Finally caught up with the older 'new' games that I've played, so now onto more current fare.
The sequel to Kane & Lynch: Dead Men, this time around you play as Lynch, the heavily medicated psychopath from the first installment. Lynch has since moved to Shanghai and is trying to lead a more 'normal' life (i.e. not breaking convicts out of prison and mounting assaults on South American guerrilla troops) and settle down with his special lady. Kane comes into town to 'do just one more deal, and then I'm out of the game' so that he can try to repair his damaged relationship with his estranged daughter. Before assisting Kane with his final criminal exploit, Lynch asks him to accompany him on an errand to rough up a local who has been talking too much about his boss. During this excursion, they end up accidentally killing the daughter of a powerful crime boss, and the rest of the game is spent shooting your way out of the hole you have dug yourselves into.
I played the first K&L and really enjoyed it, mainly because it was refreshing break from bald space marines and virtuous questers smiting evil. The gameplay in the first was very clunky. Kane and Lynch felt like they were slogging around in shin-deep water, and while the cover mechanic was fairly decent, it rarely protected you as enemies' bullets magically penetrated even the thickest of concrete blocks. Thankfully these bugs have been smoothed out and the movement and cover system has been greatly tuned up in this sequel. It's a pretty straight ahead cover based shooter with you running down corridors and back alleys to get to battle grounds laced with blocks for cover that you slowly advance on until you have cleaned out all the enemies. There have been some complaints that the gameplay is too one-note, but I don't see the difference between this and say Gears of War with the exception that Gears has more set-piece sequences. You remove those set pieces and you would basically have Kane and Lynch on Sera. While I do agree it's a fairly one-note game, it plays that note extremely well. They also added a 'down-but-not-out' mechanic which allows you to crawl to safety and continue to pick off enemies before you get back up or your partner revives you, and you can now take hostages and use them as a human shield. Overall, I would put it on par with Army of Two: The 40th Day as far as general gameplay goes. The main difference being that there is no upgrading weapons as all of your weapons are picked up from dead enemies throughout the game.
If you've ever thought that a game's campaign was training for the multi-player, then no truer words have been spoken about K&L2. The campaign is extremely short - about 6 hours on normal - and even if you go for the hardest difficulty setting and playing through with a friend on co-op, you can still knock this game out in a week. Thankfully the MP and challenge modes add a ton of replayability.
The first thing about the MP of K&L is that there is no deathmatch style whatsoever. It's all based around heists. You are with a team of up to 8 players or AI trying to grab as much loot as possible and make a clean getaway in the escape vehicle. All the while avoiding the fuzz or members of the criminal organization you are ripping off. Many of the maps start out with a set-piece event to kick it off: one has the group blowing up a bridge to crash a money train, another has a dumptruck ramming an armored car off an overpass. These are great, but they are obscured by the countdown timer blasted across the middle of the screen. It would have been nice to put the timer above your field of view so you can really take in the action before the round starts.
The first mode is a single player only called Arcade. In this you play the same heist over and over again in increasingly difficult rounds. The enemies get tougher and more aggressive and the cops even start bringing out attack dogs. This is basically a single player version of Fragile Alliance, which makes a return from the first K&L. In this, you are doing the same heist, except instead of AI partners, you have real people controlling them. The catch is that at anytime, anyone can decide to betray their fellow criminals, kill them off and take their share of the take. The double catch is that if you are betrayed by a teammate, you respawn as a cop, and have a chance to get revenge on the traitorous bastard. Once you die as a cop, though, you are out of the game until the round ends. This is a great twist as it creates this mood of paranoia because you never know if someone will decide to shoot you in the back and make off with your share. The next mode is Undercover Cop, which sets up the same scenario as Fragile Alliance, except this time one person is randomly selected to be an undercover cop tasked with stopping the crime from inside. You have to wait until a crime has been committed, and be careful about picking people off when they are separated from the group. Once you reveal yourself, your gamertag changes color, marking you as the narc and making you an easy target for the rest of the gang to rub you out. The final mode is Cops and Robbers, which is a competitive version of Fragile Alliance. One team of players is the robbers, and the other team of players are the cops trying to prevent them from escaping with the loot. The teams switch sides each round. There is a bit of ranking-up-and-unlocking going on as you get access to more varied weapons as you rank up, but you must successfully escape with some of the loot in order to have money to buy better weapons between rounds. If you die, you lose your weapons and have to re-purchase them at the end of the round.
The art direction is really the star of this game. As most folks probably know, the game is presented in a reality show, Youtube style. Very lo-fi with lots of lens flare and shaky camera action, and quick and abrupt cuts in the action. You even get that 'whooooooo' sound of air blowing through the microphone when you are sprinting, and they put in the buzz sound speakers make when a cell phone is near them and gets a call. The way it's done makes it feel like there is a camera man following Kane & Lynch around a la Cops. They even go so far in one cut scene where they get captured by the local law enforcement to have one of the cops suddenly notice the camera and reach his hand towards it as if he is grabbing it out of someone's hand before the screen goes black. For the motion impaired, there is an option to turn the shaky cam effect off, which I found detracted from the immersion of the story campaign, but was very much appreciated in the multiplayer.
One complaint I've been reading and hearing about is that most people don't seem to like Kane and Lynch as characters. "Despicable" "Awful" "Vulgar" are words being used to describe them. Yes, they cuss.. they cuss a fucking shit ton in the game, but seriously, if you had 20 SWAT officers shooting you down in a restaurant would you be using your church language? Hell fucking no! And as I said above, I really like Kane and Lynch as characters. They are such a change of pace from most games, and there is practically no irony or cheeky attitudes to them at all. As a cohort from another site said "bald out of shape psychotics should be the new video game heroes." They are hardened criminals trying to get out of the game, and do right by their loved ones, but they just seem to screw everything up. You almost feel sorry for them in a way.
The environmental design is top notch as well. Shanghai really breathes with life, and the contrast of the dingy back alleys with the shiny neon lights and skyscrapers really takes you for a ride through the bottom and top of the city. The character models are also well done, and there are plenty of civilian NPCs in the city streets that cause commotion and distraction in firefights. The cut scenes are great too and all of the voice acting is top notch. If there is one complaint that I have, is that on one level Kane and Lynch are covered in blood, and they look too shiny. But that is a general problem with alot of games these days so I gave them some slack on that, and also because that level is also one of the most intense and nail biting of the entire game.
Overall I would say rent this to try it out. While the main campaign is extremely short, the multiplayer is one of the most unique and engaging out there on the market, but many folks may not like the backstabbing nature of the gameplay. I really enjoyed it on the first Kane and Lynch game, even to the point of considering buying a copy after I had returned mine to Gamefly. But even enjoying the return of the Fragile Alliance, I found myself tiring of the multiplayer after only a few days of play. Even then, I would recommend folks try this out, just for the art direction and Youtube style presentation alone. As one of my friends said about the demo "it's oddly groundbreaking" and I'd have to agree.