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I think Kane & Lynch: Dead Men is interesting because of everything surrounding it. It seems to have received mixed reception overall, Jeff Gerstmann’s negative critique of the game was the reason he was fired from GameSpot, and from what I understand, a comic book and film adaption based on the franchise were supposedly in the works. That said, the game received a decent amount of media attention and, ultimately, it resulted in the formation of Giant Bomb, the popular video game website founded by Jeff. I was always a fan of his GameSpot reviews back in the day so it was good to see him bounce back. Developed by IO Interactive and published by Eidos Interactive, Kane & Lynch: Dead Men was released for PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 in November, 2007. For this review I played the PC version. What really attracted me to this game is the premise and I have beaten it once before a few years back but I remember very little about it. Sadly, the PC version does utilize Games for Windows Live but you don’t need to log into it to play through the campaign.
The story opens with prisoners Adam “Kane” Marcus and James Seth Lynch traveling to death row. A group of mercenaries breaks them out and the two meet up with a gang known as The 7, led by two men referred to as The Brothers. It turns out Kane had been involved with the gang in the past and they accuse him of stealing money so they take his wife and daughter hostage. Kane is given three weeks to retrieve the money and they assign Lynch to keep an eye on him. The two end up finding half the money before travelling to Tokyo to retrieve the other half but, instead, they piss off a Japanese crime lord and return to the gang with only half of the money. After confronting the gang where things go awry, Kane and Lynch round up a group of prisoners, otherwise known as “dead men”, who also have a history with The 7, and go after the gang to get revenge. The story has kind of a cinematic quality and I am a fan of crime dramas so I did get into it a little bit at least until the later chapters where things get a little crazy. The voice acting is pretty good overall. The performances for Kane and Lynch are solid and believable and I enjoy some of the banter between the two. For what it’s worth, Kane is voiced by Brian Bloom. I think the performances for some of the supporting characters could be better and I do wish some elements of the story and characters were fleshed out a bit more. The campaign is rather short, you can complete it about five hours or less.
Kane & Lynch is a third-person shooter, you may even call it a squad-based shooter. There’s three difficulty modes to choose from and the story plays out in chapters with multiple scenes per chapter. If playing solo, you play as Kane and can command Lynch and any other AI teammates that accompany you. You can only give basic orders like move to a location, fire at specific enemies, and regroup. You can walk, run, sprint, crouch, climb over obstacles, rappel down ropes, snap to cover, blind fire, and, of course, aim and shoot. You can also throw grenades back at enemies and engage them in close quarters combat which just involves pressing a button to kill an enemy instantly. There’s no real melee system. The game does employ regenerating health but if you fall during combat, one of your teammates can revive you with an adrenaline shot before you die. If you’re revived too many times, you’ll die from an overdose. After being revived, it does take forever for Kane to get back up which does become a bit annoying and if you do die, you’ll have to restart from the beginning of the current scene, or in other words, the last checkpoint. You can revive fallen teammates and you will want to keep an eye on them because they’re not exactly the brightest bulbs. The game will always provide you with weapons when starting a chapter and you can only carry two weapons at a time along with some grenades. Ammo and other weapons will be dropped by fallen enemies and you can also acquire more ammo from your teammates if you’re running low.
When it comes to the AI in this game, it’s honestly pretty poor. I found the command system to be basically useless for combat purposes and found it best to use it when I wanted to keep my teammates out of harm’s way because for some reason they like to run out into the open even if you have them all set to regroup or follow you. They’ll just run right out into an area filled with enemies and then the bullets start flying from every direction and the next thing you know, one or two of your guys needs to be revived. This becomes infuriating during the final chapters where you can fall after only a few seconds just from the onslaught of enemy gunfire. For some reason, teammates won’t revive each other and you can’t command them to do so which kind of sucks when you’re not close to the fallen one and have to run out into the middle of a war zone to revive them. You also have a limited amount of time to revive a teammate before they die so when they constantly run out into the open, it becomes very aggravating. What makes it worse is, if a teammate dies, you’re forced to restart the scene so it really sucks when they die due to their own stupidity. There’s a specific sequence where you need to protect an NPC and you can’t command her. She can only be revived once and just like your teammates, she, too, will just run right out into the open which really doesn’t make any sense given who she is and the context of the situation. It’s just frustrating. Teammates will also shoot you if you’re in the way as if they’re trying to shoot through you. One positive thing I can say about your teammates is that they will shoot at and kill enemies and sometimes draw enemy fire away from you. The enemy AI isn’t very smart, either. They do the basics like run around, shoot at you, take cover, they’ll throw grenades, and man mounted guns. The challenge really comes from dealing with multiple enemies at once because they’ll do stupid shit like standing in the same position while being shot repeatedly or run right towards you without firing their weapons.
The game primarily has you running from A to B, taking cover, and shooting bad guys. You’ll rob a bank, shoot your way through a club, break guys out of a prison, infiltrate an office building and compound, and battle cops on the streets of Tokyo. The gameplay is made up of your basic third-person shooter stuff but what makes it somewhat exciting is the scenarios and locations, at least up until the final chapters. The end of the game takes you to Cuba where things kind of fall apart in my opinion. You go from participating in criminal activities and fending off cops and thugs to participating in a civil war where the scenarios become less exciting and just throw tons of enemies at you. This is also where the AI really exposes how bad it can be. There’s one sequence where you have to sneak through the jungle without letting any enemies fire a flare. In this instance, sneaking means getting close to the enemies before gunning down every enemy as fast as you can and basically making all kinds of noise. You’re not even provided suppressed weapons and the whole thing just doesn’t feel right. It’s funny because the next sequence has you covering an NPC with a suppressed sniper rifle and pistol. Let’s just say the game implements stealth, if you want to call it that, very poorly. Luckily, there’s not much of it.
