In later sections you’re given a whole squad of mercs to manage, but faced with an unintuitive command system and their own sometimes dubious AI, getting them and yourself from objective to objective in one piece is practically impossible. In general, the more slowly and carefully you play the game the better your chance of survival, but at times it all comes down to luck as much as skill or planning.
This inconsistency slips into other areas too. Kane & Lynch can look every inch the next-generation action game; the characters are well drawn and the locations, particularly the more destructible ones, well designed. Several sections are utterly magnificent. At other times it’s a mess, with dull surface textures, boxy architecture and a rather dated DirectX 7 look. A lot seems to come down to the lighting. When there is plenty of strong contrast between light and shadow and the various sources are well-placed, Kane & Lynch is a gritty, neo-noir masterpiece. When they’re not, it just looks flat and lifeless. Worse, it’s some of the early missions that seem to suffer most – the story says gritty and believable, the environment and poor AI scream ‘it’s all a cardboard set, and we haven’t even paid for proper actors!’
Above all, it’s hard to forgive some areas of horrifically thoughtless game design. The ‘truck in the wasteground’ sequence is already developing legendary status as a spectacular example of unintuitive, frustrating gameplay, mostly because you have to pull off a slightly silly bit of shooting within a very demanding time limit or repeat the same tiresome bit over and over again. Other areas suffer from poor checkpointing, an over-enthusiastic supply of enemies or the obvious and dozy placement of artificial barriers to keep the player from doing anything remotely unexpected. All these things stymie the flow of the action. And why the game falls back into a clichéd series of Ghost Recon-style military combat scenes towards the end of the game I’ll never understand. It throws away what makes Kane & Lynch special and invites comparison to other, better games.
As if to make up for these defects, Io has thrown in a few great ideas. Split-screen co-op mode, one player playing Kane, one playing Lynch is one, though online co-op would have been even better. The Fragile Alliance online multiplayer mode is another. Basically, you join up to seven other players to pull of a job. AI-controlled cops or gangsters are out to stop you, and the aim is to make it to the getaway car with as much cash, goods or other valuables as possible. The numbers of your foes means it makes sense to work together, but at the same time you get more cash – and so more points – if only a few of you get out alive. As a result, it’s tempting to turn traitor, shoot your own, then run off with a larger percentage of the profits. When someone does so, the other players get a cash bonus for offing them, while the murdered player can come back as a cop and go for revenge.