Kane & Lynch: Dead Men never quite lived up to its promise when it was finally released in 2007. Developer IO Interactive is aiming to better realize the potential of an action game set in a tangled underworld of criminals with Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days. The upcoming sequel catches up with the titular heroes after the events of its predecessor. It brings with it a brand-new visual style, a new setting, and a focus on Lynch rather than Kane. Campaign director Karsten Lund was understandably excited about the overhaul when he showed us the game recently, allowing us to see it in motion for the first time.
The first game focused on a couple of criminals called Kane and Lynch--the former a ruthless mercenary and the latter an unhinged psychopath. They were broken out of captivity by The7, a mysterious group of criminals who demanded that Kane and Lynch hunt down a precious object for them. The duo were separated at the end of the first game when Kane left Lynch to be with his daughter. In the sequel, the focus is on Lynch, who has subsequently taken refuge in Shanghai. The two are reunited when Lynch calls Kane about the possibility of a big job, which is where Dog Days begins.
Our short hands-off demo took place early on in the game, starting out in a Chinese restaurant and then moving through the city itself. With the Xbox 360 projecting onto a huge cinema screen, it was the game's striking visual design that made the biggest impression. The word of the day for Lund was "real," and he used it frequently throughout our demo to highlight the driving principle behind the game. "'Real' means a lot of different things to a lot of different people," he says. "We researched how other forms of media communicate 'real.' We looked at user-generated content and why it looks and feels real and how that hasn't been explored in games." The director goes on to show YouTube clips of Shanghai filmed with pocket cameras, highlighting their shakiness, graininess, and overall low quality. According to Lund, all of these things have come to exemplify what we now think of as "real," at least as a generation of Internet video junkies.
In Kane & Lynch 2, this lo-fi visual style has been re-created to realistic effect. The camera frames the action from a familiar over-the-shoulder perspective, but it's as if the camera operator were a panicked bystander, frantically struggling to capture the action on a handheld camera. The image cuts out when you're shot, light sources blur through the lens, and explosions distort through compression artefacts. In a world of ever-increasing high-definition graphics, it's a massive gamble for IO to take, and while it's bound to turn some people off, it's certainly a refreshing visual change.
Thankfully, there looks to be more to Dog Days than just shaky cams and video artefacts. The game has an interesting premise set in Shanghai, a city of 20 million people and "the best place in the world for two criminals to hide," according to Lund. The game has been tailored to Lynch's character traits, and because he's an irrational psychopath, that means improvisation is favoured over military-style planning. Lynch calls in Kane to help him out with one big job for a man called Mr Glazer, who is the head of an international network of Euro expats. After something goes wrong, though, the pair are hunted by the police and the city's criminal underworld over the course of two days and nights.
Lund promises revamped shooter mechanics and aggressive, unpredictable AI. In our demo, the action took place in a restaurant, and the two found themselves embroiled in a shoot-out with the police. We watched as Lund played the game; Lynch appeared to be disciplined in terms of snapping to cover and using blindfire to keep the cops at bay while popping out for precise shots. As Lynch ran through the restaurant and down into the basement, we noticed a group of people tied up, suggesting that the restaurant is a front for criminal activity. As Lynch made a break for it through the streets of Shanghai, the neon signs and bustling markets combined to bring Shanghai to life--the result of the team's extensive visit to China's largest city.
It's clear from this short demo that IO's visual design really does add to the frantic nature of the game. Blood splatters the camera lens as you're shot, the view shakes wildly when there's an explosion, and in one memorable scene, an enemy's blown-off face is masked by the blocky effect used to hide explicit material on TV. Lynch is also well designed; his stained vest and floppy hair detail a man who is still very much the unkempt antihero from the first game.
While we sadly didn't get to play the game, we did manage to extract a lot more information out of Lund. The campaign will be playable in single-player and in both offline and online co-op. The Fragile Alliance multiplayer mode, where you can turn on your teammates and steal the loot, will also make a return. The game is also expected to receive a PEGI 18 rating in Europe, so expect the same level of violence and bad language as in the first game. The developer also hinted that Shanghai's ancient monuments and leafy areas may appear next to the skyscrapers, but we'll have to wait for the next preview to find out more. In the meantime, make sure you check out our video interview, and we'll bring you updated info on the game in the run up to its second-quarter 2010 release.