Gaming Today Reviews Kane and Lynch: Dead Men (Xbox 360)
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.
The 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.
The 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.
Now, 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.
Overall, 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.
A great story with two awesome characters, which is unfortunately hampered by almost everything else in this game.
Great character models, but terrible environments and level design.
The voice acting is terrific. The sound effects are sometimes used very well and other times seem to be missing entirely.
Playing the game is an exercise in immense frustration due to the varying difficulty, moronic crew AI, and broken cover system.
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.
Ultimately, Kane and Lynch are two of my favorite new game characters who are unfortunately stuck in a mediocre game. Rent before you buy.