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Kane & Lynch 2: Adult Stories for Adult Gamers

February 1, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

By Tom Dann

Kane & Lynch 2 is not an easy game to play. The story is one of the most brutal seen in a videogame, the characters are, at first, virtually unrelatable, the shooting feels clunky and the shaki-cam approach may well make you motion sick. Reviewers picked up on each of these things, and the game had an incredibly mixed reception. I avoided the game, thinking it was just another M rated game trying too hard to be “grown up” or “realistic” (how can a game be realistic when your final kill count is well into the hundreds?) So why do I now think more games should be like Kane & Lynch 2?

Kane & Lynch are not nice looking people. Based on first impressions, they look downright repulsive. After a time, however, it becomes clear that they are incredibly human. Lunatics, perhaps, particularly Lynch, but deeply human. Somehow, Lynch has a girlfriend named Xiu. You wonder how anyone could love someone like Lynch, but that just adds to the dimensions of the character. Kane is tricky: he seems fairly rational, so why does he hang out with Lynch? Apparently friendship transcends logic. The game is pretty much balls-to-the-wall action, so there isn’t a huge amount of time for character development. IO interactive have cleverly written a very character driven story, which is surprising given the genre of game.

Take any Call of Duty game, for example. The character you play is utterly incidental, you could be literally anyone and it wouldn’t matter: stuff happens, you deal with it by shooting a load of people. In Kane & Lynch 2, the whole story kicks off because Lynch isn’t entirely stable. What’s supposed to be a simple visit turns into a shootout, which turns into an accidental murder, thanks to Kane & Lynch’s approach. As we’re learning about our anti-heroes’ character quirks, the story is being progressed: the rest of the story follows a logical cause and effect sequence directly from this moment. Basically, all of the shit they’re in is their own fault.

The story switches between a revenge story and a survival story. Because of the screw up, an arms deal Kane & Lynch are in goes wrong. You see, the girl they accidentally murdered has a very powerful father. It’s not long before their allies, another gang, the police and the military are gunning for Kane & Lynch. Overkill? Perhaps: for greater “realism,” the game perhaps should have stuck to gang territory, because involving the police and the military really begins to stretch credibility.

There’s an interesting conflict of values here. The shooting mechanics are deliberately a little clunky for the added realism, but the story has Kane & Lunch taking out half of the Shanghai police force. It’s a shame because the mechanics, combined with the visual style really make the game unique. This visual style is probably one of the biggest dividers for the game. Critics have noted how the game evokes Michael Mann films like Heat or Collateral, which is true in a sense. Night-time Shanghai is awash with neon, just like the LA of Collateral. The camera style for Dog Days, though, is much rougher. While Michael Mann shoots with digital video for the maximum “you-are-there” effect, Kane & Lynch 2 looks more like someone has followed the action on a cell phone, the kind of home-made footage you get on YouTube. It’s a great idea, though I had to turn it off because of the aforementioned motion sickness.

There’s one moment that really defines the game though. After Lynch finds his girlfriend on a toilet floor, raped, tortured and murdered, Kane asks: “Do you want to talk about it?” The moment is both funny and sad: in what is probably the worst moment of Lynch’s life, one that’s completely his own fault, the best his friend can do is that most useless of human comforts. And yet, at least he has a friend. Kane & Lynch 2 is grown up storytelling. It’s not a story with rude words and violence, it’s an adult story, about the adult things that go on in the adult world (taken to an extreme), and the way adults deal with them. Is it a story that could only possibly have been told through a videogame? No, it could just as easily be a film with the same themes and plot points, but the characters of Kane & Lynch demonstrate something that very few videogame characters do: what would actually happen to a person if they went through what a videogame avatar goes through. They wouldn’t be the handsome, or gruff, heroes with a strong sense of honour, morality and justice, because that’s not human. They’d be unbalanced, they might have their own morality that they desperately try to apply to the world, but they’d probably fail. Most importantly, they’d mess up, just like Kane & Lynch.

Copyright Tom Dann 2011

Categories: Essays
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