If you're a raving psychopath it's probably best you don't get hold of an arsenal of weapons and go on a rampage with your unhinged buddy. Despite a less than favourable reception from critics the original Kane & Lynch managed to sell remarkably well at retail and became infamous. Still, any publicity is good publicity, right? Square Enix and dev house IO Interactive will be hoping people are talking about this year's sequel, Dog Days, for reasons other than a high profile games journalist being fired.
Unlike the original game, Dog Days casts you primarily as Lynch, a dangerously self-medicated psychopath. After the tragic events of the first game the long-haired one has managed to settle down, relatively speaking, in Shanghai. While certainly not living a 'normal' life, he's not letting rip with a shotgun every other second while hiding behind a desk riddled with bullet holes. Things, quite predictably don't remain this way for long.
Lynch has arranged a deal that will earn him a lot of cash, so he calls in his old pal Kane to help out. While the reformed killer insists that this job isn't going to end up in chaos, the peaceful life is inevitably interrupted by plenty of extreme gun-based violence as the two men shoot anyone that stands in their way. From the early levels I've played, Dog Days offers plenty of thrilling third-person, cover-based shooting, with an intriguing, if still to be developed, storyline. But what, if anything, does it offer that we haven't seen before?
In terms of how it plays, straight away it's a hell of a lot smoother. The auto lock into cover mechanic from the original has been dumped in favour of a much better 'press button to move into cover' system. In short, it works, whereas the clumsy setup in the first title caused more than a few bouts of swearing. You're also, as is fashionable in games these days, limited to carrying two weapons, but there's so many weapons left behind from fallen enemies that it's never hard to switch to something else if you want to.
Combat is frenetic, with the gun-toting fruitcake and balding hard man under almost constant attack from cops and other enemies, including everyone's favourite, snipers. You can hit back, though, even with objects from the environment. At various points in the opening few stages you're able to grab items, such as gas canisters and fire extinguishers, lob them towards enemies and then shoot them. This, as is written in the action game rulebook, results in a big explosion that kills or injures all the nearby bad guys.
Run into danger and you'll be pumped full of holes, but it often isn't the end straight away. You can often be knocked down, from which position you can fire off a few shots at goons or stumble to your feet to find cover. With co-op play not present in the preview build I can't say if there are any clever two-player mechanics, but from what I've seen it might just be limited to helping your partner climb over a fence.
Dog Days' real identity comes from its visuals, with the game using an incredibly cool and stylish shaky cam. Throughout development YouTube has been cited as inspiration, but to me this has always jarred as it doesn't really work when you're talking about an event that's taking place before your eyes. It's more along the lines of the effect seen in the alien-invasion movie Cloverfield, in which all the action was seen from the point of view of a handheld camera. It certainly gives Dog Days a unique graphical look.
Small touches such as the pixelated heads of dead bodies and a buffering message when the next level loads add a lot to the overall visual package, while the voice work so far is uniformly excellent. The two leading men sound utterly convincing and suitably on edge, and the rest of the cast is spot on. Some odd looking lip-synching during in-game story sequences jars slightly, falling some way short of what we've seen in GTA4 and more recently Red Dead Redemption. A question must also be asked about why the lead character had to have a long balding mullet if the game engine wasn't capable of rendering it as anything other than a hardened, tangled mop.
Without being able to test out co-op it's hard to say if Dog Days will benefit from a friend coming along for the ride, but from what I've see the game as a whole relies heavily on the player's interest in the main characters and an appearance that is very different to the norm. Will this be enough to make Kane & Lynch 2 one of the must-own games of the summer? We'll find out soon enough.
Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is due for release on August 20 on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.