A Unique and Contemporary Stylistic Flair in a Less-than-Perfect Video Game: Kane & Lynch 2

Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is difficult to immediately explain.

In our current generation of advanced hardware technology on consoles such as the Playstation 3 or the XBOX 360, it’s no surprise gamers immediately and initially judge a game on whether the gameplay is intuitive, fluid, appropriately paced, and solid in design. If controls are found to be “broken” or unresponsive, one can get frustrated quickly, and thus the video game as a whole loses its appeal.

And then we have something like Kane & Lynch 2.

Pro-tip: canines are not thematically involved, but we are dealing with animals and savage behavior.

 

Conversations involving 3rd-person shooters always have Gears of War show up in some fashion. The series most certainly took a if-it’s-not-broken-don’t-fix-it approach with the trilogy. Epic Games never changed much of the cover-shoot formula or its controls, only making small changes to make the game more fast paced, accessible, and certainly more fluid. In short Gears of War, to a great extent, has the 3rd-person genre on lock-down.

Brothers to the end, bro!

 

Playing Kane & Lynch 2 provides a noticeably uncomfortable first impression. The visuals are not the most polished. Controls are sluggish and often feel unwieldy; the recoil of guns is completely “all over the place” trying to emulate the realism of actually firing a gun much to players’ dismay than enjoyment of realism. The oft-used cover-strafe-shoot formula could be taken from any generic 3rd-person shooter seen elsewhere. To the player’s unfair disadvantage enemies take an unbelievable amount of ammunition into their bodies before dying, far more than the punishment the player can take. The game occasionally feels unprofessional and unpolished–it could be like any other 3rd-person shooter on the market. All signs point toward a lack of fun, and a waste of money.

But for some reason, i find myself replaying the game and enjoying each subsequent playthrough.

"Oh yes, there will be blood."

 

For everything the game does wrong, there are artistic appeals that compensate–even if some of these thematic choices are sometimes obnoxious.
The story of these two human psychopaths and how they are presented in-game glorify this game of wanton nihilistic violence. Weaknesses can be artistic strengths but are generally done so in a manner that results in a negative and unfavorable perception. The game certainly passes as playable, but will only appeal to those more interested in the story and style rather than the actual gameplay.

The narrative could be derived from any gangster film.
Hired guns go in for a job, mistakes happen, trouble results as a consequence, and you have to somehow escape the criminal underworld factions and opposers gunning for you. The ride is a grizzly and violent affair that amounts to a corridor-shooter and little else. The number of victims who fall to Kane and Lynch are obscenely absurd and one has to wonder whether these two are channeling Solid Snake-like energy in being men of army proportions.

The Shanghai, China setting, though, makes for a perfect backdrop for this dramatic and bloody tragedy of an affair. The bright neon lights of the city, rainy-gray, dejected rooftops, construction sites, and more make for gritty firefights in believable environments and circumstances.

Welcome to Shanghai. You're gonna' hate it here.

 

What Kane & Lynch 2 lacks in the triple-A polished graphics and high-resolution textures is balanced and redeemed by the environmental details and subtleties. Running through a sweatshop has this grimy sweat-smothered feel that comes off as credible. Mercilessly gunning down Chinese police officers in outdoor shopping centers under bright lights–a gang war could actually be happening.  In this respect, Kane & Lynch 2‘s environments and visuals may not be the most spectacular but such special attention was paid to detail to great effect that it must be noted and praised, much like the scenery of the recent Silent Hill: Downpour.

Not the best graphics in the world, but Silent Hill's abandoned dilapidation is displayed as best as it could be.

 

Barring the simulated reality of the environments, we are given a truly innovative presentation style that is intrinsically nauseating: amateur camera filming. Rather than a clean-cut look, Kane & Lynch 2 opts for an amateur filming aesthetic to emphasize the game in reality and ground the atrocities in a true-to-life fashion. Cutscenes are shot from the perspective of someone filming the anti-heroes nearby or placed in a static position that an everyday object might be placed with loading screens that have a buffering effect going back to the game.
When actually playing, the camera swerves and jerks as if being followed by an actual person, with occasional stylistic pixelation. Icing on the cake is the graphical censorship artifacting when displaying nudity, in-game headshots, or violence gruesome enough to warrant artifacting–a much more poignant and potent eye-opener.

Imagine someone in a warzone filming this stuff on their camera phone, edited and plastered all over Youtube for the world to see.
Kane & Lynch 2 thrives on this presentation.

Visual pixelation. This is not a glitch but artistic and stylistic intent.

The result of making a kill via headshot: artifact censorship. Bodies remain this way upon death.

Another example of intentional headshot censorship.

