Kane and Lynch are two bickering hit men who can't seem to get along without one another. Dog Days, their second videogame shooter together, finds them squabbling their way through the byways of Shanghai, with the camera tagging along behind Lynch with the handheld shakiness beloved by cinema verité and episodes of C.O.P.S.. The image, which is continually grainy and spotted with light reflections, often pixelates and glitches like a cheap digital camera undergoing gunfire, which is presumably the effect that the game's designers were going for.
Shanghai in Dog Days is a sprawling, seedy mess straight from the backwash of central casting. Every wall is hung with exposed wiring and surplus air conditioners. Occasionally a sign with kanji is hung upside down. It all looks very cheap and sleazy and almost smells like old noodles. Unfortunately, there's no chance to explore any underside of the city that isn't in the direct line of enemy fire. Grand Theft Auto this is not. Kane & Lynch 2 is a straight-up shooter, and every step I take sends me towards a firefight of some kind or another.
There's a certain enjoyable expediency to some of the game's sloppiness. Noncombatants just walk right through one another, and occasionally remain untouched by gale force blasts of bullets, wandering with their arms held out in front of them as though they were feeling their way through a dark room. When I switch weapons the gun just transforms in my hands. There are even moments of genuine inspiration. In one chapter I awaken naked and slashed, and need to fight my way through the entire level bleeding over my shiny, unprotected flesh.
But most of the time the action swings like a pendulum from long alleys/hallways/corridors (complete with plenty of side pockets from which to shoot) to big open parking lots/warehouses/rooftops (studded conveniently with waist-high cover). Everyone uses the same cheap guns. And the hoodie-wearing gangsters at the game's beginning are just as tough as the riot-gear wearing soldiers guarding the airport at the game's anticlimactic conclusion. For all of Kane & Lynch 2's atmosphere, there are no surprises in this Shanghai.
THE GOOD: From the memorable antihero characters to the behind-the-scenes seaminess of Shanghai, Kane & Lynch 2 gets its grittiness right. But the most convincing element of the whole thing might just be the sound design. Parking garages make every shot ping with pinched echoes while airplane hangars let the reverberations ring. Hallways hum with overhead fluorescent lighting and open-air streets are infused with the dull background buzz of a massive city. It might not be a great game, but it sure sounds like one.
THE BAD: Like mindlessly stereotypical Chinese food, Kane & Lynch 2's single-player campaign leaves players hungry for more after only a few hours. Perhaps the designers were counting on forthcoming "downloadable content" to extend the game (for an additional price of course). Or maybe they thought that the multiplayer and co-op modes would compensate for the game's brevity. But there are stronger multiplayer shooters around - like ones where I can't shoot through walls.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is loaded with plenty of original style and even more unoriginal flaws.