Kane & Lynch: Dead Men
Kane & Lynch continues to impress, and Io Interactive's feverish work on their gritty Freedom Fighters follow-up may well have eased earlier worries have with controlling the travelling circus of maniacs that make up Kane and Lynch's entourage. With the developers recently showing off the game's opening level to us - a breakout from the prison van escorting Kane to death row masterminded by his former employers and facilitated by the psychotic Lynch - it's difficult to remain unimpressed by the bodycount and the first tendrils of its deeprunning story. It'll be a short game, but the intensity should make up for it.
Kane's bust nose is a hint to the fact that his 'rescuers' aren't new best friends - but Io admit that its also a reference to the movie Chinatown. So they're don't just rip off Michael Mann.
Having pumped gas into a bank to knock out its occupants, this level has every hallmark you'd expect from a 'bank job gone wrong'. Although Lynch does murder all the hostages.
Levels in K&L tend to begin stealthy, before police reinforcements start to turn up at an exponential rate, penning into buildings and surrounded by fuzz...
Lynch has episodes of psychosis while you play, and should you be playing over a LAN whoever's playing him will sometimes see innocent pedestrians as gun-toting law enforcers. Channing.
Hiding From Bullets
K&L's cover system sees Kane automatically duck behind columns, such as these examples of soon-to-be powdered concrete. This lias the potential to irk.
The game begins with Kane dazed, injured and handcuffed and 20 or hoodlums firing automatic weapons in every direction. It's probably one of the most gun-blazing tutorials we've seen to date.
Fresh Air = Bad
The 'bad men inside' and 'cops outside' dynamic is one you'll come across often, prompting many and varied hopeful charges into areas packed with flying bullets. A well-placed tear gas canister works wonders here.
Download Kane & Lynch: Dead Men
Two And a bit years ago, a game called Freedom Fighters was released and it didn't change the world. Lost in a monolithic EA release schedule and yet another in a long parade of third-person squad actioners, 1 reviewed it for ZONE and enjoyed it enough to give it 75%. And you'd have thought that would be case closed - but the game just would not leave my head.
As time went on 1 just began to remember it with abnormal fondness -to the extent that it lias now become one third of my holy trinity of 'games you've probably never played, but should' list. It's a flawed game, but even now I rate it alongside Beyond Good & Evil and Psychonauts. Why? Why the attachment? Well, partly because it's a game that few played - and it didn't deserve that treatment - and partly because over-riding the game's problems there were moments of pure gaming exhilaration.
So let's start with Lynch. He's the subsidiary character who'll accompany you (Kane) throughout the game, or who a mate will get to control in co-op. He's a psychopath. A proper, full-on medicated schizophrenic who distractedly hums at nothing in particular before embarking on murderous rampages through crowds of enemies and civilians alike. Let's get over it now: Dead Men is not a particularly accurate or knowledgeable account of mental health issues in modern-day society.
It Started Sowell...
Described by Io as looking like a "German teacher gone wrong". Lynch is not a happy cupcake. He once worked a day job in Detroit warehouses, but one day came home to find his wife brutally murdered -and seeing as his schizophrenia has had him blacking out and committing unspeakable acts of brutality, he's not altogether convinced that he didn't have a part in iL Conviction and death row beckons, and we'll leave him looking rather sad in a prison transport vehicle - sitting alongside the man he'll be baiting throughout the exciting plot arc that follows.
"Kane is a little bit more complex." explains JP Kurup. "He starts out as a normal father of two: he lias a daughter, a son and a wife - life is generally good. He works as a consultant for large companies who outsource work in other countries; Venezuela in this case." So our lead character is a talented man, although presumably not doing the sort of outsourcing that puts our energy supplier queries into the hands of a Bangladeshi lady with a working knowledge of EastEnders. Tragedy, however, isn't far away: his two-year-old son finds his gun and shoots himself, dying two weeks later. Kane can't cope and skips the country.
