more loot if you can escape. The catch is, anyone that dies respawns as a cop, who gets to collect a finder’s fee for any loot dropped from former teammates. It’s the only online game I can think of where team killing could actually get you a better score.

In theory, this mode sounds like a lot of fun, and it is for awhile. It really is unlike anything I’ve ever played before. Just having the option to betray your team means the while heist could fall apart at any moment. You might realize you have the most loot of anyone and, rather than hop in the getaway car, just lob a grenade and take out your whole team, kepping it all for yourself. Conversely, you could be betrayed at any moment, and it usually happens when you’re least expecting it. Unfortunately, there’s only four maps, and you’ll take the exact same path through them over and over, which gets old quickly. Also, playing as a cop just isn’t as fun, so much so that a lot of people just quit the minute they die. In fact, at least on Xbox Live, people quit so often that even if you start a game with eight people, you’ll be lucky to finish it with four. Add to that the usual Xbox Live douchebaggery (especially people doing whatever it takes for achievements) and some really unbalanced weapons, and you’ve got a multiplayer experience that will wear thin after awhile. Basically, this multiplayer mode could have used a lot of extra work.

kanelynch05-1.jpgOverall, Kane and Lynch: Dead Men is your typical third-person shooter, complete with frustrating controls and AI, but with a superb story. The characters themselves are great, and I’m looking forward to seeing the movie already (particularly if Bruce Willis and/or Billy Bob Thornton are involved). It’s just too bad that everything else in the game falters so much. I’d like to see these issues get ironed out in a sequel, but still, this is a disappointing new game from the guys who developed the Hitman series.

Presentation (7)
A great story with two awesome characters, which is unfortunately hampered by almost everything else in this game.

Graphics (5)
Great character models, but terrible environments and level design.

Sound (7)
The voice acting is terrific. The sound effects are sometimes used very well and other times seem to be missing entirely.

Gameplay (4)
Playing the game is an exercise in immense frustration due to the varying difficulty, moronic crew AI, and broken cover system.

Replayability (6)
You’ll probably play through the game twice: once by yourself and once with a friend in co-op. The online Fragile Alliance mode is fun, but gets old fairly quickly.

Overall (6)
Ultimately, Kane and Lynch are two of my favorite new game characters who are unfortunately stuck in a mediocre game. Rent before you buy.

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1 Comment on Gaming Today Reviews Kane and Lynch: Dead Men (Xbox 360)

Handshakes

On November 21, 2007 at 11:57 am

I had some serious fun with this game and I am usually insanely picky.

The bad?

The friendly AI IS extremely irritating at times. If you tell them to take cover, they do. But they also barely shoot anything in that mode. If you tell them to lay fire on something, they do. But they leave cover to do it. So you have to keep switching back and forth, and for me that is annoying. Luckily, through about 90% of the game you can really just tell your team to sit in a corner while you do all of the work.

Also, the game can be INSANELY difficult. I think the cover system is fine as long as you realize that you don’t often have to use it. This isn’t Gears of War, and simply straifing in aim mode around corners will get the job done. When the time came to actually use the cover system it kicked in and I had no trouble. Unfortunately, the odds in most battles are so stacked against you that cover or no cover you are going to get hit anyway. Bottom line here is that you will lose here. A lot.

The things the game did REALLY well: The coop in this game is the best in any game, hands down. Instead of just tacking on coop where one player simply becomes the other guy in the story and thats that, they actually took the time to let the player playing Lynch experience all of the stuff Lynch experiences in the story. For instance, when Lynch freaks out and starts firing on innocents (no spoiler here, this is in all of the previews), the Lynch player sees all innocents as cops just like Lynch says. It is a really neat touch and does a lot to make the characters feel more real. I see some reviewers knocking this game for not having online coop but that is just douchebaggy reviewing. Playing with a stranger (worse, a stranger from the XBox Live community) is not appropriate for a game with this level of story depth.

The combat is satisfying. The game does big huge set piece battles greatly, and that is what you get for 8 hours.

The multiplayer is a lot of fun when xbox live lets it be that way. The biggest drawback here as with EVERY xbox live title is the xbox live community. Quitters, whiners, racists, and idiots can and will be found on every server. That aside: The coop portion of the heists can be really challenging (in a fun way). One wrong move can leave a dead teammate, and a dead teammate means one more especially tough cop to deal with. Then after the heist you have to constantly be watching your back for traitors. It is tense, it is exciting, and it works.

Bottom line: The level design and story in this title is unparalleled. But you must remember, this isn’t Gears. Gears took huge steps in making the third person shooter a more tactical experience. Kane and Lynch is an oldschool action oriented third person shooter. Playing it with that in mind (and on easy mode if you aren’t into being as frustrated as you get when you are playing Prince of Persia) then you simply can NOT have a bad time playing this game.