"It was not a nice experience."
So says Karsten Lund, game director for Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days. He's talking about reading the reviews for the first game in the series. Ratings hovered around the 7/10 mark - which, as we all know, is a decent score but not a brilliant one. Then of course there was The Jeff Gerstmann Incident. Lund says IO Interactive had nothing to do with that. "We were just as much on the sidelines as anybody else. It was a sad story and it shocked us all. Not only did we get mixed reviews, but then all of a sudden, that happened..."
Rather than shrug off the criticisms, or try to get anyone fired for them, Lund says IO sat up and took notice of what the reviews were saying. In fact, he explained, they became a starting point for the sequel - the source for a to-do list of things which needed improving. "The cover system, the aiming, the shooting, the artificial intelligence, the dated art, the lack of online co-op..."
Quite a list, then, but Lund says every one of those items has been ticked off for Dog Days. There have been a few other changes, too. This time around you get to play as Lynch, the crazier, fiercer, balder one, and the game is set in Shanghai. However, IO has done more than tweak the gameplay and throw in a new plot. According to Lund, the aim is to "redefine the experience of the shooter, to make something more realistic, more credible, and more intense to play, because you believe in it that little bit more".
We've all heard that one before, and we all know what comes next - a load of blather about cutting-edge tech, pixel-perfect special effects, visuals so sharp they'll cut your retinas to ribbons etc etc. Except that's not where Lund is going with this. He says IO reckons the best way to make people believe something's real is to present it in the same way they're used to seeing reality presented. In today's world of YouTube videos and camera phones, that doesn't mean super-sharp high-def images - it means awkward angles, poor lighting, pixellation and motion blur.
Which doesn't sound like the recipe for a great gaming experience, and sitting down for a first hands-on playtest of Dog Days, it's hard not to be sceptical. Not just about how the amateur approach will work, but how committed IO is to implementing it - surely it must be hard to resist the lure of pretty visuals and cinematic camera angles?
Apparently not. The cut-scenes being shown today clearly take their inspiration from YouTube rather than Hollywood. We see a conversation in a car as though from the perspective of a camera on the back seat. When the car pulls up and the characters jump out the camera follows, trailing the action rather than cutting immediately to a better vantage point. A hectic shootout between Kane, Lynch and the cops ensues. There's motion blur as the camera tries to keep up with what's going on, occasional pixellation and shakiness, and we even see the lens blurring and refocusing as the scene unfolds.