Kane & Lynch 2 has a lot to prove. The original was met with a mixed reception from the gaming press, marred by the Gamespot Gerstmann controversy and generally considered to be an overhyped and uninspired little game... but Eidos and IO are doing their damnedest to turn it around. In order to show off their new take on the franchise, they've granted us access to a brief singleplayer segment as well as the three multiplayer modes: Fragile Alliance, Undercover Cop and Cops & Robbers.
Before we start getting into the nitty gritty of these three game modes, we need to start with the basics. K&L2 feels a little tighter this time around- and whilst it's definitely still clunky and cumbersome compared to its competition, the cover system is a lot more slick and functional than before. A nifty 'second chance' mechanic allows you to crawl around, get up and continue the fight when downed rather than faffing about with the syringe system.
Artistically, K&L2 is styled to resemble like a Youtube video shot from a shaky handheld camera. Whilst this distinct visual style gels well with the story's gritty mood, it's genuinely horrible in multiplayer. It induces headaches, obscures distant targets and is generally distracting... but turning the film grain off reveals some very average graphics.
Also, as a general note to developers, could you please stop making people swear every three seconds to make your games seem more adult? I'm no prude (in fact, I demand filthy ultraviolence from any shooting title)- but it just comes off as immature and overcompensatory rather than authentic. Less is definitely more in this case!
Anyway, it's time to get involved and stuck into the multiplayer! If only things were that easy in the demo... since it demands that full 8-man teams ready up before the game can get underway. Whilst the full game will hopefully rectify this oversight, it's truly vexing to sit around for several minutes with a nearly full lobby as Chinese pop music drives you inexorably insane.
Fragile Alliance will be instantly familiar to fans of the original Kane & Lynch. A team of robbers have to steal 4 million dollars or important documents and fight their way through swarms of AI police to the extraction point several streets away. So far, so easy... except that the game actively encourages you to kill your friends and steal their cash.
Just to make things even more exciting, getting killed will respawn you as a dirty cop. You'll do your best to butcher your old allies whilst stealing their wad for yourself- and it's fun to blend in with the AI crowd only to deliver some headshots out of left field. Weapons can be bought and sold between matches with your ill-gotten gains; and on the whole, Fragile Alliance is quite a solid little game mode. Each match is quick, dirty and utterly unpredictable... and there's real scope for long term alliances, friends and deadly online rivals to be made and betrayed.
Undercover Cop is a variant of Fragile Alliance with a sting in the tail. One of the gang is, in actuality, a filthy rat... and is looking to quietly exterminate the entire team without being ratted out. To this end he can kill teammates without being detected as a traitor, meaning that everyone has to stay close and trust no-one.
I was lucky enough to spawn as the UC- and it was one of the most interesting multiplayer experiences I've had in a while. Sticking close to my team, I was able to quietly pick off a couple of stragglers and steal their weaponry while feigning innocence at every opportunity. However, my vastly increased money total caught the attention of a greedy teammate who killed me for the dinero- without even knowing I was the snake in the grass!
Unfortunately, every other time I played Undercover Cop mode, everyone just opened fire on everyone else in the first minute of the game. I fear this will sadly become the norm.
Cops & Robbers is basically a straight deathmatch (by Kane & Lynch standards)- and it's pretty mundane. Once again, it uses the Fragile Alliance framework but introduces a full team of police into the mix. Frankly it doesn't bring anything particularly worthwhile to the table that other shooters don't already handle with more flair and pizazz. Oh well.
Finally, IO have included an Arcade Mode that uses the same multiplayer level and objective but replaces the online opponents with bots. This gametype is exceptionally useful for learning the maps and basically acts as an old-school 'skirmish' mode. Sure, it might be fairly dry, but at least it gives some extra (potentially limitless, if you've got a high boredom threshold) singleplayer value. Not enough games include a skirmish option these days- and I respect that.
Final thoughts? Kane & Lynch 2 is better, tighter and more interesting than it's predecessor... but it still needs a fair bit of polish to stand out in the glutted shooter marketplace. More responsive controls, some graphical tweaks and the addition of a little genuine charm will be required for K&L2 to flourish on Xbox Live and PSN; though we hope that it'll deliver a story that can rival the original. Stay tuned for our take on the singleplayer campaign!