The actual gun battle itself that marked the start of the demo was, in pure terms, everything we've come to expect from a third-person shooter. Here's Lynch cowering behind cover; here he is popping and blazing away at a bunch of gangsters; there he goes dashing about like a lunatic. There's a new mechanic called Down But Not Out which means our two protagonists don't instantly die when they get gunned down - instead they crawl about and bleed all over the shop, firing off stumbling rounds, until someone comes to their aid; this too is something we've seen done before, to various degrees. In short, Dog Days should feel a bit generic... and yet it doesn't, because of the way it looks and handles.
I'll naturally have to reserve full judgement of Dog Days' presentation until I've had a chance to properly test it out for myself, but I can say right now that the game is pretty exhilarating to watch. The camera work, camcorder effects and the general grittiness all conspire to create a remarkably strong flavour. There's no gloss here, just a coldness that verges on being scary. The absence of backing music also helps to give the action a real sense of pace, because when things ease up a little, you can hear the difference. There may be no Hollywood glamour, but the game feels deeply cinematic: it's like one of those stylish-but-nasty Asian thrillers that Tartan Video used to import in the late 1990s (RIP Tartan).
Despite its brevity, the demo was filled with memorable touches and moments. From the initial gunfight in the restaurant, Kane and Lynch fought their way through the kitchens to a back alley. Here, for a moment, there was tense quiet, allowing us to soak in a bit of the alien Shanghai atmosphere: the bright lights, the bustling crowds, the evening pedestrians skulking about in the shadowy road. Then, almost out the corner of our eye, someone ran down the street and off around the corner. This hurried movement immediately seemed like a bad omen, and so it proved: a cop car pulled up at the end of the road, and the duo once again found themselves under fire.
A short while later, I watched as Lynch battled foes from the inside of a DVD store in which he'd temporarily taken shelter. Bathed in neon lighting as he crouched behind a rack of boxes (most of which seemed to reference Mini Ninjas and the Hitman series), he began to mutter to himself about something in a strained voice. I couldn't quite catch what he was saying, but he didn't sound particularly stable. Lynch has hardly the soundest of minds at the best of times, and IO Interactive has already stated that his "condition" will once again cause you a few problems on your travels. Given that last time around he ended up executing a whole bunch of innocent hostages, the results could be messy.
When a game succeeds in generating tension just as you're moving from points A to B, you know that something is going well. The demo closed with Kane and Lynch fleeing the police and crossing what looked like an empty building site towards the apartment where Xiu lives. Here once again we had the calm before the storm, the camera jogging along behind Lynch as he and Kane moved through the darkness, the two men speaking only in terse exchanges. Needless to say, trouble was lying in wait at Xiu's place - but then with these two, it always is.
It's fair to say that the first Kane and Lynch left quite a bit of room for improvement, but IO Interactive seems happy to acknowledge this. The Danish developer is out to answer its critics, and Dog Days is certainly taking a gutsier, balls-out approach to the genre than its precursor. At the same time we're told that this sequel will retain the better elements of the first game; happily this means we'll get a second helping of Fragile Alliance - the neat multiplayer mode in which players rob a bank together, before backstabbing each other in a bid to escape with all the loot. The bottom line? There's no doubt that the new graphical style will get people chattering, but I think there's also a good chance that the full game will have the stones to back up its bold ideas. As far as I can tell, there's only one potential pitfall: is the shaky cam going to make us all vomit?
Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days will be released later in 2010 on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360