Playing as a criminal in video games is nothing new, but rarely is the topic approached maturely. Usually, you’ll see them as an anti-hero, on their quest for revenge and out for their own brand of justice. Kane & Lynch manages to approach this from a more mature angle while managing to look cool.
Developed by IO Interactive (of Hitman fame), and published in 2007 by Eidos Interactive. IO Interactive took a bold approach and created a new IP, armed with their previous experience from the Hitman series and Freedom Fighters. Originally, the game was supposed to have an online co-op mode, but it was changed at the last moment into an offline co-op mode instead. The game was supposed to have Kane start as the main character, and have Lynch as a companion, but during development, a decision was made to include Lynch into the story.
You play as Adam “Kane” Marcus, an ex-mercenary on death row for being convicted of manslaughter. Suddenly, James Seth Lynch informs him that there will be a breakout. After a narrow escape, Kane is confronted by The 7, a powerful mercenary organization that accuses him of betraying them and stealing the money. They offer him a deal. He will return the money that he stole, or his wife and daughter will be executed. To ensure his cooperation, Lynch will act as a watchdog for The 7, and report to them regularly. With no time to lose, Kane sets out to retrieve the money and save his family.
Right from the opening moments of the game, you will notice that the game is going for a more mature, darker tone. Both Kane and Lynch aren’t the usual ruff and tough crime protagonists, but actual bad people, and the game doesn’t care if the player likes them or not. They’re characters with their own history, and all of their past actions shaped them to the point where you start the game. Kane is a former cop, who after the death of his son, joined The 7. After years of success, one mission in Venezuela goes horribly wrong, and Kane is the only one that survived and escaped but is soon captured.
Lynch is a medicated schizophrenic, who is sentenced for the murder of his wife. He would be haunted for it, but he says he doesn’t remember what truly happened.
Even The 7 has an interesting portrayal. Rather than being just another group of bad guys, through the dialog, you can see that there is plenty of history with Kane and that they respected him at one point. They seem to be more upset about his betrayal, than him stealing the money.
One of the best things about the game is the direction of the cutscenes. Throughout the game, there are many cutscenes all revealing the story and pushing it forward just like in any other game. But, in Kane and Lynch, all of the cutscenes are mature, to the point, and aren’t being wasted on pointless exposition. At times it feels like you’re watching a great action movie, that was sadly never made. In addition to this, little tidbits about both Kane and Lynch are revealed during loading screen banters, and audio flashbacks when you’re downed. Each time that you’re downed, you’ll hear a flashback revealing a small part of Kane’s backstory (or Lynch’s if you’re playing co-op). In my opinion, this is a great idea, but it left me wanting for a nightmare level (like in Max Payne), that would focus specifically on their backstory.
The gameplay is functional, but not great. Like in many Third Person Shooters, you have a shoulder cam for better aiming, but even this cannot help in some cases. For example, trying to hit far-away targets can be nearly impossible at times, as the recoil of some guns seems to be too high. Nobody expects that you one-shot an enemy with a pistol from 100 meters, but it will take a few tries to do it with an AK47. There’s an interesting choice to not have a reload mechanic, and guns will either be reloaded once you’re out of ammo or when you stop shooting for a while.
Since the plot takes you around the world, there are some interesting set pieces, and you will visit places such as Japan, Cuba, and Venezuela. Everything from office complexes, banks, and even South American villages, look believable and create memorable action pieces.
Once Kane, assembles the crew of people that The7 betrayed or abandoned, he and his “Dead Men”, will start taking the fight to The7. Similar to Freedom Fighters, you can issue orders to your squadmates. These are Attack, Defend and Follow and for the most part, the companion AI does its job. If they’re downed, you have a limited time to revive them or it’s game over, since they’re vital to the plot, so you need to be careful when giving orders.
The game also has a cover system, which is very hit or miss. The cover system is magnetic and not prompted by pressing a key, meaning that you need to stand behind a wall, to actually get into the cover. This can get annoying as it can take several precious seconds to get into cover, and the game will sometimes randomly point you in the opposite direction. While you’re in cover, you have the option of blind fire and of course aiming to be more precise. Blind fire will rarely hit anything, and should only be used for covering fire, and the tried and tested method of popping a shot and going back into cover works most of the time.
Kane and Lynch in addition to single-player and co-op, also has a multiplayer mode, Fragile Alliance. Your goal is to finish several rounds and escape with the most money. If all the players survive and manage to get to a getaway vehicle the money will be split evenly. The catch however is, that at any time you can betray (or get betrayed) other players, and taking their share of the money. The player that was betrayed will then spawn as police and have a chance at their revenge. Fragile Alliance also had a ranking system (on the PC and Xbox 360), and if you reached TrueSkill rank of 50 or 30, you would get to play as Kane or Lynch.
Overall, Kane & Lynch: Dead Men is a good, but flawed game that you should definitely check out. It can be easily be found on Steam, and despite Games for Windows Live shutting down, the multiplayer can still be played if you have enough people (there is still a small community online). What Kane and Lynch do best is the presentation, and everything from graphics, the direction of the cutscenes, music, and SFX all manage to create a movie-like experience. Voice acting especially deserves a special mention as Brian Bloom, does an amazing job voicing Kane. Also, the actor that voices Mario, is one of the bad guys, which is a nice surprise.
If you want to give it a try, I would recommend that you get a graphics mod (HDR ReShade), as it will make the game prettier and solve minor graphical glitches. The gameplay may not be anything groundbreaking, but the story and presentation are top-notch. That alone is a good enough reason to at least give this game a try.