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On February, 12 2007, Variety reported that Lions Gate Studios had purchased the movie rights to Eidos’ upcoming shooter; “Kane and Lynch: Dead Men.” The deal — the first time a game has ever been optioned before its release — should prove to be a smart choice by Lions Gate as Dead Men’s story is fast paced, and intriguing, just like a Hollywood blockbuster.
Unfortunately, as an interactive experience Dead Men is more of a mixed bag. Sure, there’s some solid action, but the title is so fundamentally flawed that it’s hard to even enjoy the game’s brightest spots.
At the start of Dead Men, we find our two heroes (in the loosest sense of the word), Kane and Lynch en route to Death row. When things are at their bleakest, a mysterious outfit known only as The 7 interrupts the trip. We learn that Kane is a former member of The 7, and owes them a hefty amount. They give Kane an ultimatum, return the loot or they off his wife and daughter. They have Lynch, a pill-popping, psychopath, keep tabs on him.
Without spoiling anything, Dead Men features twists, turns and some of the best character development seen in this console generation. What it also features is some of the most mature content ever.
Right from the start you’ll kill police officers, drop f-bombs and shoot innocent hostages with no remorse or recoil. In the past, some games have featured these same actions, but they’ve come off almost as cheap, shock tactics. This is not an issue in Dead Men. It would feel awkward if these two anti-heroes didn’t do these things, and the mature content gives it almost an edgy independent movie feel. (Tarantino?)
Aiding in that feeling is the game’s pitch perfect presentation. Minus a few camera glitches, the action unfolds very cinematically, with little to no interruption. Rather than interrupt the title’s flow with cut-scene after cut-scene, most of the story takes place in game (save for the traditional post-level cut-scenes). Kane and Lynch argue, and nitpick at each other, almost like a murderous odd-couple.
Sadly, Dead Men falters in almost every other aspect. When initially announced, Eidos promised that gamers would be able to choose their own style of play — whether it be old school run and gun or commanding Kane, Lynch and the squad of miscreants you encounter throughout the game similar to the style of the Ghost Recon or Rainbow Six franchises. Unfortunately, the squad-based controls seem rather useless, and besides a few key moments in the game where you are almost forced to use them, you’ll more than likely forget that they’re even in the game. Sure, it’s nice to have your guys cover certain exits, or attack a group of enemies, but it just becomes more of a hassle when you’re constantly running over to heal them, and you end up doing the work you sent them to do as a result of the horrible AI.
Luckily, the enemy AI is just as bad, and most enemies jump right out of their cover — seemingly happy to let your bullets hit them.
The cover system is another major disappointment. 90 percent of Dead Men is gun fights, and as a result the game’s faulty cover system makes it much more frustrating than it should be, and you’ll be stuck crossing your fingers hoping one of your squad members is close enough to give you an adrenaline shot and boost your health. Unlike the intuitive cover system of games like Gears of War, Dead Man requires no button presses to go into cover — as your character will find cover automatically when in close enough proximity to a wall, counter etc. While this may sound easier, far too frequently, you’ll be sticking to surfaces you don’t want to, causing yourself to become vulnerable to incoming fire, rather than being able to pick your best point in the aforementioned games.
Perhaps what bugs me the most about Dead Men is its problems with cheap gameplay. In many shooter games, the opening levels are used to set-up the game’s basics and rules, allowing players to seamlessly build upon them in the later levels. This seems nearly impossible when those rules are broken quickly after they’re established. Take for instance the level early on just after escaping from a bank where you must shoot cop cars trailing your getaway van from the back. Throwing grenades underneath the cars will sometimes do them in, but others it will merely result in an acme like cloud of dust billowing up around the car. It must also be noted that it’s in levels like this that it becomes apparent that the backgrounds and NPC’s (non-playing characters) have literally no personality. Case in point, the same level mentioned above, while shooting at the cop cars makes them swerve, other people on the road, just keep driving along, unaware of the bullets flying around, even when they’re the target!
Dead Men’s visuals are like the rest of the title: some are great, and some are just plain old horrible. Wide-shots, like that of downtown Tokyo as seen repelling down the side of a high rise are nothing short of breathtaking. But shots up close, especially player models, are downright bad — reminiscent of many games from the early part of this generation.
The developers must be commended on Dead Men’s online mode: Fragile Alliance. Rather than bank on the tried and true Deathmatch mode, Fragile Alliance uses the squad based gameplay to create an original and compelling experience. One team plays as bank robbers, while the other as cops. You can guess what each team’s objectives are, but what makes Fragile Alliance truly unique is that anyone on the team controlling the bank robbers can choose to risk it all, and screw over their teammates, taking the loot for themselves.
I’m sure Kane and Lynch: Dead Men will make a great movie, but as a game — it’s a forgettable and lackluster run-of-the-mill shooter with some deep, fundamental problems. If you’re looking for a distraction from some of last year’s AAA titles, it might be worth it to give the title a rent, it may take some of the frustration out.
Developer: Io Interactive
Platform: Xbox 360 (reviewed), Playstation 3, PC
Genre: Action, Third-person shooter
Players: 1-2 (local) up to 8 online,
Learning Curve: [rating:3/5]