Kane & Lynch 2 Dog Days is free for Xbox Live Gold members next month. If you own an Xbox and you didn’t play it yet, I highly recommend this game. Not because it’s that good, but because it’s an experience. And you might end up hating it, or loving it, or both. But that’s why it’s great that it is free. Kane & Lynch 2 is a bit like a Nicolas Cage movie or pizza and tepid coke for breakfast when you’re hungover. Kane & Lynch 2 feels like seeing a rock concert in the pouring rain and drinking beer from the can on your way back in a bus reeking with wet clothes.
Dog Days is the 2008 sequel to Kane & Lynch: Dead Men from a year earlier. The series has a questionable reputation of not quite living up to its promises and being the centre of the Gamespot controversy involving Jeff Gerstmann. The follow-up tried to dive deeper in the bleak, nihilist feel of the first game and attempted to do so with a found footage type of hyperrealistic approach. The interface, artistic direction and sound design is all made to make the entire thing look like video recorded on mobile phone. The screen shakes and stutters, the resolution occasionally degrades to pixelated images and the sound is hollow, inconsistent and for example when there’s a heavy explosion, has a two second delay.
The rest of the visual design of the game, like the main menu and pause screen, also are meant to convey that gritty, realistic tone. Close-ups of glass windows covered in raindrops, morose Chinese pop-music through a radio (the game takes place in Shanghai), muffled sounds from an arguing couple through the walls of an apartment. Or footage of a car speeding down the highway, that familiar sound of tires over wet asphalt. In the distance you can see a plane landing and the faint sound of roaring engines carried by the wind. We see one of the characters stand up from the bed, hear him pee in the toilet, groan in pain and grab for his medication.
Sweat, Rain and Naked Prostitutes
As stated before, the game takes place in China. Shanghai to be precise. The attention for subtle details work well here to set the mood of the story. Narrow, messy backstreets and neon lights, Lynch in his familiar wife-beater and sunglasses, drinking beer from a bottle and eating ramen. You can almost smell the sweat and feel the stuffy heat of a rainy, polluted city in the summer. Kane and Lynch are unlikeable men and the supporting characters are all horrible bastards too. Nobody likes each other and the majority of the dialogue is people arguing. The story, which takes place over the span of a few hours, and is almost integrally shown in the game, takes us through seedy backstreets, desolate apartment blocks, illegal sweatshops and construction sites. People are being tortured and killed, naked prostitutes (with blurred out bodies) and sweatshop workers are fleeing the scene as you shoot your way through misery. The most confronting scene involves a person breaking down and crying in the most unflattering way possible and nobody able to understand what to do or comfort him. The game wants you to feel uncomfortable and it succeeds.
An Acquired Pain
When you finish Dog Days, you want to take a warm shower and hug a friend. Have a plate of cookies and hot cocoa or tea. It’s one of those works like Trainspotting or Requiem for a Dream, leaving you empty and askew. It’s a unique experience all around, whereas most games that go for the neo-noire genre tend to go for stylish and charmingly exaggerated (think Max Payne, Hitman), Kane & Lynch is raw, grounded and unaltered. If you don’t mind being pulled out of your comfort zone, and can tolerate mediocre gameplay in favour of a special experience, it’s something you got to try.