Two years later and lie's a mercenary - using his negotiation skills and brute force to bring home the bacon to an empty house - presumably with a hammock, as that's what mercenaries generally sleep in. Four years later and lie's contacted by a shadowy group known as 'The Seven' who are interested in becoming 'The Eight'. If Kane joins them, which he obviously does, then he gets the moon on a stick and the sun on a flagpole - but if lie ever breaks their rules, then lie's all kinds of buggered.
"It's a brotherhood of unlimited power, but you've got to behave." explains Kurup. "He's with them for about 13 years and everything is fine -they're working on their last big job, their retirement job in the US, but it all goes horribly wrong. Kane, however, manages to survive and get away with all the loot. He gets to Venezuela, but is caught, brought back and sentenced for the atrocities he's committed and is sent to death row." One Kane? One Lynch? Sitting together in an armoured car? That makes it bust-out o'clock, don't you think?
Let's leave them there for the moment though; I don't want to sliovel too much back history down your throat And, coincidentally, neither do Io - which is why so much of the narrative will be told through the conversations you have as the game progresses or, cleverly, in brief aural flashbacks of Kane's son dying or past conversations on the occasions that your ineptitude will have him near-dead.
The action that will have left him in this position, meanwhile, is very, very similar to what went before in Freedom Fighters. So similar, in fact, that a keen eye could spot that they'd even borrowed its squad command icons for the purposes of the demonstration put in front of me. Essentially, members of your crew can be distributed into strategic points through right-clicks of the mouse, and each will mimic your own tactics - so if you're attacking then they'll surge forward, if you're taking cover then they'll do the same. The aim is to rob squad-shootcry of its complexities and drown it in fast flowing simplicity - action being viewed from a third-person perspective which can lie drawn into an over-the-shoulder viewpoint should a sharp shot be required.
All of the guys you're ordering about one of whom will always be the psychopathic Lynch, are in it for themselves and won't necessarily risk their neck for you - but there will be quite a few of them. Generally, you'll have four or five guys to order about, but in later stages of the game each of them will be able to have four or five 'satellite' hoodlums following their moves. This means you'll be heading up attack forces of more than 25 characters; which is less third-person action and more all-out war.
A typical chapter to describe, meanwhile, are the periods of calm and chaos you'll experience as Kane, Lynch and two other members of their 'crew' descend through a Tokyo skyscraper, pausing only to massacre a group of businessmen in a meeting, steal a briefcase and for Kane to give a dead foe a scar on his cheek to match his own. Seeing the four guys rappelling down from the roof with the blue open sky above, tiny cars below and office workers busying themselves at their desks (some noticing the action outside, others not) through the glass is a true sight to behold.
As soon as an explosive charge lias been set outside the meeting room's window and the music starts pumping, however, you won't have time for 'oohs' and 'aahs'. The combat that follows is also notably grenade-heavy, especially since Io are also introducing smoke bombs and tear gas - the wafting of which we're promised will be far prettier on a PC than in the simultaneous release on our bastard cousin the 360.
The action then progresses through the Japanese skyscraper's lobby, with our anti-heroes cowering behind samurai works of art as they're slowly pummelled into pieces by enemy bullets, before spilling out onto the street. It's here that the influence of Michael Mann becomes most apparent, the scene instantly recalling the intense street battle that follows Heat's bungled bank robbery. Huge crowds scatter, cars screech and cops open fire - the action is just pure grit, and liable to get grittier with other setpieces due to cover actual bank robberies and breaking other characters out of jail. Bundled with, surprise of all surprises, a co-op mode that will actually see the light of day on PC and a multiplayer mode Io believe is so revolutionary, they're not going to show it off for a very long time for fear of other developers cribbing off them, and this is set to be quite the action package.
Shall I Go On?
But why are two men who hate each other so dearly going on such an extravagant global killing spree? Let's return to the set-up of the piece. I believe we left the pair together in a prison transit van, tasked with delivering them to their doom. Well, the next thing that happens is that Lynch tells Kane to cover his head; he does so, there's an almighty crash and then his already screwed up life gets even screwier. He also breaks his nose, which presents him with the rather fetching plaster-cast he has in all the screenshots.
