kane & lynch: dead men

Kane & Lynch: Dead Men (2007)
IO Interactive
Played on PC
Genre: Buddy Movie Tech Demo

The first part of this is (here)

The plot centers around Kane, a former mercenary who is busted out of a death row transport wagon by his old associates — in what is either a nod to Killer 7 or a complete misunderstanding of that game’s pleasures and intents — The7. The7 are nowhere near as fun or interesting as the Killer 7, and I’m not even sure there really are seven of them. I know there’s at least four, but they all act and look the same so it doesn’t really matter. Anyways, they say they’re going to kill your family if you don’t get “the briefcase” back from some Japanese guy. It is never explained exactly what is in the briefcase, which I guess might be a nod to Pulp Fiction. The briefcase is also never, ever shown in the game and once The7 get tired of waiting around for you to find it, it stops being acknowledged altogether (which is a likely nod to the physical presence of God after He said all that nasty shit to Job during the Old Hebrew rap battle they had. No, really.) Anyways, The7 decide that it would make more sense to kill your family for real and to just forget about that dang old briefcase. They shoot your wife and are about to pop your daughter when you hulk out or something (psh, like I would remember) and stop them. This is about where that giant, three-story steamroller shows up and it becomes clear that any suspicions about this game being dumb as hell have been confirmed.

From there it turns into a revenge story, sort of. Instead of having an episodic person-by-person structure, a la every awesome revenge story ever, the game knows it itself doesn’t matter anymore and just throws you into a bunch of ridiculous situations. Bust into a federal prison and single handedly start a massive riot? You bet. Rappel from the top of a sky scraper to the outside of a boardroom and then kill everyone inside? Darn tootin’. Take on the entire country of Cuba? Dear god, yes. Yes yes yes. In a way, my only disappointment is that this tour of manliness doesn’t include some serious attempts at oiled-up Grecco-Roman wrestling or photo-realistic boob-physics, but in another way I also think this is a dumb fucking game with no ambition and a very limited idea of what a game actually is.

I suppose one could tell all that by the box art, a silhouette of two guns back-to-back as a guy with a broken nose and another guy with a bad haircut look out at you, all angry-like, but it bears reiterating: there is no satisfaction to be had in playing this game. It is a dry well of failed execution. Its one big idea, real-time narration, consists of having to listen to your crazy partner whine and then fuck things up when you aren’t right there, holding his hand. It’s like Ico, in how you have to do everything for that girl because she is incapable of doing anything on her, except Kane & Lynch doesn’t even give you the option of holding the other guy’s hand. It just forces you to go somewhere else and listen to your stupid partner freak the fuck out and fuck everything up for the umpteenth time.

There are little things, attempted systems of fun like taking cover, giving commands to a small team and rappelling down walls and all of them are under developed or useless in their implementation. This is not a game that was designed around any of these mechanisms, or even designed in recognition of their existence. They were simply dropped into the mix, in the vague hope that they would turn out well.

The cover system is an afterthought to the game’s action and is unnecessary. Don’t get me wrong, you can die from getting shot too much, and so you will want to take cover, but there are basic maneuvers that service this need. They are called strafing and ducking, and are standard maneuvers that everyone in 2007 was already well familiar with. I’m sure the get-sucked-against-the-wall and blind-fire elements are the result of the game’s tech demo aspirations to be a gripping representation of real-life, but they suck. They aren’t fun, they’re clunky and they present no new challenges and are never exploited in a compelling way. Compelling uses of cover would involve ambushes, defending against sustained assaults as the cover was eroded by gunfire, having to keep moving into and out of cover. In a world with cover, its existence should be the basic difference between life and death, an externalized version of the health bar. In Kane & Lynch it’s just another way to show off, to suggest that it is possible to have cover erode to a point where it would theoretically get you killed, if the game ever bothered to get off its ass and bust your balls about it.

The team command interface is, honestly, very elegant and would have been wonderful to use if the game had actually given me a reason to be tactical about what I did with my squad. Since you yourself, the player, are infinitely more capable than the friendly AI, which seems to be incapable of aiming a gun or taking cover, it is faster and easier to just do it yourself. Sending them into battle usually gets them killed, which requires your immediate attention to revive them. Losing a team member nets you a game over, which is stupid because they all die in the end anyways.

Rappelling is just idiotic, and is nothing more than a participatory cut-scene. You’re up high, you see some graphics, and then you see an icon that says you can press the action button and WOAAAH RAPPEL DOWN THREE STORIES (the heights you rappel from are always, without fail, three stories). You can’t rappel down just any three-story height, mind you. Just the ones the game says you can. One can only imagine whether there were more planned uses of your action button, or if rappelling was originally intended to be a mini-game in of itself. Who knows what hidden crenules of fun lurk in this game’s nooks and crannies?

There’s some other dumb shit you can do, but none of it is actually worth doing so I won’t bother. The bulk of the game is centered around shooting wave after wave of hapless bump-mapped rag dolls. Sometimes they run straight at you, other times they duck in and out of cover before running straight at you, but it is safe to say that they are consistently and without fail somewhere in the process of running at you. I played through on “morphine” (the game’s cutely thematic name for hard) and suspect that the time spent dying and replaying from the last checkpoint amounted to only an hour more of gameplay. Not that I think the game was too short: six or seven hours of shooting turds and mooching ammo from my team mates until they angrily tell me to “get [my] own” more than whet my appetite for subpar and unrewarding gameplay.

On some level I want to believe that the abrupt tonal shifts, the complete failings in all but the most basic gameplay mechanics, the plot where every single person is an asshole, the absurd Laurel and Hardy-esque scenery changes and the over-reliance on cool settings/graphics are all some sort of commentary about these kinds of games and how, with all of the talent behind them, their (modest) ambition still manages to far outstrip the creator’s abilities. But it isn’t because this game means every second of itself. Every misguided cliche, every half-baked game mechanic and every overt attempt to impress me with how totally frickin’ cool something is supposed to be; all of it was completely and utterly intentional.

IO Interactive is working on a sequel, which is…well, it did get relatively good reviews, and a movie deal, so I guess it’s to be expected. And while they did make Hitman: Blood Money!!!, which is one of the few perfect games in the tech demo genre, it took them 4 iterations to include all of the features one could expect to find in an assassin simulator. Maybe after Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days and Kane & Lynch 3: Dick Slappers, Kane & Lynch 4: Diggle Duggle will come out and do what obviously has to happen for a real-time narrative to work: create a game that is the equivalent of a single shot movie. Ten hours of you in third-person with no cut scenes or load screens, the replication of a single consciousness experiencing the world as it runs through some scenario over the course of one violent day.