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Platforms: XBox 360 and PS3
Just after New Year's, your humble reviewer and our esteemed editor were talking about which of the games in the pre-Christmas rush we wish we had had time and space to cover. I mentioned Kane & Lynch: Dead Men. It looked good, was still selling well, and came from the team behind the Hitman series. "OK" deadpanned Riyad, "but don't write anything that might get yourself fired."
It's sad, but Kane & Lynch is always going to be remembered in journalistic circles for a controversial dismissal and the ensuing scandal (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Gerstmann for details). Sad, because this is a game that wants to be so much more than your average action game. Kane & Lynch: Dead Men is ripe with cinematic ambition. It has plausible, horribly flawed anti-heroes - not your usual bull-necked, thick-skulled cretins - and puts them in a strong plot that takes in a range of interesting locations and scenarios.
For once we have a game whose inspirations aren't Aliens, Saving Private Ryan, Enemy at the Gates, Predator or Commando, but Heat, Reservoir Dogs, Ronin, Man on Fire and Collateral. It's dark, brooding and - at times - quite unsettling. Even if the dialogue shows a slightly childish obsession with the F-word (used at least three times within the first twenty seconds of the game), it's still streets ahead of anything in 90 per cent of the brain-dead action games out there. In a better world, Kane & Lynch would and should have been a classic.
It's not, because it's patchy and because it's clear that the team either didn't have the time or the technology to build a game that lived up to their ambitions. It's frustrating, because you can see what they were trying to do, yet it's all too apparent that they haven't quite managed it. Let's call it Assassin's Creed syndrome.
Here's the premise. Kane, a tough mercenary once affiliated to a group known only as The7, is sprung from jail by the remaining members and told that unless he recovers a mysterious briefcase, his wife and daughter will be killed. To keep him on his best behaviour, The7 pair him up with Lynch, a long-haired, bespectacled killer with a bad reputation. Needless to say things go wrong, partly because Lynch is a paranoid psychopath who - without constant medication - goes haywire and kills roughly anything and everything in sight. Like Reservoir Dogs, then, it's not so much the story of a heist as the story of what happens when it all goes belly up. After that, it's a story of obsessive revenge, with ink-black motivation and an awful lot of violence. This is not one you want to walk in and find the kids playing.