Here it is, a sequel to one of the biggest commercial flops of 2007 developed by a team who really need to start focusing on the next Hitman. Preferences aside, IO Interactive decided to make another crime thriller with two of the most despicable men in gaming. Many of us will still have a bitter taste in our mouths after playing the original, but now Kane and Lynch have returned to repent their sins and commit a whole lot more. Civilians will be killed, buildings will be torn apart and plenty of vulgar language will be pouring from this troublesome duo. Agent 47 probably doesn't approve but now that we have it, does Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days improve upon its infamous predecessor?
For the second time this year, players will be spraying bullets in the streets of Shanghai. It's time to get familiar with Lynch, a sociopath and all round lunatic. Kane will be taking a step back from the storyline, instead Lynch and his repulsive appearance will be taking over as the main character. Set shortly after Dead Men, Dog Days begins with Lynch collecting Kane from the airport. Presented with a simple job with no strings attached, these money-hungry criminals quickly become wanted men. That's what happens when you 'accidentally' shoot and kill the daughter of Shanghai's underworld mastermind. From this point onwards, the entire mission turns sour and both characters run into all sorts of bad luck; traitors and room after room of people trying to kill you. Things heat up when Lynch's girlfriend is kidnapped as a bargaining tool, leaving two men with two different agendas. Lynch wants his woman, Kane just wants out - leading to a tense and engaging relationship between these filthy men. The story isn't overly original, but it's interesting enough to keep you motivated until the very end.
The biggest worry about Kane and Lynch 2 was also the biggest problem in 2007 - gameplay. Thankfully for everyone involved, Dogs Days is a massive improvement on the terribly broken mechanics that plagued Dead Men. For starters, the cover system works rather well in comparison to the automatic garbage that came before it. Lying somewhere between the quality of Army of Two and Gears of War, a simple tap of a button will allow players to frantically switch between different areas of cover. The nature of the gameplay requires players to use every possible environmental object to their advantage. Gone are the days when Kane had to order his pathetic crew into cover, Dog Days dumps it in favour of a relatively standard control scheme. There's nothing out of the ordinary here, but the layout is open enough to allow you to move through Shanghai quickly - and you're going to be grateful for the improved controls. Be prepared for groups of enemies rushing towards you; presenting a perfect opportunity to combine a fire extinguisher with a bullet. Explosive material will be conveniently located throughout the majority of these linear locations; couple this with solid shooting mechanics that feel genuinely realistic, and you're left with a completely revamped experience. Portraying intense realism was clearly a priority, and while the gameplay isn't entirely revolutionary, the overall feel of Dogs Days is unlike anything else in the genre.
Undoubtedly the most hyped element of Dog Days is its unique camera. Initially the handheld style can be nauseating, but it's very adaptable. Understandably, not everyone will be able to cope with such hectic movement so there's always an option to stabilise the camera angle. Since the release of Resident Evil 4 in 2005, over the shoulder viewpoints have almost become standard practice so it's refreshing to see a developer 'shake things up'. The only real comparisons to draw from are the movies directed by Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Trilogy); everything has a documentary feel and the camera work is intentially rough. To the developers credit, there's a lot more to the camera outside of its movement. Some of the more gruesome moments are pixellated, including one mission where the boys are left 'out in the cold' so to speak. It's no surprise to see IO Interactive employing a mandatory censor throughout the game, as we wouldn't be seeing it in the shops otherwise. Visual effects including lots of distortion and glare makes Dog Days one of the most instantly recognisable games on the market, no other game has achieved this level of immersion and realism with a camera angle. Players are lifted out of their seats and placed right in the frame of the action, and you'll feel completely involved when the action really heats up.
There's also another practical use for the camera; to hide some rather mediocre graphics. But for once, the less than spectacular textures can be forgiven because most of the time you'll be too distracted to care. During the few brief moments where Dog Days slows down, there are some obvious flaws with the character models. The lip syncing isn't anything to rave about, and some of the NPC's look downright dirty. The people of Shanghai look much better than what this games portrays them as, but on the other hand, some of the destructible environmental objects really improve the look of Dog Days. Explosions (of which there are plenty) will cause the screen to to shake violently and areas of fuzziness will pop up, keeping in line with the documentary style viewpoint. The city itself generally looks quite well; Shanghai has many rain soaked streets illuminated with neon. Of course the locations don't look pretty for very long, especially when two naked men decide to run around making a mess. Cutscenes are few and far between, with little bits of the story fed to the audience during the 'buffering' screen. Little details like this and the interference caused by phone calls tie in beautifully to the unique presentation, something that clearly took a lot of time and effort to perfect.
IO Interactive has a pretty good relationship with Jesper Kyd, a critically acclaimed composer, but his orchestral brilliance doesn't feature in Dog Days. Even though he scored the entire Hitman series along with the original Kane and Lynch, IO obviously felt that a soundtrack would detract from the immersion. It's disappointing to say the least, but it's a fair argument. With no musicians to pay, the focus has shifted to sound effects. The weapons sound terrific and enemies sound typically foolish. Kane and Lynch themselves are predictably aggressive in tone, and the voice acting throughout is of the highest quality. Another eagerly anticipated part of Dog Days is the multiplayer, mainly 'Fragile Alliance' and 'Undercover Cop'. The premise doesn't require much thought; grab the cash and escape. The big twist is that you can betray your team, but you risk being marked and hunted down. It leaves an interesting moral choice not often seen in video games, but it doesn't always have entertaining results. The majority of the community is based in America, so you'll encounter plenty of money hungry children who enjoy playing gangster. Presuming you can muster a good team together, the multiplayer modes offer a nice distraction. The main drawback here is the limited number of maps and frequently barren lobbies. As an idea, Dog Days is brilliant, but it already feels abandoned online.
The most obvious problem with Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days is the lack of content. While the campaign remains strong from start to finish, the ending comes a few hours too soon. Most gamers will only need one evening to sit down and play through the entire story, which is considerably shorter than the original. Some will argue that Dog Days is the perfect length and the quality never drops during the five hours spent in Shanghai, and to be fair, it doesn't. Oddly enough however, the developers left out major set pieces (one of the only redeeming features in Dead Men). Meeting contacts in cosmopolitan Tokyo nightclubs, rappelling from the top of a skyscraper before making an unexpected entry - this sort of scale and ambition would have made Dog Days a less linear experience. The game is filled with room after room of police officers and swat teams, and not much else. Some variety arrives when the boys decide to hijack a helicopter, but aside from a few sections of genuine interest, there really isn't much to encourage a second playthrough. Collectibles are non-existent and unless you decide to play co-operatively, either online or off, Dog Days will end up gathering dust.
Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days was never going to receive unanimous praise, but it certainly doesn't deserve to be disregarded because of the controversy surrounding the original. As far as third person shooters are concerned, Dog Days is the most intense and realistic of its kind. It's worth playing for the camera angle alone. The story remains strong throughout and the relationship between the main characters is a brilliant one. Longevity is the biggest area of concern here; players will breeze through the campaign and find little quality in a multiplayer world that's already losing numbers. It would be unfair to condemn Dog Days too harshly because of this, mainly because the single player experience is so refreshing and an absolute blast to play through. Players looking for a long-lasting shooter might want to give this a miss until it inevitably drops in price, but it's perfect rental material. Most importantly of all, Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days is a greater game than the mess that was released three years ago, and that has to be worth something.