"We then have a fairly grand-scale bust-out scenario where a group of armed mercenaries herd you through the location," explains JP Kurup, as he describes what at first seems to be a rescue attempt but is in fact a high-profile kidnapping. "Later, you meet the guys who busted you out - four members of The Seven. They survived and have come back to the US, and quite rightfully they blame Kane for being a traitor: he left them in Venezuela to burn and he got away with all the loot."
Kurup continues: "That's the main theme of the game: is Kane a traitor or not? The Seven want to kill Kane and his family, but the problem is they really need this loot. So they bend their rules ever so slightly; if Kane brings them the stash then they'll still kill him, but they won't kill his family. Kane accepts the deal and Lynch has been given a phone and instructions - he's there as a watchdog. He'll be with him throughout the game - just to make sure he doesn't go off and do something crazy."
Bump And Grind
As if to underline this, I'm suddenly presented with the 'Collateral club scene - and Kane and Lynch are making their way past the bouncers and trading unsubtly hateful repartee. Lynch is bitching, at this stage becoming increasingly Ixitty without his medication, and Kane is responding with one-liners like: "Don't answer back to me you arrogant f***." Dialogue like this takes place throughout the game, and when you're tired of it - just like in real life - you can just walk away and Lynch will shut up and stare at you with unbridled vitriol. In this case, Kane turns a corner and the dancefloor conies into view - and sweet mother of the baby Jesus, it's incredible.
As far as Io are concerned, you can't have a convincing action scene in a realistic urban setting without hordes of screaming innocent people. And you can't have a club scene which contains two NPCs wobbling beneath a mirror ball. When you do a club scene, you need anything up to 800 or 1,000 beautifully rendered clubbers gyrating to hard, gritty music. It honestly looks like the scene from The Matrix Revolutions where the people of Zion discover they're all about to die and respond by having a massive sweaty slow-motion dance orgy. When you walk through them, they slow your progress - and when you start firing bullets into the crowd, then those in the 5ft radius around you who can hear the gunshot will start panicking, and the panic will gradually spread to all those present.
The technology already impressive in the Mardi Gras level of Hitman: Blood Money has truly come of age - compare this to when you jumped up and down next to two oddly animated Hong Kong clubbers surrounded by mirrors in Deus Ex and you realise just how far we've come in a very short amount of time.
The dastardly duo are here to see Yoko, the club's manager and old associate of Kane - but you're not here for Smalltalk - you re here to smack her, tie her up and kidnap her. Lynch then carries her out and it's up to you, with limited ammo, to take out all the security men and bouncers and ramp up so much panic that a forlorn struggling Japanese lady being thrown around by a bearded madman is lost in the chaos.
End Of The Line
And so, as the end of the page draws near, perhaps we should leave them to their own wicked devices: a mercenary traitor with everything to lose and an unhinged psychopath with everything to win - essentially some sort of evil middle-aged mirror-image of Ant and Dec. "They're not good guys in any conceivable way," underlines JP Kurup. "What they're doing is wrong, any means they take are never appropriate - but they do it anyway.''
They say dead men tell no tales, or at least Pirates Of The Caribbean did, but this pair are about to tell an extremely good one. Just don't tell Michael Mann's lawyers - it'll be our little secret.
It's a trend!
When novel ideas come around they don't come alone.
Games go in cycles. When technology allows, a developer will come up with a great idea, but then another developer on the other side of the planet will have his technology do exactly the same thing. It's weird really - no-one is copying from each other, but the technology has just nudged different people in the same directions. When I first started in the games industry it was all jungle combat, physics and ragdolls - and now Dead Men has some of the new breed of directions on show. First and foremost are crowds of NPCs becoming a part of active gameplay - as also shown in Ubisoft's forthcoming medieval romp Assassin's Creed. What's more, co-op play through the 'buddy-movie' set-up is also due to become more prevalent, as seen in the PS3-destined Army Of Two. I am mystic and paranormal: believe what I say.
I for One, am bored of goody-goody heroes. Save the world from alien invasion here, overthrow an evil dictator there and rescue the attractive women while you're at it. No doubt they go home and spend their free time rescuing kittens that have got stuck up trees before organising their local neighbourhood watch as well. Give me a gun-toting anti-hero any day.
