Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days
We are told to do many things in videogames. Slay zombie hordes. Battle within the intestine of a giant worm. Prevent thermonuclear armageddon. Get fruity with aliens. I'm not sure we've ever been instructed by a game to "shoot those fucking c****" before, though. It's strangely liberating.
In the strange, medicated world of Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days protagonist Lynch, this psychotic madness all makes sense. He's barrelling through nocturnal Shanghai's urban squalor to "send a message". Some guy is shooting his mouth off, and our favourite mulleted antihero feels compelled to return the favour with unsavoury language and automatic weaponry. People must pay. The needle must remain in the red at all times. Everybody must die. Gore must be pixellated.
Playing through the four quickfire levels offered up by this feature-complete preview build, there's barely time to take a breath, never mind take it all in. Each section is a continuous, unrelenting chase sequence, with an improbable number of enemies standing between you and your target. Pursued by the shakiest shakycam ever, you dart down corridors and alleyways, kick down doors and sidle up to makeshift cover. Pausing only to return fire, there's a breathlessness to the action that's utterly exhausting.
The same was often true of the flawed-but-interesting original, released in 2007. But this time, IO has come up with a straightforward cover system that, thankfully, behaves itself, along with a standard interpretation of the twin-stick, twin-trigger combat mechanics that appear to be mandatory in the modern third-person shooter. Moving in and out of cover (and even between cover points) is responsive and intuitive, as is aiming and firing.
Destructibility also plays a much greater role. Enemies are as likely to duck in and out of cover points as you are, and it's satisfying to flush them out of their hiding places. Regardless of whether they're stood behind a fence or a wardrobe, it won't be long before the whole thing has been shot to splinters and they're forced to scuttle off to seek alternative cover.
With core mechanics that might initially come across as a little generic, it's important that Dog Days differentiates itself, and a few unique touches help to give the game its own identity.
Chief of these is the trumpeted 'Down Not Dead' feature. Taking its cue from Left 4 Dead, you'll sometimes find yourself ambushed, stunned and knocked to the ground by an unexpected assault. But rather than leave you helpless and reliant on someone's help, you're able to lunge back into cover and let the wonders of recharging health work its magic. It's ludicrous, but it's a fun way of giving players a second chance in a tense situation.
With realism well and truly tossed aside, the whole Kane & Lynch 2 show heads straight towards all-out gun porn, and it's all set up to be easy to get into and slick to control, with targeting assists, an extremely generous recharging health system, similarly generous checkpointing as well as a complete absence of recoil.
With these things in mind, developer IO Interactive's level designers have the confidence to throw plenty of goons your way without risk of completely swamping the player. It's a smart and risky approach that walks the fine line between being plain overwhelming and excitingly relentless. From what we've played so far though the jury's out on whether IO gets away with its 'turn it up to 11' approach for the whole show. Most games sensibly ape the Loud-Quiet-Loud ebb and flow of an action epic, but the opening four chapters here lack variety.