Kane & Lynch started earning a bad rep even before most people had played the original game. This is the title that famously saw a Gamespot reviewer lose his job over a negative write-up - which was posted at the same time that Atari was dropping a mess of cash on a site-wide K&L advertising campaign.
The bad press of that debacle aside, it also just wasn't very good on its own terms. For as much as it really wanted to be the gaming equivalent of a slick heist film, its muddy controls, second-rate graphics and generally unlikeable characters made it a hard game to spend time with.
With a Metacritic rating of just 67 and a user-rating of even less, you could be forgiven for thinking that developer IO Interactive would turn to another IP.
And you'd be dead wrong.
This time for sure
This time our two sociopathic anti-heroes are in neon-lit, rain-drenched Shanghai, performing a piece of contract work for a mysterious criminal overlord called Glazer. It's all very ultra-noir, and more or less impenetrable. What's more, the plot gets seriously muddied early on when you - or, more accurately, your partner Kane - kills a young girl involved with local gang syndicates.
Essentially, what the game devolves into is 'You and your buddy versus the worst that Shanghai can throw at you." And by worst we mean more mooks than you can poke a high-calibre stick at and the odd torture session.
There is a great story here, truth be told, but it may not be a great <i>gaming</i> story. It's simply not... fun enough! We like our bleak entertainment as much as the next guy, but this goes beyond the pale.
The first issue is that this time around you're in the shoes of admitted psychopath Lynch instead of the slightly more likeable Kane. This means you're an angry, paunchy, balding white dude. Who likes to wear sweat-stained t-shirts. And seems to be going out with a young Asian girl approximately half his age.
It's all kinds of dodgy, but that's who you're going to be playing as so, so you better get used to it.
You'll also need to get use to IO Interactive's documentary-inspired graphics. And we're talking handi-cam, hand-held level of documentary here, with zero ability to compensate for lighting conditions or focus. It's a brave move, but like many brave moves executed by those who should know better, it only ends in serious injury - though in this case it's not the devs getting hurt, but you, the gamer, as you get fatal levels of eye-strain.
Seriously, the game looks terrible. Colours wash out, every texture pixelates like you're watching a TV crime report (an effect that is at times used on purpose, but is more often than not simply an engine failure), and so-called lens flares and light blooms simply make it look like you've spilt flavoured milk on your monitor.
Sure, IO may be keeping the Glacier Engine up to date, but the engine's age is really starting to show. What's more, despite there being full AA and anisotropic filtering options, most characters end up with a jagged black halo surrounding them. The whole look of the game is a slap in (strained) eye of anyone with a high-end video card.
But we'd forgive all that if the game were actually fun to play, with the promised intense shoot-outs and precise controls.
Just f**king die already
Kane & Lynch 2 features some pretty adult language. These are hard, criminal men - career recidivists who don't care who they offend. They'll say 'fuck' to a priest and pistol-whip anyone who talks back.
So will you, after experiencing ballistics engine in the game.
It's a third person shooter, of course, but that's no excuse for this level of floppy controls and poor mechanics. Sure, you can reliably draw a bead on the enemy, but there's every likelihood that no matter how many blood sprites you see, they'll still be standing. Conversely, near misses can often be just as fatal as headshots. Go figure.
Combined with a control scheme that's going to see you running into a lot of door jams, our frustration levels often saw us simply rage-quitting in favour of another turn or ten of Civ V. At least that game has a proper save system, not the seemingly arbitrary one of K&L2. We don't mind replying sections of game if they're good, but having to replay entire stretches of K&L2 is some kind of special hell.
Probably the hell for gamers who swear a lot at priests.
Yes, the multiplayer portion of the game has some truly unique game modes that are all about trust and betrayal and yadda yadda yadda, but you're still stuck with the same poor graphics and loose ballistics. What's more, the higher health counts of actual player characters makes the weak ballistics even more of a liability. It's entirely possible to empty an assault rifle clip at someone and still have them able to draw a bead on you.
Not worth the pain
And yet, despite all of this, we still laud the actual characters and concept of the game. Every now and then you can see exactly the kind of experience that IO Interactive was aiming for - but like the first time, the company's very wide of the mark. The voice acting is great, and the art direction - despite the poor game engine - fantastic.
But they are highpoints that are ultimately wasted on Kane & Lynch 2.