Well it seems that lo Interactive have been listening to my wishes. The duo of Kane and Lynch make a particularly unsavoury pair, with Kane the ex-mercenary and Lynch filling the role of pill-popping psychopath. The banter between the two, which more often than not puts even my levels of swearing to shame, contrasts neatly with the usual friendly chat between characters (Alyx, I'm looking at you), providing a refreshing change from the norm.
The game starts off in spectacular fashion, with one of the most adrenaline-filled starting levels I've experienced, as you're busted out of your prison van by a group of masked gunmen. As bullets fly through the air and your screen slowly clears from the haze of the crash, you're dumped fully into the deep end, with police, helicopters and SWAT teams all taking a pop at you before you make your escape. It doesn't stop there either, with the game moving from one thrilling set-piece to another.
Robbing banks, car chases, rappelling down buildings and breaking into prisons all provide some brilliantly cinematic levels and serve to keep the game moving along at a steady pace (although I found the last couple of levels more 'meh' than 'wow'). Gameplay itself is pretty straightforward and fast-paced, consisting purely of shooting the crap out of everything, so it's a relatively brainless (but enjoyable) experience. Constant shoot-outs with the police also serve to give the game more than a whiff of the movie Heat, especially one of the later levels which sees your team engaged in a fully fledged street battle, a la the Pacino/De Niro/fat guy who was once Batman gun battle of the film.
The levels are only really let down by one in particular that features a particularly unintuitive bit that had me slamming the mouse in frustration for hours before figuring out the deceptively simple but very unclear solution.
Combat, though, is a rather less polished affair than the set-pieces. While the game features a cover system, it's nowhere near as accomplished as, say, Gears of War. Just walking close to an obstacle makes your character take cover, leading to some inevitably frustrating moments when you'll find yourself stuck up against a wall when really you just wanted to run past it.
While you can blind-fire from behind cover, of far more use is the ability to pop out and take aim for more precision. But this is blighted by the fact that shots sometimes disappear into the object you're taking cover behind and, on occasion, your character will fail to fall back behind cover when finished, leaving you stuck in the middle of the crossfire and, more often than not, dead on the floor just a few seconds later.
Perhaps my biggest annoyance, though, was that at times you can empty entire clips into enemies who seem impervious to your fire, most notably in the car chases where you can headshoot the pursuing policemen to no effect. Apparently, bulletproof noggins are standard issue with the US police nowadays. There's also some slightly awkward squad control too (when is squad control ever not?) although, unlike Freedom Fighters, it's hardly ever needed.
Annoyances aside, the game features some brilliant multiplayer options (see boxout), and visually it's a maelstrom of beautiful carnage. Despite actually looking ropey on next-gen consoles, on PC it really sparkles, with crisp, detailed characters and gorgeous scenery in some trademark inventive settings.- although if I was forced to pick faults, the explosions are a bit lacking.
Though somewhat let down by its combat Kane & Lynch is still well worth a play, even if it's just for the cinematic feel of the levels, the refreshingly different characters and the excellent multiplayer. While it's never too challenging and is pretty short - racking up only about seven hours of play - if you want to feel like a bad guy but without the police chase, prison and bum rape that normally follows, then shooting up the place as Kane provides a good end to a bad day. Or maybe that's something I should discuss with my shrink..
Well, here's a first: a game developer who actually hates his leading men. "I think Kane is a lying traitor," says Lead Level Designer Thor Frolich of IO Interactive (Hitman). "I don't like Lynch, either. I think he's a pathetic opportunist that puts other people's lives at risk." Yet it's the disturbing history of this extremely odd couple (Kane is a troubled mercenary, while Lynch is a pill-popping psychopath) that's got us curious about the buddy game. Just don't call it that around Frolich. "I really, really hate Kane & Lynch being called a 'buddy game.' It sounds so Lethal Weapon-like, with all funny antics," he says. "Also, it isn't just about the two of them. Most of the game, you control a larger crew that follows you." In addition to covering your six, these guys will offer up their weapons and items throughout any mission. So what does Frolich think about K&L's backup? If how he feels about everything else is any indication, then not too highly....