The environments are linear with battles usually taking place in open areas with plenty of cover. There are some objects that feel like they can be used as cover, as in you snap to it, but they really can’t be and that becomes annoying, especially during the more intense battles. Some environments contain vehicles that can be used as cover but they can also blow up so staying behind one for too long as it gets pummeled with bullets is not always a good idea. However, you can blow up vehicles and explosive barrels to damage and/or kill the enemies near them. All enemies seem to act the same but do vary in appearance. You’ll contend with police and/or SWAT, thugs, snipers, enemies in vehicles, and a helicopter late in the game. When an enemy sniper has you in their sights, their scope view appears on the HUD and I thought that was pretty cool. There’s a decent variety of weapons you can get your hands on including a rifle, different assault rifles, submachine guns, shotguns, pistols, a sniper rifle, and a light machine gun. Some of the heavier weapons include a grenade launcher and rocket launcher, both of which I only found useful in specific situations, and you can also throw frag, smoke, and tear gas grenades. I found the smoke grenades to be somewhat useful late in the game. Most of the time I felt like there was never a need to swap out my primary weapon since many of the weapons kind of feel the same with the amount of recoil being the only real noticeable difference between them. There’s probably differences in there damage outputs but it’s not like you really have to mix up your strategy or weapons from battle to battle. Just make sure you have ammo and are near teammates should you need more. There’s no real sense of weight to the weapons and once you figure out how to aim each weapon to land head shots, things can become easier since head shots are usually instant kills. Honestly, the gameplay feels very basic. Every chapter has you doing the same thing until you complete or reach your objective; move forward, take cover, pop and shoot, rinse and repeat.
I would say Kane & Lynch definitely looks a bit dated. Animations can appear stiff and environments lack a lot of detail compared to newer titles but I can let that slide due to the age of the game. I wish the gunplay had some more visual style because after a while it just feels stale and I don’t think it’s as satisfying as it could be. Enemies just ragdoll when they’re killed, their blood will splatter on surfaces, downed enemies will squirm and moan, and explosions will send them flying which can look pretty cool but I never felt a real sense of satisfaction just from shooting enemies. On the plus side, dirt, debris, and smoke will kick up from bullet impacts on surfaces, and you can see parts of the environments break apart amid all the bullets flying around during a firefight. The music was composed by Jesper Kyd and I think he did a pretty good job. The musical score has an intensity that fits the action well and adds to the cinematic style the game is going for. As for the sound effects, most of the weapons are definitely loud, some could sound louder, and some weapons sound better than others. You’ll hear some banter between the characters during gunfights and enemies will scream and yell. When it comes to the performance and technical aspects, I’m happy to say the game ran smoothly throughout my entire experience with no frame rate dips but I did encounter some bugs. Sometimes animations and ragdolls would freak out and during one scene I couldn’t complete an objective because one of my teammates was stuck rappelling down a rope, forcing me to restart the scene.
I think some of the game’s flaws are simply due to its age so they become more noticeable over time. On the other hand, some issues are just due to poor design but, ultimately, I did have some fun with the game. There are far better third-person shooters out there but I think Kane & Lynch as a franchise has potential. I think the real driving force behind this entry is the premise and theme. I found many of the scenarios to be really enjoyable on the surface, sometimes making me forget I was playing a very basic third-person shooter. There’s just something exciting about robbing a bank and fending off the cops, breaking guys out of prison, and rappelling down a building before breaking through the glass and shooting your way out. But from a gameplay standpoint, Kane & Lynch is very generic and flawed. I was able to log into Games for Windows Live and was able to access the multiplayer portion of the game, otherwise known as Fragile Alliance. I found no player matches and one ranked match. I tried joining the ranked match but was unable to for whatever reason. Fragile Alliance also offers the List Play mode which allows you to play online without a Live Gold membership so I tried that and found no matches. I did attempt to host some games but no other players ever joined. I do know you can play through the campaign cooperatively with a friend so maybe that’s a lot more fun than playing through it solo, I’m not sure. Outside of the multiple difficulty modes and co-op functionality, there’s not many reasons to replay through the campaign. I did look for some mods but couldn’t find any which is kind of disappointing because I think mods could resolve some of the game’s issues.
I would not recommend Kane & Lynch to everyone, only to fans of action games and that’s just because you can acquire it for under ten dollars on Steam. The story is okay but I can’t say it reaches the same highs as a crime film like Heat or even other crime-based games for that matter and while I think the main characters have potential for further development, they’re just not fleshed out enough here. But the real issues with Kane & Lynch are rooted in the gameplay and design. As a squad-based shooter, it’s pretty awful thanks to piss-poor AI and there’s no real strategy or tactical thinking required when it comes to commanding your teammates because they will make decisions on their own which are usually very poor. As a third-person shooter, it’s just average at best. The premise and scenarios were interesting enough to keep me playing but the gameplay is very basic and not always stimulating. Kane & Lynch: Dead Men is a flawed game that shows potential but there are far better action games out there.