Gritty action title with plenty of raw thrills, but poor visuals, a few frustrating sequences and bugs weigh it down.

User Rating: 6.5 | Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days X360
Adam 'Kane' Marcus and James Seth Lynch's first rampage of revenge and destruction, way back in 2007, established the duo as two of the toughest and most merciless bastards to ever walk the earth. It also provided some memorable action sequences and a compelling plot of crime, betrayal and retribution. Now the duo is back once again in "Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days", this time fighting through Shanghai with what seems to be an amateur camera crew following them as they gun down everything in their path. While the sequel treads over familiar territory as far as the gameplay is considered, it does mix it up with a new visual style (underlining the concept of "Realism") and grittier, more visceral action.

As mentioned, the first new thing anyone will notice when playing the game is the new visual style. It is based on the concept of home-made videos, or user generated content on websites such as YouTube. Basically it means that the whole game is presented from the point of view of a cheap camcorder following closely (too closely if you ask me) behind the protagonists, documenting everything they do. At a few points throughout the game characters will actually acknowledge the camera's presence, making it possible that there is an actual person behind it, and adding to the whole "documentary" feel of the game.

On a visual stand point it means that everything one would expect from a low rated video is there: grainy footage, lens flares, and even blurring of "extreme" contents like nudity or gore. It also means that every time the main character sprints or falls down, the camera shakes violently just it would if a real person was holding it. While it seems like a nice concept on paper, in practice it does have its problems. For starters, it can be really hard aiming accurately while moving or being shot at, but that can be attributed to the realistic feel of the game, and isn't necessarily a bad thing (plus, the shaking can be turned off at the "options" menu). Bigger issues include visual bugs that can cripple your aim, like rain drops or mud stains that refuse to disappear off the lens, or the fact that your character's own head can sometimes block your view entirely, leading to some really stupid deaths. All in all it is easy to appreciate the game's original look and style, but since it comes on the expense of the gameplay, it does feel a bit redundant.

The story is maybe a bit of a cliché, but it is still worth noting: this time around you play as Lynch, who has started a new life for himself in Shanghai working for a crime organization led by a British crime lord name Galzer. When his boss informs him of a big job coming down the pipes, Lynch contacts his old partner Kane for help. Immediately after Kane's arrival to China everything starts going south, and after a botched meeting with an informant, the duo find themselves being hunted down by both a powerful gang and the Chinese officials. It's a simple story really, but one that manages to keep the game going on, adding fuel to fire by constantly clashing Kane's greed with Lynch's quest for revenge.

As far as the gameplay goes, "Kane & Lynch 2" is a pretty standard cover-based shooter. You position your character behind some sort of cover, be it a chest-high brick wall or a concrete support beam, and just have him pop in and out of cover for accurately shooting down a room full of policemen, gang members and general bad guys. Enemies will do the same, but since a lot of the environment is destructible, all it takes is a little patience and a lot of bullets to clear a section. Unlike the first game, this time neither Kane nor Lynch get to command the A.I. fighting alongside you (in those rare occasions), but they still do a pretty good job protecting each other and keeping the enemies off your back, but it isn't wise to count on them to do all the dirty work for you.

Another thing that's a bit different in the sequel is the lack of grenades. Instead, Lynch can pick up exploding canisters, such as petrol containers or fire extinguishers, and toss them towards enemies; a simple press of the "fire" button will detonate the canister, killing everyone in the blast radius (including you or your partner). It is a nice idea, but ultimately cannot replace the good old fashion hand grenade. The other odd gameplay mechanism is the whole reviving system in the game. While it isn't the first game to use it, for some bizarre reason it tries to reinvent it almost completely. Once a member of the duo is down, this player must repeatedly mush the X button in order to keep his character alive for as long as possible, allowing his partner more time to come and revive him. That in itself is not a bad idea, and can actually add a new layer of tension and challenge to a fight. But there is one odd thing that keeps it from being that: every time Lynch (or Kane) is done reviving his partner, he will immediately stand up, exposing himself to enemy fire and resulting in some very aggravating deaths. Taking into account that it can take a whole minute for a character to come back into the action, it really slows the pace down, and more often than not, end in "Game Over" because Lynch went down before Kane's resurrection animation was complete.

Aside for these minor bugs and discomforts, the biggest flow in the game, perhaps, is that it isn't as memorable as its predecessor. Apart from one specific (very memorable) sequence, the whole game lacks the scale or the rush of the previous game. All firefight take place in small confined spaces, and even the more open areas lack any sense of grandeur. It can be argued that the claustrophobic nature of the game is intentional given its "up close and personal" attitude, but it isn't enough to carry the game all the way through, and considering the game isn't very long (6-7 hours) it's definitely something to worry about.
Furthermore, not only that the game is short, but the later levels can be downright not fun to play, thanks to some very frustrating sequences were enemies just keep pouring into the room, making for some very tedious (rather than challenging) set pieces.

When getting right down to it, "Kane & Lynch 2" isn't a very attractive game, visually. This has nothing to do with the unique visual style, since it is on a more technical level. Characters usually look ok, especially Kane and Lynch, but they not on par with today's standards at all. The most obvious flaws are in the textures, namely the backgrounds; looking outside of the window of a skyscraper reveals Shanghai to be nothing more than a heavily pixelated backdrop. Other textures are not far better, sometimes taking a few minutes to load properly, and even then they are not what one would call smooth. Fortunately, the sound presentation is much better, with both Kane and Lynch sounding terrific (and maintaining the same voice actors from the previous game). The only problem there is the fact that sometimes the noises of battle drown the dialog between the two, causing some confusion as to what is going on. Other than that though, the sound effects and music are really top-notch.

So maybe not as exciting as their first tour, the new visual style and even darker undertones bring out the best in the murderous duo, even if it's just for a short while before tedium settles in. Some minor bugs and lousy graphics hamper the overall experience from time to time, but the core gameplay remains sturdy and unscathed. All in all "Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days" is a worthy sequel that tries to take its predecessors formula and shake it up a bit. If you can stomach some weird design choices both in the gameplay and the visuals, this trip to the Far East may not offer you the happiest of days, but at least it can hopefully satisfy your thirst for action in the last Dog Days of summer.