Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days Review (PC)

The original Kane & Lynch was one of the greatest missed opportunities the gaming world has ever seen. While the gritty storyline and simply hateful characters provided a wonderful backdrop for some delightfully gory shootouts, a distinct lack of variety in gameplay and an awfully short lifespan - not to mention the plethora of bugs and glitches present throughout play - made this particular release a rather flawed experience.

IO Interactive is looking to make amends as we delve once more into the hectic and brutal lives of our two favourite psychopaths with Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days, and this time around it's definitely a journey worth experiencing. A brilliant Handycam-style camera effect adds a hidden depth to the gruesomeness of it all, while the sequel retains the thrill of combat with which Kane & Lynch are accustomed. A few old problems rear their ugly heads, but overall this is a huge improvement over the original outing.

Keep still will ya, it's just a tetanus jab!

From the get-go - and we're talking about the title screen, here - it's obvious that there's a different kind of visual treat in store for us; one which is going to flip the prequel's bog-standard third person camera on its head. Beginning with a shot from the backseat of a car speeding down a highway, then flipping to scenes showing a virtual Shanghai in all its glory, the striking graphical effects set the scene perfectly.

Then it's into the action, taking the role of Lynch this time around, who clearly has the most screws loose of the two. Letting bygones be bygones, the duo head into the underworld of Shanghai to partake in a deal which will potentially render them stinking rich. Of course, things never seem to go to plan with these types of stories, and soon the crazed pair are taking down waves of Chinese gangsters and policemen.

Throughout play, the camera lingers behind Lynch as if there were someone following him, swaying madly all over the place when he makes a dash and falling to the floor whenever he dies. It's also got an incredible home movie feel to it, as if someone is recording the whole thing on a camcorder. Think a cameraman chasing after his reporter who is hot on the heels of a big scoop, and you get the general idea.

While it all feels a little awkward on the eyes at first, the visual style soon falls into place and adds an awesome sense of drama and substance to proceedings. Just to add to the idea that you are in fact watching a recording, all scenes of nudity or ultimate gore - e.g. blowing someone's head off - are pixelated out, as if they are too intense for public viewing. Furthermore, certain light sources are too bright for the camera and 'bleed' across the screen, creating an effect which is simply stunning to behold.

We could go on, but quite simply this is one of the most outstanding visual styles we've seen in a good while. Scenes which would normally be gorgeous enough - for example, edging your way through a bustling Shanghai street - are given a staggering atmosphere that must be seen to be believed.

Of course, all this would mean zilch if the gameplay wasn't much cop - a problem the first Kane & Lynch release had a slight stumbling over. Which makes us very happy to report that an overhaul to the aiming and covering system solves so many of the original issues. Lynch can duck behind cover at the touch of a button, then aim and fire over the top or round a corner with ease.

Combat is a breeze too, making for gunfights which are not too difficult, yet no walk in the park either. As the player peppers the walls with bullets, tiles and debris fall about the place, and it really feels like you're doing considerable damage. It's the little touches like this that make the experience feel so deliciously chaotic, and you'll be keen to see what each new area brings.

Kane and definitely able

The story - as you would imagine, given the duo's past history - is fairly graphic at times, but nothing can prepare you for the twist around halfway through play. 'Gruesome' doesn't even come close to describing it - try horrifying and you're closer to the ballpark. This is a violent game, and IO Interactive likes to remind you of this fact as often as possible.

You're never allowed to forget just how despicable these men - these monsters you are helping - truely are, either. Lynch spends a good portion of play mumbling and cursing under his breath like a psychotic Nathan Drake, and their intentions are always selfish and inconsiderate. As the last wave of gangsters are taken down and the Chinese police move in, neither character notes the authority of their new opponents and both continue to deal out the pain. It's a rather chilling thought when you really put it into context.

On the whole, the story is a rollercoaster ride of thrills and messy spills, although there is a slight lull around halfway through that threatens to spoil the atmosphere. Fortunately, the repetition of killing, move on, killing, move on is soon cast aside for a magnificent and most epic finale... or at least it would have been, had the game ended an hour early. After what would have been the perfect end to the story, a ridiculously pointless extra hour is tagged on, which finishes the game off in a most unsatisfactory way. It's best to close your eyes for this part and pretend that it isn't happening.

The co-operative options are back again, allowing two players to blast their way through the main story both online and via local split-screen. Your friend can take control of Kane, and together you explore the gritty sweatshops and backalleys of Shanghai. This kind of action is always better with a pal, and there are no exceptions here.

Dog Days doesn't manage to solve every problem encountered in the first game. The story mode is again quite short, clocking in at around seven hours play time. The action is for the most part completely linear, with barely any room for exploration. There are sound issues all over the place, especially in cutscenes where you'll be straining your ears to hear a single line of dialogue. Finally, the static cutscenes during loading screens are also a bit naff, although we'd still choose those over a simple loading bar.

Apart from the main story, there is an Arcade mode which plays out like a single-player version of Fragile Alliance from the original game. Over a number of increasingly difficult waves, the player must steal a shedload of cash with team-mates, then escape to the getaway vehicle. Everyone who manages to escape shares the stolen cash, but it's possible to kill your own team-mates and take their cash too. However, this will brand you a traitor, and other players may decide to avenge their buddy's death.

While it's all pretty interesting and tactical stuff, the online Fragile Alliance version is where the best action is found. Playing against real people, you never know when someone is going to decide that they are better off without you and end your life. Fortunately, when a player dies they spawn as a cop, allowing them to get their revenge. It's genuinely exciting gaming, and a vast improvement over the first game's version.

It's called the getaway van for a reason, you know

Two extra variant multiplayer modes also join the fray - Undercover Cop plays the same, except that one of the group is secretly a policemen, and working out who they are before they take your whole team out is essential. Cops and Robbers puts players in the role of both the good and the bad guys, meaning the robbers have even more problems to contend with. Throw in rankings, then top it off with loyalty and style scores and you've got yourself a great online experience.

Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days provides what the original could not - fantastically gory action over a stunning backdrop of mob warfare and careless violence. There are still a few issues carried over that mar the overall package, but both Mr Kane and Mr Lynch now most definitely have our full attention.

Top Game Moment: Throwing a gas canister towards a group of enemies, then opening fire and watching the subsequent explosion engulf them.