Meanwhile, anyone who's even vaguely impressed by top notch visuals will want to see what IO has pulled off. Taking its penchant for the kind of globe-trotting variety seen in the Hitman games, Kane & Lynch looks every inch the labour of love it must have been for the art team. Every location is bursting with incidental detail and architectural splendour.
Having recently been to Tokyo, the vivid recreation of the city's clinical urban sprawl was one of the most convincing locations I think I've ever come across in a videogame, complete with the kind of eerie public transport announcements you hear emanating during your travels. It's all fantastically well-observed, whether you're darting through a typical US city street, fighting your way through a jail, bank, nightclub or cutting a swathe through a sub-tropical mountain path. Without exception, everything looks (and sounds) wonderful - especially the facial detail, which ranks alongside the best efforts ever attempted.
But, like we said, all of this technical glory can only count for so much when the core gameplay just doesn't quite live up to the mark. There is a co-op split-screen mode to add a little extra weight to the package, but when the main campaign only clocks in at about 6-7 hours, you'd have maybe expected online co-op to make it worth running through again with a pal.
As it is, after that first all-too-brief play-through, you're left with the Fragile Alliance multiplayer mode and little else but some pretty memories. Eidos has gone to great lengths recently to tell us how great Fragile Alliance is, which you can either interpret as a) fair comment, or b) a means of diverting attention away from the growing number of critical reviews emanating from the US (where they, annoyingly, got to review this over a week ago for reasons which escape us...European game alert). Anyway, I digress, Fragile Alliance is a rather jolly caper where the premise is to earn as much cash as possible from a variety of heists played over a number of rounds. Playable online (on System Link if you prefer) for 4 to 8 players, all members start off in the same place, with the option to fight their way through a heavily guarded location (diner, shopping mall, bank, Japanese garden) in order to get to the loot, marked with a dollar sign and visible on a mini-map (with the most valuable the most well defended).
With the knowledge that other members of the gang may have more cash than you, the 'Fragile Alliance' revolves around who you decide to bump off and when. With several factors to take into account there's an extremely delicate balance, such as whether you need their help to kill the police, whether you suspect that low-earning members might kill you, and, of course, how much cash you have on you at any given point. It's a fascinating concept, and one that helps restore the value to what might have otherwise been a lightweight package. However it is just one mode, and despite the originality of the idea, on its own it can't address the shortfalls of the main single-player portion of the game.
With some incredible talent behind it, Kane & Lynch should have been one of this year's essential action games. IO is unquestionably a studio with a real vision and flair for creating hugely atmospheric, involving games - it just seems to have lavished rather too much attention on how the game looks, how the story hangs together and the characterisation than how the core shooting element feels next to its contemporaries. Next to other 'duck and cover' shooters like Gears of War and Uncharted, it lacks a few crucial refinements which would have made all the difference to a game which, after all, spends most of its time asking players to shoot an onslaught of enemies. Factor in an exceptionally short single-player campaign, an undercooked tactical squad element and a distinct lack of gameplay variety and it's impossible not to see this as a very big missed opportunity. The innovative multiplayer aspect is certainly a nice bonus, but a game such as this can't get by on minor novelties in a market chock full of shooters with fully fledged online elements.
There are many many positives to come out of Kane & Lynch: Dead Men, but sadly too many things weigh against it to mark it out as a must-have in a ludicrously competitive environment. Let's hope IO takes heart and comes back with a game which delivers on all counts, and not just some.
7 / 10
Awkward bunch that you are, we recognise that, like a journalist at a free dinner ordering a massive dessert, you're probably still after more Kane & Lynch content. Luckily, EGTV is bringing the sweet trolley around now which a delectable assortment of exclusive gameplay videos to choose from. Take your pick of banoffee car chase, chocolate chip bank robbery and fresh fruit kidnap.
We also recognise you might not like to move after that dessert, which is why you can download it now thanks to Metaboli or buy it on Amazon.