Every once in a while a game comes along that starts the conversation anew about whether video games can be considered a form of art. Kane & Lynch: Dead Men is not one of those games. A violent tale of murder and betrayal, Kane & Lynch tries very hard to be like a hardboiled action movie, except it isn’t, and more to the point it isn’t a very good game either.
Kane & Lynch doesn’t waste any time, throwing you head first into its dark world from the very first scene that has the twosome busted free from their prison transport by a group of masked gunmen. After a running firefight through the streets and a narrow escape from the authorities, the story starts to come together. Kane is a former mercenary on death row awaiting execution, freed now by a group called The7 with whom he previously worked. They want back what Kane stole from them, and if he doesn’t deliver it they’ll kill his wife and daughter. Lynch is a medicated psychopath who has made a deal with The7 to stay with Kane and watch him until he gets what they want. Then The7 will kill Kane, Lynch will take his place in the group, and Kane’s family will be safe. Or at least that’s the plan anyway.
What follows is a series of heists, chases, betrayals, and roving gun battles that make up the game’s sixteen chapters. The story struggles to find that magical place that is both gritty and exciting for its entirety but never quite gets there, and none of the twists are shocking enough to have much impact. Taking the term anti-hero to the extreme, Kane & Lynch is full of bad people doing bad things, making it hard to care what happens to any of them. Though far from the worst job of dressing up a shooter, it barely qualifies as even B-movie fare.
In the single player campaign mode you play exclusively as Kane as you shoot your way through the each level in pretty typical third person shooter style, though sadly there is a lot to be desired about the game’s mechanics. The aiming and damage models are more than a little squirrelly, and the cover system is awkward at best. The Enemies are pretty dull—just no-frills cops and soldiers for the most part—and they aren’t very smart. Most of the game is pretty easily navigated simply picking off dudes one at a time before moving on, right up to the point where they acquire assault rifles and develop the ability to spray bullets with incredible accuracy from nearly complete cover at a considerable distance, making the last several levels far more difficult, and not in a good way. For most of the game you’re paired up with Lynch, and frequently others, who you can command to take up positions to shoot from. The good news is they can also revive you if you get taken down by giving you an adrenaline shot. The bad news is if any of them go down you have to do the same for them relatively quickly or you lose, making the whole exercise more of a chore than a perk.
The game can be played co-op, with the second player as Lynch, but only in split screen. There is no online co-op. Rather the only online mode is a game called Fragile Alliance, which deserves a special dubious honor as the best idea for a new multiplayer mode that doesn’t really work very well in practice. The idea is that all the players start as teammates in a heist, and the goal is to take out the guards, get the loot, and escape. The catch is that everyone who escapes gets an equal share, and the winner is the one who banks the most at the end of a few rounds. You probably see where this is going. With a significant financial incentive to be the only merc making off with all the cash, betrayal is more a question of when than if. It’s a great idea, one that’s really appropriate for the whole vibe of Kane & Lynch, but functionally it just doesn’t come off that well. There are too many moving parts, too many ways for people to act like jerks, and more often than not it just degenerates into everyone shooting at each other at the beginning of each round. The biggest problem though is that even when the other players do play intelligently, you’re still playing a game with sub-par mechanics.
In a season of really great shooters, Kane & Lynch is pretty much a dud. It’s sort of a style over substance kind of game, except the style isn’t even terribly impressive. The substance, what there is of it, amounts to a fairly so-so action game that’s kind of short. The whole shtick screams out for online co-op but there isn’t any, and instead its big idea multiplayer mode doesn’t quite come together. Beyond a rental (or pickup on the cheap from its inevitable destination: the bargain bin) for serious action genre junkies, it’s hard to recommend Kane & Lynch in any way.