So the game takes a visual gamble that fails to pay off. The other first impression that proves hard to shake is in the control. There's just something not quite right to the way things move and aim and interact. Everything feels loose and flappy when it needs to be tight and focussed. Cover is flaky, sometimes refusing to let you take shelter because you're at slightly the wrong angle or just because the game engine doesn't want you to take cover next to something of that shape.
As in the first Kane & Lynch, precision aiming is blighted by weird hitboxes that feel far too broad for a game of this type. You're occasionally able to snap off a decent mid-range headshot, but most of the time it's best to spray a quick burst and hope a lucky bullet hits the spot. Combat feels chaotic and manic, an appropriate choice given the subject matter and tone of the game, but one that ultimately frustrates whenever you try and bring any finesse to the mayhem. This nervous energy could have worked for maybe for one or two set-piece battles. Stretched out over the whole game, it's wearying.
This is all in service of a plot that races along at breakneck speed, propelled by incoherent, angry cut-scenes and loading screen voiceovers that convey only the bare bones of the story, rarely getting any more insightful than, "Argh! F**k! F**k you...I'll f**king...F**K!"
It's especially disappointing given that the previous game - for all its faults - managed to spin a decent, pulpy crime yarn, with personal stakes for Kane and a neat wild-card element in Lynch's psychosis. All of that is absent here, with Kane trudging reluctantly along behind his savage companion for no apparent reason, while Lynch growls and barks about his Chinese girlfriend, a virtually unseen and mute young lady whose existence seems fairly arbitrary.
Worst of all, Lynch's lunatic tendencies have been all but removed. You're playing as him for almost all the single-player story, yet there's never anything as clever or interesting as the bank job from the first game where he hallucinates that civilians are cops. He's become just another scowling, swearing, shooting abstraction.
There's virtually nothing in the gameplay to distract from this uninspired construction. Weapons are simply picked up off the ground with no mechanism to improve or add to your arsenal. For solo players, the conceit of having two characters in play is left untouched. There are no co-op moves or tactics to employ, just an extra gun following you around and occasionally finishing off some enemies for you.
This is alleviated somewhat by the choice between split-screen and (at long last) online co-op, where the game's rather mundane shooting galleries at least offer enough alternate routes to encourage more ambitious flanking manoeuvres, even if the bog-standard AI doesn't really require such flourishes.
But wherever ideas could be injected, IO has opted to leave things as basic as possible. Kane & Lynch 2 doesn't even offer any reason to rummage around in the dark corners of the levels. While the developer is to be congratulated for not falling back on tired "Find 50 pointless trinkets" padding, it's unthinkable that the studio that innovated so effortlessly with Hitman has come up with a game so empty; an unvarnished shooting gallery so bland and repetitive that the late arrival of a stage where you shoot from a moving helicopter somehow feels deliciously fresh.
Online, at least, is an area where IO continues to explore different avenues to varying effect. Co-op heist mode Fragile Alliance follows the same template as it did in 2007. A gang of players hit a location, kill whatever guards or cops stand in their way, swipe the valuables and then try to make it to the getaway van before time runs out.