Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days (IO Interactive, 2010 for XBox 360/Playstation 3/PC)

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I have, for the past five years, been telling anybody willing to listen that Kane and Lynch 2 is a game worth checking out. And I feel as though people assume that I’m trolling them when I say this. After all, this is the sequel to a game that was apparently so horrible, a man was willing to be fired from his job for not praising it enough! Kane and Lynch: the original “Ethics in Games Journalism.” Of course people wouldn’t want to waste their time with it.

But let me assure you, The Reader, that I am not trolling you. Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days is legitimately fantastic. Although, in the intervening years, I had to take a step back and wonder if some its luster has worn off.

You see, K&L2 came around the same time as a lot of other notable, AAA shooters. Titles like Uncharted, Bioshock, Metal Gear Solid 4, among many others. Games that attempted to add an artificial sense of subtlety and nuance to their writing. Faux-morality would be a better term for it; violence is bad, but also you’re using violence to achieve your goals! Don’t you feel terrible!? The idea being that the developers are shaming you for succeeding in a situation that they themselves railroaded you into. Spec Ops: The Line based an entire game around that mechanic. And not too long prior to K&L’s release, we saw Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, where Nathan Drake murdered a couple thousand people, making cutting one-liners about blowing a guy’s head off while still trying to come across as a normal, relatable guy. It was pretty gross, really.

Kane and Lynch 2 is not like any of these games. It does not guilt trip you for your actions. It doesn’t try and pretend that two cold-blooded criminals are actually good men at heart. They’re not. Kane and Lynch are a pair of gross, disgusting, middle-aged men with no redeeming factor as human beings. Another human life is nothing more than an obstacle to a big cash payout in their eyes. Everything bad that happens to them during the course is entirely their fault, so don’t worry about feeling any kind of sympathy for them, I imagine the developers would say if they were in the room with you.

The level design is very simple; mostly slums, office buildings, and street corners. Notice that I said simple, not bad designs. It’s not Gears of War or Resident Evil, but they’re serviceable. Dingy, dilapidated streets adorned with bright, neon lighting. As though the citizens of Hong Kong are making the best of bad circumstances. It helps the theme of the game: desperation. A weapons deal goes horribly wrong after Lynch, trying to be a tough street hustler, accidentally shoots and kills the daughter of a major crime boss, and now both he and Kane, who only came to Hong Kong to help with a weapons deal, get paid, and go back home, have to fight their way through an entire city. I’ve been intentionally vague on plot details, because I don’t want to give too much away. What’s there is, with a couple of exceptions (there’s an off-screen rape scene that feels tacked on and unnecessary), really good stuff. The excellent voice acting doesn’t hurt either, making scenes very real and, at times, very uncomfortable to watch.

It is a simple game about moving from gunfight to gunfight, stopping only for Kane and Lynch to scream at one another over who is at fault for the events of the game going to absolute shit. The stakes are raised only insomuch as enemies now have slightly better guns. The ending is easily the most anticlimactic thing I’ve ever seen in modern-day video games. It’s a game that feels like a response to all those other games I mentioned. Like, IO Interactive going into work, knowing full well nobody would play this game, not giving a fuck, and in the process, making something awesome.

And this is why Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days works. It’s not grand. It’s not pompous. It doesn’t go on for an extra five hours longer than it needs to. Desperate men in a desperate situation created by a desperate developer. It is the anti-AAA AAA shooter.

Even if the unique element of its commentary has worn off over time, I’m still of the opinion that Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days is fucking great. And I fucking swear, I’m not trolling you.

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