Having just spent about 15 minutes giving us the most intricate back story explanation we've ever heard for a videogame, IO's exhausted art director Martin Kramme Guldbaek sighs. "Doing this makes it sound like a movie pitch." Indeed it does. But in the best way possible.
"Please don't mistake this game for something that wants to be a movie," he pleads. "[Kane & Lynch] is an action game, but it just has characters that are a little bit more three-dimensional." Or, as Eidos' press release notes, a "story-driven, fully co-operative third-person action shooter title, with intuitive crew mechanics, heavily populated destructible real-world scenarios, a volatile partnership and brutal attitude." But things like that don't just trip off the tongue, do they?
Kramme-Guldbaek is understandably keen to put a little bit of distance between its newest creation and its former glories. "People think that because it's an IO game, they ask, 'Is it a Hitman game or is it a Freedom Fighter game?' [Of the two levels we're showing off], the first scene is closest to Hitman, but it's not very Hitman-ish. The other one is pretty much in the middle of where the bread and butter gameplay is, so it's much more of a Freedom Fighter game but with a lot more edge and more character in it. What we are trying to achieve is a mature, pretty, 18+ game with some content which is still easy to pick up and play, so more casual in the approach, like Freedom Fighter was."
"Stylistically - and action wise - it's close to movies like Heat, also in the visual representation of some of it. The storyline and the general mood is much more in the direction of a movie like Man on Fire, like the guy who's really really pissed and can't do anything about it."
At this point we get the full skinny on Lynch's background story, about how he was once a "normal man, and he still is," but now is a "medicated psychopath and a murderer". "At one time he had a wife, his life was normal, and then he started to get a little bit schizophrenic with a tendency towards violence and a borderline psychopath.
"He's self-medicated, he doesn't really work, then it gets worse and one day he comes home to find his wife murdered. He's not at all sure whether he did it or not. Personally, I'm pretty sure he did it! He's then put on death row, and this morning when we meet him he's in the prison van on his way to his execution. Next to him is Kane, also on his way to his execution.
Kane, too, was a normal family father, with a wife and two children - a boy and a girl. "But, unfortunately, he also had a gun at home. The boy fired the gun, shot himself and died at the age of two. The wife freaks out, and Kane is struck by the first tragedy of his life - not the last, but the one that changed the rest of his life. In a very unpleasant manner he just leaves them. He can't deal with it and goes abroad, and for a few years we don't know where he lives, and he starts to work as a mercenary. And after five or six years he becomes really really good at it, not because he's good at shooting or anything like that, but because he's clever. He's not a thug," insists Kramme-Guldbaek. Aha. Misunderstood killer.
He continues: "After a while Kane becomes a member of a group called The Seven. Like the Hell's Angels or the Mafia, but only seven members. They don't give a shit about the law or anything, but they have their own set of rules that you cannot break. If you break them, you have the hardest penalty possible," he nods. "So, then they're getting older and think 'we're working on the last job, we'll work on this for a few years, cash it in and retire', and everything goes fine until one day in Venezuela. Everybody's left burning - except for Kane, who gets away with all the loot. He gets caught in the States and sentenced to death for what he's done in Venezuela, and this where the game starts." Bear with us on this, ok. At least they made an effort.
"The game starts where you're riding in this van, saying, 'I'm sorry, I screwed up my life, I'm going to die for what I've done now, I'm pretty fine with that'. And then it takes a little turn for the worse for Mr Kane. Lynch says 'can you please cover your head?' So, Kane covers his head and there's this huge impact, and through the smoke 10 mercenaries bust you out. They break his nose because he doesn't want to do what they say and they take him [prisoner]. It turns out that they are the survivors of the Venezuela incident who are after Kane for being a traitor. 'You left us to burn, you took the loot, you ran and never looked back. We're going to punish you for it, we'll kill you and your family.'
"Their only problem is they need the loot, so they've bent the rules a little bit," he notes. "They give him a time frame and say 'find that stuff, get it back to us and we won't kill you', so that's good for him, and it keeps his family alive. With Lynch, they give him a telephone and say 'every morning and every evening you phone us and tell us what Kane is up to. What's he doing, where's he going' and force him to keep track of him.
"When we put these two guys together we have a standard buddy movie set-up, but I hate the phrase 'buddy movie' because it spells Mel Gibson and funny quotes and stuff. There's none of that in the game. If there's something funny, it's not intentional. It's gritty down to the bone, this. Lynch makes you laugh when he's off on one, but that's not where we're heading. It's a buddy movie in the way that you have two guys, very different, one with everything to lose, one with everything to win. One who's a medicated psychopath - an uncontrollable thug, and one a very controlled professional, so there are a lot of clashes in this. A lot of the tension in Kane & Lynch shapes these two guys. We put them somewhere and see where the arguments take them. They're not your everyday videogame heroes, they're something a little bit different.
"It's been a wish at IO for some time to have more than one character. A hero sucks, two heroes are even worse, but if you have two anti-heroes you can kinda have more action going on in the game. It also makes it easy for us to do a game without any mission briefings or anything like that; it all happens between these two characters as you go along. We're trying to do as much in-game as possible, but there will be cut-scenes, though. Some of the acting is better conveyed that way."
And from there we're shown two short segments of the game before we're allowed to pose a few more questions at the slightly frazzled looking IO man. One shows off a crowded nightclub scene, where we're shown Kane bumping off a few guards, and rushing around in God mode without a care in the world (he assures us you'd never be able to play the game this way normally), and how some of the story elements are told during periods of incapacitation. We get to see seamless nature of the cut-scenes, a hint of how the squad AI will function, the absence of traditional menus and other stuff which we've saved for our interview elsewhere on the site.
Visually, it's hard to escape the fact that it's strikingly reminiscent of Hitman, using practically identical technology to Blood Money, with the same character styling, similar animation, character models and even recycles the excellent crowd techniques that were used to such great effect. But when you're talking about a game as universally admired as that one was, that's not something to get upset about for too long. Whether it feels like its own game isn't something we can report on yet, but it's good to see such a talented team being let loose on a new brand that revisits some of the excellent ideas it had in 2002's Freedom Fighters.
It's certainly shaping up to be the grittiest IO game yet, and certainly its most fully realised and ambitious in terms of its characterisations and plotline. However sinister and deadly Agent 47 was at times, Kane & Lynch appear to take the team's fascination for the seedy underbelly of society to the next level - quite whether it lives up to its billing will be interesting to follow. We'll be sure to report back again as soon as Eidos let us near a playable version.
Kane & Lynch: Dead Men will be available on Xbox 360 and PC in 2007 from Eidos. Be sure to check out our Kane & Lynch interview with IO here.