Which camp did you find yourself in with the first Kane and Lynch? Did you embrace the gritty realism and unrelenting action? Or did the cumbersome controls and peculiar design choices lead you into your very own form of mental illness. Either way, both camps seem to agree that the multiplayer was perhaps the game's strongest asset, which took a totally new mechanic and made a unique multiplayer experience out of it. Whilst we got to see the Kane and Lynch 2 campaign a little while back (read a lovely preview here), it's only now that we've managed to get our mitts on the eagerly anticipated multiplayer.
Huddled around a projector screen in a trendy London bar, Kim Krogh, director of multiplayer at IO Interactive explained the concept behind Fragile Alliance. He spoke of the need for story in multiplayer - not character development and plot twists, but of a narrative framework to contextualise the bloodshed. In attempting to integrate this into a multiplayer experience, Fragile Alliance was born, which allowed players to do the unthinkable and betray their comrades. It allowed for greed, betrayal and revenge, three concepts that Krogh argues are integral to the game mode. Whilst it certainly proved popular in the first game, it still came bundled with all the problems associated with the gameplay. In Fragile Alliance 2, most of those problems no longer exist.
For those who missed it the first time round (and those who have and need a recap), here's how it goes down. Starting as one of eight members of the alliance, players must steal four million dollars from a protected location and escape with it within four minutes. If all eight players escape successfully, the money is split evenly. For those with no such loyalty to the alliance, there's the option to kill your comrades and take their money for yourself. This will of course brand you a traitor, making your escape that much harder, but the payoff is more than worth it. Those that are killed or betrayed throughout the round respawn as cops, who must then prevent the alliance escaping with the cash.
This is essentially the same as with the first game, except with some fairly interesting new additions. Based on the negativity surrounding the original, IO has listened to a lot of feedback; it's improved on the good, ditched the bad, and generally created a more refined sequel. Whilst Fragile Alliance is only one facet of the Kane and Lynch 2 multiplayer (we'll be discussing other modes at a later date), it can certainly be considered the main event, and is what will ultimately draw players into online play in the first place.
What exactly is new then? Well, first and foremost the mode feels a lot tighter than the original. This is true for the campaign too, which welcomes a more robust control scheme, an easier cover system, and improved shooting. In short, it handles a lot better than its cumbersome predecessor. While improvements such as this were vital, it's the addition of all-new features which have a more profound effect on the way the game actually plays.
Krogh admitted that it was too easy to become a traitor in Fragile Alliance 1, and by that he meant it could often happen by accident. A new 'yellow card' system means you can shoot another player without becoming a traitor straight away. This means that accidentally shooting a comrade in the midst of a shoot out won't ruin the rest of your game. Also, if somebody does try to stab you in the back, you can kill them without being branded a traitor yourself. A 'down but not dead' mechanic makes this easier too, allowing you to see who's had a pop at you before you die. While grounded, you can press A to get up, and then hunt the traitorous bastard down and exact your revenge. There's also the option to take another player as a human shield, which will label you a traitor instantly.
Purely from a gameplay perspective, Fragile Alliance holds up admirably. I did, however, have certain issues with the scoring system, which I felt didn't reward skill appropriately. For example (and this is also me justifying my losses over the course of the day), in several games I was one of the last members of the alliance left alive, shooting through hordes of goons and policeman all on my lonesome. When I inevitably died, however, my score would remain a big fat zero (cash is only added to your score after escaping). In contrast, players that died in the first few minutes of the game could rack up fairly respectable scores as a re-spawned policeman. Even though I had technically done better than my fallen comrades, the scores refused to reflect my achievements. Still, I'm sure these problems will even out over a longer period of time.
Bar a few annoyances, Fragile Alliance 2 is a thoroughly refreshing take on third-person multiplayer. It's tense, brutal and totally unpredictable; you can't trust any of your so called 'comrades' at all. In combination with the other multiplayer modes, there's enough here to extend the life of the game considerably. What with Gears of War, Uncharted 2 and more recently Lost Planet 2, third-person shooter multiplayer is becoming an increasingly saturated genre. Whether Kane and Lynch 2 manages to attract any of this growing audience remains to be seen, but the originality and refined execution of its concept are certainly worth taking note of.
Kane & Lynch 2 is due for release on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on August 27.