It’s bad in the most boring way possible. I like the idea of having new IPs to root for, and I think I get what IO Interactive was going for, but ultimately the final product is a waste of talent and energy. Don’t play this unless you’re completely bored, and don’t dare buy it – it’s a rental at most, and that’s a stretch.
Oh boy, another critically dividing game from the studio behind Hitman: Codename 47. I do not instinctively despise all that IO Interactive makes – I’ll admit, I enjoyed Hitman 2 as the course-correcting sequel that it was – nor do I wish to make a habit of hating on their games. I have my likes and dislikes, but in the end I’m open to any studio trying to impress me with all the hard work and creative thought put into their games.
So, understanding that, I went into Kane & Lynch: Dead Men with as open a mind as possible – with the additional task of learning what exactly about this game had caused Jeff Gerstmann’s termination from GameSpot. Well, believe it or not, I got a response: Diddly squat. Six years of build-up, and all there is to it is a frustrating, bloody handful of nothing.
Kane & Lynch seems, at least at first glance, to be aiming for something. Its campaign (read: the only thing you’ll be playing in this game) kicks off with the titular character Kane, a convicted felon, being freed by mercenaries – one of whom is the balding, psychotic Lynch. Soon the duo are thrust on a quest to retrieve a briefcase (the contents of which are unimportant; think of it as a MacGuffin), which quickly spirals into a trend of violence, betrayal and vengeance as Kane furthers his own plot to free himself and his family from the machinations of his former conspirators.
Very, very captivating stuff… but then the story hits a brick wall one-third of the way through. See, an event – not to be spoiled here – occurs wherein Kane and Lynch make a stupid decision and are released from the service of the antagonists, though not after lives are lost. This kind of twist on the classic “race against time” formula could have built into a deconstruction of the “revenge tale” genre tropes subsequently introduced into the plot, but instead it’s narrow-minded shoot-out after narrow-minded shoot-out.
The logic of this thing doesn’t even hold up all that well under observation, though it’s the characters that concern me most. Kane remains a bitter widower who’s prone to secret-keeping, Lynch remains an unstable force of nature with a chip on his shoulder, the bad guys remain aloof and vaguely defined, and the supporting cast is negligible at best. No one undergoes any significant development, no one expands their range of emotions, and not one of these ass-hats learns anything from the whole damn mess.
However, I’m inclined to just shrug off the lack-luster execution of the story since it moves at a solid pace and it never stays in one location long enough to wear out its welcome. I can forgive a messy plot if gameplay makes up for it with innovation and/or creativity. Unfortunately, the developers seemed to have been on auto-pilot here too.
The game plays as a typical, bare-bones third-person shooter, complete with a spotty cover mechanic. Instead of using a button to trigger Kane or Lynch getting into cover, it’s automatically triggered whenever the men press up against a piece of debris or wall just right. There is some dynamic damage to environments as firefights ensue, but ultimately nothing distracts from the hit-or-miss nature of cover-based shooting.
This hit-or-miss nature applies to many aspects of the game. The range of weapons is solid for a shooter, but they are as generic and unspectacular as you can find – rifles, pistols, the odd RPG, perhaps some machine guns. The revival mechanic when Kane or his allies are downed – involving adrenaline injections – isn’t quite clear on its limitations; sometimes Kane can only two injections in a row, sometimes it’s more. Movement and aiming, particularly the “Camera-Zoom” effect when aiming down the sights, feels clunky and rather imprecise at times, especially when trying to climb or interact with things.
And then there are the boss battles. Developers, take note – when your gameplay mechanics are built on awkward controls and simplistic gunplay, DO NOT believe that adding in boss battles featuring moving targets will distract from those issues. It only exacerbates the problem; coming to a head in a confrontation with a helicopter, it was mostly luck and timing that allowed me to fire an accurate rocket and bring it down.
I can’t even complement the multiplayer suite – something that could save some games from being pure garbage – since I was never able to get into a match. I haven’t heard anything about the servers being shut down, so it’s quite possible that no one really cares about the online gameplay anymore. For the record, though, I’ve heard that “Fragile Alliance” is indeed a clever take on heist scenarios.
If the game has a saving grace, it’s in the presentation. The voice acting is solid, featuring admirable work by Brian Bloom and Jarion Monroe, but it adds little depth to proceedings. The soundtrack is also underwhelming and definitely underused, since it’s the haunting main menu tune conducted by the ever-talented Jesper Kyd that initially drew me in. Speaking of underutilized assets, the visuals do their best to soften the pain of failure. The textures are acceptable if not aesthetically pleasing, there tends not to be pop-in or lag, and the character models are actually quite detailed and believable.
Just a shame such effort was wasted for so little payoff.
Dead Men is dead on arrival, an absolute chore of half-assed mechanics and undercooked ideas. It moves fast enough and it certainly tries to be brutal and meaningful, but it never truly rises to the challenge. There’s no energy, no life, and no reason to play this more than once – and certainly not at full retail price.
Recommendation: Skip It