Hands-On: Kane & Lynch: Dead Men

kane_lynch_cover.JPGEidos and Io Interactive are about to rock your world while shaking up the ESRB’s M rating in the process with a game that truly raises the bar in terms of mature content. At this point, Kane & Lynch: Dead Men looks to be one of the best games of 2007, a brutal, unflinching excursion into the crime genre that truly signifies next-gen gaming at its finest. Not only is the game looking phenomenal, the non-stop cinematic elements found throughout the game and dynamic gameplay will have fans of films like Heat, The Wild Bunch, and other visceral movie classics glued to the edges of their seats, controllers gripped in sweaty palms as a knowing grin spreads across their faces. I certainly felt this way at a recent hands-on event; coming away feeling Io has nailed pretty much everything they wanted to do with this game to a giant T.

Let’s just state this up front and get it out of the way – don’t expect the two leads to be anything resembling sympathetic and don’t expect much in the way of some sort of moral compass to keep you on the straight and narrow. Kane and Lynch are bad men and you’ll soon find out that they care more for money and gunplay over quiet negotiations. The game begins with a prison break, or more precisely, a prisoner in transit break as Lynch and some outside help bust out Kane in a brutal gun battle that spreads out over the first area of the game as the men head through pack of cops on the way to freedom. The action is relentless and constant, blurring the line between film and game beautifully. Initially playing as Kane, you’ll experience disorientation, get your nose broken, pick up a firearm and get busy dispatching anyone that tries to stop your escape, all within seconds of starting a new game. What works so damn well is the constant sense of things going out of control even when you think you finally have a handle on the situation.

Part of this is due to the superb AI in the game, the other part is due to the unpredictability of Lynch, your partner in crime. While Kane is a straight up merc for hire, the unbalanced, often medicated (and sometimes off his meds) psychotic Lynch is the leader of the team that frees you and you’re rescued from that prison bus for a reason. You’ll need to buy the game to discover exactly what that is, but based on what I got to see and play, you’ll get to do a bit of traveling to exotic locales, meet and kill a whole lot of people before the end credits roll. Actually, the well-scripted storyline cuts a lot deeper than the body count, adding plenty of tension, drama and even bits of comedy to the proceedings. I only spent about a half hour with the game, but by the time I was done, I wanted to know these dangerous men while fearing the violent means they’ve chosen to live by. Of course, you’re still playing a game, but the rush this one provides starts as soon as you plug in and never lets up.

In one stage, the duo hit a club in Tokyo to get information from the owner about a rather large sum of money. While the level began quietly, there was a quick and brutal neck snapping of one guard before the meeting with the club owner that set the tone to stressed right off the bat. During his interrogation, Lynch took things a wee bit to the extreme when getting some necessary information and the ensuing gunfight showed off the game’s excellent crowd AI, as the formerly dancing throng scattered as bullets flew. The next stage was the actual heist of the cash, or more precisely, the end of said heist gone wrong. If you’ve seen the movie Heat, imagine the bank heist in that film, but magnified five or so times in intensity. Kane, Lynch and 4 henchmen must make it down to the main floor blasting through some well-armed guards out to stop them from leaving with their ill-gotten gains. Here, the game turns into an intuitive squad-based tactical shooter with one-touch commands that are wonderfully implemented.

What’s even more awe-inspiring is that your crew will work on their own, watching each other’s backs, running from cover point to cover point as they shoot and reload. One other thing to notice in addition to the constant camera movement and great cinematic angles is the uncluttered screen that allows you to keep track of the action and not paying attention to life bars and ammo meters. Take damage and the screen goes red then redder as more damage is accrued. A near fatal or fatal hit sucks all the color out of things as you lie sprawled out on the ground, but death isn’t the end here. If you’re hit, one of your partners in crime can revive you up to three times with a shot of adrenaline to the heart. After that, a fatal hit ends the mission, forcing a restart. If one of your people is hit, you have a few minutes to get to his location and revive him, but forget about any every man for himself antics. There’s honor among thieves here at least – if one man falls and can’t be revived before time runs out, it’s a mission failure and trip back to the last save point.

Win, or lose, you’ll be in constant awe of the game’s photorealistic graphics. Io has always hit the mark with their games in terms of environmental realism, but both the characters and levels here are completely mind-blowing. Levels truly feel like you’re in them fighting for your life and contain a huge amount of destructible elements from pillars that crumble under gunfire and windows that shatter to cars with tires that go flat and fuel tanks or engines that explode when peppered with enough lead. Collateral damage is definitely in full effect, as ‘friendly’ fire is a non-alterable default and crossing in front of your own men as they take down anyone in their way can prove extremely hazardous to your health. Character models look spectacular and I really love the fact that the two leads are balding dudes in their 40’s in assorted states of ugly. Hell, between the bandages and bruises both leads display even before the main bulk of the action gets rolling, it’s safe to say players will really be feeling Kane and Lynch’s pain as the game progresses.

The other keys to the game’s impact are the sound effects design and score, which are brilliant, and the voice acting and dialog, which floored me completely. Raw and filled with plenty of ear-blazing swearing, the game manages to feel just right – these men talk exactly as you’d expect they would and their constant dialog ranges from hilarious to downright unpredictable. These are the type of violent men you’d see in a Peckinpah film, but with less remorse and absolutely no reservations about harming innocents who happen to be in the line of fire. The Jack Thompson crown will excoriate this game to no end, but those of us adults that can tell fictional entertainment form the real world’s evils will see this for what it is, pure escapism done right, paradoxically beautiful visually and unsettling in terms of its subject matter. This is by far one of the biggest surprises in a year packed with way too many great games, so do yourself a huge favor and go lay down a deposit on a copy right after you read this. The game is set to hit stores on November 20 for the Xbox 360, PC and Playstation 3, so pick a platform and get set for the ride of your life.

We’ll definitely be back with more Kane & Lynch, including a full review when the game hits stores. Since there’s no GTA IV this year, this crime drama will no doubt be the next best (or even better) must buy gaming event. Interestingly enough, while Eidos only had a mere three games at the press event, each one was surprising and a definite must buy – we’ll take a look at Tomb Raider Anniversary for the Wii and the killer surprise that is Conflict: Denied Ops on the Xbox 360 in the next set of previews…

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