 

The downside of this amateur camera style are the headaches and nausea inducing nature of playing. The true-to-life visual portrayal is so shaky and wildly thrashing about that becoming viscerally ill is almost guaranteed when playing (not for the narrative [sometimes] but because of the gameplay system itself). The option to turn off some shaking is available which makes gameplay easier, but, personally, taking away that uncomfortable shakiness detracts from the vomit-inducing camera shots; that stylistic and authorial choice is removed.
(But i’ll bet the developers had to tone down something after game testing with outside parties.)
Thinking in terms of this visual nature, portraying a contemporary Youtube style might be painful to play no matter how any game developer approaches the method. Becoming nauseous is pretty much a given with the “found-footage” genre (Cloverfield anyone?) so implementing this in a game is a risk no matter what angle the style is approached. But Kane & Lynch 2 gets it about as perfect as could be done. If ill-grit is what the creators intended, they nailed it with the style and the violent storyline.

Not much good to these guys.

 

Even through the twisted level of murder these two engage in do players find themselves exhibiting a certain level of pathos while playing.
Lynch (pictured on the left in the above photo) is clearly the more deranged of the pair, but watching his suffering in saving his Chinese girlfriend and watching the violence administered to her is a harsh shotgun to the face. Kane (right) tends to be more levelheaded–albeit engaging in just as much violence as Lynch–and has a daughter of whom he would fight to death to save under any circumstance. The relationship between player and avatar(s) is relatively solidified after watching Kane and Lynch being tortured and are forced to run around the city naked covered in their own blood from the several cuts inflicted on their bodies through torture as Lynch begins to sob–for a very specific story-related reason–with Kane trying to console and enlist him for the coming obstacles. The story and its cast of characters are quite engaging despite their demon-like tendencies.

Make no mistake, though, that this game is grounded in constant and consistent gunplay that can become a draining, numbing, and repetitive experience. There is not much pretty here save for specific environments. No event has any sort of positive emotion attached; every action and motive walks a degree of psychopathic vengeance and bloodlust. This game runs the gamut of hate, anger, and the unbridled ultra violence that follows. There is no justice, no gratifying resolve or definitive resolution, only a murderous adventurous experience of two criminals put in the ultimate situation of truly screwed.

So if you’re looking for something whose gameplay is not so stellar but offers a unique and contemporary artistic visual experience with a grossly macabre and compelling storyline of underworld crime thrillers, this one is for you.

As a note of finality i leave you with a video presented by deluxe345 on Youtube (poetic coincidence!), with a mix of gameplay and cutscenes, that showcases, highlights, and encapsulates the preceding analysis.
Warning: the video features acts of extreme and grizzly violence, intense amounts of obscene language, and sexual content.

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  3 comments for “A Unique and Contemporary Stylistic Flair in a Less-than-Perfect Video Game: Kane & Lynch 2

  1. May 2, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    This is an interesting take on a game that a lot of people didn’t care for. (Obligatory disclaimer: I haven’t played it.)

    The use of the glitch aesthetic in the context of a shaky cam vernacular is interesting on a variety of levels, but while that makes good fodder for analysis papers, what does it mean for gameplay?

    I mean, I know you know of the game reviewer Yahtzee, and I assume, since you also speak well of Silent Hill 2, that you more or less agree with him sometimes. So what do you make of his judgment of KL2:DD? He critiqued it with his characteristically adroit profanity, and he even went on to name it the worst game of 2010. His main problem is the gameplay (a point you make as well), but in his view the visual style doesn’t seem do anything but distract.

    So what say you to Yahtzee’s even harsher than usual negative review?

  2. jpugach
    May 3, 2012 at 1:18 am

    I agree when he says it’s an assault an all fronts. Oh, he’s totally on about how repetitive the game is and unwavering punitive–it’s a stress fest and you are constantly dying over and over again because of a not-so-functional cover system. In retrospect, it’s not even really that totally fun of a game to play. He pretty much hits the nail on the head on all accounts, especially with the occasional narrative slip-up.

    I guess the reason I cherish the game more is because of the artistic qualities. I’m not oblivious to how bad a lot of the game is–it’s pretty hard to miss it. Yahtzee is definitely being a bit harsh. For all its shortcomings there are these brief cool lucid moments, but they get overshadowed by the…well, the crappier parts.

    I can’t say I’ve ever seen another game use the shaky-amateur-Youtube cam aesthetic in full force for the entire duration of an actual video game. Until another game attempts it…I’m not sure if it could be better than the visual style can get. It pretty much nailed that front as best as possible. It just happened to be stuck in a game that falls waaaaay short often.

    The game is not satisfying, but I think some of the risks it takes are neat–just not executed as well as it should be. More functional gameplay would help things up and a tighter story…but all things considered, I dunno I’d label it one of the worst games ever made. Then again, I like crime stuff. Sure, I’m biased, but I think Yahtzee is trashing the game for the sake that it is a game that is not a satisfying gameplay experience. I will always argue the artistic merits and risks to the game, but not necessarily that it’s a work of art. I dunno. It’s unlike anything else, just bundled up in a subpar package.

    I’m still gonna play it again in a few months, I tell you wHat.

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