While it’s obviously great that we’re allowed to play all the biggest titles before anyone else, video game hacks are often required to keep tight-lipped about the projects we are shown. There are embargoes that must be respected, non-disclosure agreements that must be signed, and all sorts of other stipulations that must be agreed to before we’re allowed into the underground thermonuclear bunkers where developers keep their preview code. That’s all fair enough, but sometimes it can be damned tricky to keep your mouth shut – particularly if you’re a blabbermouth like me.
I say this because I’m now finally allowed to talk about Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days, and after a month or so of having to hold my tongue, this comes as something of a relief. You see, Dog Days is a bit mad. Yes, it’s a dark and violent third-person shooter, just like its predecessor, but the art style is highly unusual. While most action games try to make themselves look as slick and well-groomed as possible, aping the look of whichever Hollywood blockbuster is currently en vogue, Dog Days takes its cue from JJ Abrams’ Cloverfield and its shake-o-vision peers. While the game’s camera maintains its standard position slightly behind Lynch (he’s the anti-hero this time), it feels as if you’re watching the chaos through the eyes of a camcorder. It’s a bit like the world’s most violently unhinged edition of You’ve Been Framed… although a better title would be You’ve Been Repeatedly Shot In The Face.
Alright, so right now this revelation may not sound like much of a bombshell, but I assure you that you’ll be taken aback when you see this game in action for the first time. When Lynch is dashing down a corridor, the camera lurches as “we” attempt to keep up with him; when bullets fly towards him (which happens frequently), digital interference speckles the screen. And in addition to this, there’s a grainy filter laid over the top of everything that gives the game a delightfully sordid look. On paper it sounds like a bit of a dubious design choice, but from what I’ve seen so far, the results are quite remarkable. There’s no background music either, so unless you happen to be near something in-game that's parping out a tune, you’ll be left with the noise of your surroundings – a cacophony of gunshots, screaming and the hustle and chatter of downtown Shanghai.
Ah yes, Shanghai. I’ve not yet mentioned the setup for Dog Days. After the bloody events of the first game, the psychopathic Lynch has settled down in Shanghai with his loving girlfriend (we don't know much about her aside from the fact that her name is Xiu, but it's safe to say that her taste in men is appalling). Kane has meanwhile returned to his mercenary ways, but it’s not long before Lynch summons him out East to assist with “one last job”. And surprise surprise, it takes all of five minutes before the faecal matter hits the proverbial wind turbine. Cue another violent helping of badness and shooty bang bang, drawn out over the course of two days and nights.
Beyond this the story is still somewhat cloaked in mystery, but if the dark-as-ebony first game is anything to go by, it'll probably end badly for all concerned. Kane and Lynch are not the kind of men who ride off into the sunset; indeed, judging by the brief gameplay demo I was shown in December, it seems as if it's hard for them to even sit down to a quiet meal without someone having their frontal lobes blown all over the nearest wall.
The demo kicked off with a stylish, shaky close-up of our favourite miscreants shovelling noodles into their ex-con maws. Neither man looked particularly happy, but then they rarely do. After a moment or two of sullen chewing, the meal was interrupted by angry shouts - at which point the camera whipped around to reveal several armed men bursting into the restaurant. As the first of many gunshots rang out, Lynch dived away from the table and... well, to be honest it was kind of hard to keep track of what happened immediately next, as the camera was shaking all over the place. Essentially what I saw was an extremely smooth transition from cut-scene into gameplay - except that the camera movement itself wasn't smooth at all. It's hard to convey the contradictory nature of this scene, but in a nutshell it felt like all hell broke loose in the space of about two seconds, with a fearless Handycam operator attempting to document the whole thing.