And another thing: When good bad men are wasted

Kane & Lynch

Phone a friend: Kane & Lynch get a second chance in Dog Days

One of the games announced earlier this year which piqued my interest – almost by virtue of the fact that it was being made at all – was Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days.  The reason for this is that the game which introduced these two characters to the world felt like such a missed opportunity. 

Kane & Lynch: Dead Men was critically panned when it was released and many of the slings and arrows reviewers hurled at it were deserved. For me, though, the worst thing about Dead Men was how the writers took such trouble to create two compelling characters, and then squandered them on a substandard game.

I have to confess to having something of a soft spot for Kane & Lynch. Sure, Kane & Lynch: Dead Men was a glitchy, muddled affair with frustrating gameplay and less than adequate graphics, but so what? I’m a complete sucker for high-end crime thrillers and I enjoyed the big budget pulpy feel of it. And then there were Kane and Lynch themselves, two characters whom I really couldn’t get enough of.

Kane and Lynch have to be one of all-time top odd couples in video games. At first glance they have nothing in common, save a demonstrable ability with firearms, and a natural bent towards crime. Lynch is a mentally unstable hick with a pechant for shooting innocent bystanders. Kane is a methodical pro with the lousiest luck in Christendom. Kane clearly has been in the heist game a long time and has a contact book as long as his arm, while Lynch is obviously completely out of his depth with The Seven and winging it. One of them moves in the orbit of powerful criminals and has long tried to avoid their impressive reach. The other has willingly become their pawn and is too stupid to realise this makes him completely expendable should anything go wrong, and given his mental problems this is inevitable. They’re about as compatible as oil and water.

But look a little closer and it becomes apparent that neither of these characters seem capable of catching a break. In some instances, this can be chalked up to the pair of them getting in each others’ way, but overall, the problems faced by both Kane and Lynch have one main cause: they’re both gigantic losers. Lynch is hamstrung by a mental affliction that seriously impairs his ability to function – the fact that he tries to pretend everything’s all right just makes matters worse. Kane seems from all appearances to be a professional and knowledgeable criminal, well versed in planning heists and able to call in back up at a moment’s notice. So why does all he have to show for himself at middle age, is a state-issued death sentence, an underworld contract for his life and the hatred of his entire family? All Kane and Lynch really have is each other and this only makes their separate situations even worse.

Kane and Lynch don’t exactly bring out the best in each other – in fact, quite the opposite. Every time it looks as though Lynch is onto a winner, Kane’s problematic past gets in the way. Just when Kane thinks everything’s going according to plan, there’s Lynch throwing a proverbial spanner in the works. Every time they get together, grief is visited on the pair of them as an almost automatic result.

The fact that they don’t even like each other should make staying away from one another easy, yet, here they are back together in another game. This throws up even more intriguing questions which the writers could use as grist for the story mill, should they so desire. What’s Lynch doing in Shanghai? How long has he been there? Does his other half know about his mental illness and chequered past? What have the pair of them been doing since Cuba? We can see the last few years have taken a toll on the pair of them – Kane looks twitchy and his chin is exploding with facial hair, while Lynch has lost all the hair on his crown and has a large paunch – so what’s happened since they saved Kane’s daughter? Lynch describes Kane as friend down the phone to his girlfriend – has their relationship changed since the first game, where all it could be called was a partnership born out of necessity? Are the shady figures from Kane’s past still hunting him? Exactly how desperate must the pair of them be to pull a heist in China? And last but not least, why do either of them believe joining forces again is in any way a good idea?

Given how well drawn Kane and Lynch are as characters, and how intriguing their relationship is, you’d think fashioning a decent story around them would be easy, but you’d be wrong. The reason for this – at least in the first game – was that the developers seemed to think that having two strong characters at the head of their game was enough. All they needed to do was drop Kane and Lynch into a plot which contained some Michael Mann-esque set pieces and they were onto a winner. The problem is that having great characters doesn’t always result in a great character-driven story. The protagonists need to be doing more than shooting at people and fending off attackers for a start. One of the reasons Kane & Lynch: Dead Men became such a chore to play – aside from the ropey shooter mechanics and broken cover system – is that its story ran out of steam just after the shoot-out against the cops in downtown Tokyo following the office heist. Which was simply a re-skinned version of the shoot-out against the cops in downtown Los Angeles following the bank heist. Which was lifted from Heat. Once Kane and Lynch had locked in on the location of The Seven in Cuba – which looked so bland it beggared belief – the juice was gone and the only plot point which could possibly keep players interested was Kane’s relationship with his daughter. This story aspect was so underwritten and so badly portrayed, that it was difficult to care about whether Kane managed to get his daughter back in one piece.

Dead Men’s plot wasn’t the only thing that let it down, but it was one of the nails in its coffin. But life’s all about second chances and I’d  like to see Kane and Lynch framed by a decent story. IO Interactive has the chance to do just that with Dog Days. Here’s hoping they don’t blow it a second time. Kane and Lynch may be a pair of bickering sociopaths, but it’s hard not to root for them here.

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