How ‘Kane & Lynch 2’ Found Itself Forgotten as Gaming’s Modern Video NastySeptember 10, 2019
The very subject matter of Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is enough to cement itself as a sordid, macabre escapade, with two hard-to-like dudes with a raging woody for cash and corpses face-shooting their way through modern-day Shanghai. Though it’s in the stylistically unique fashion in which the whole thing is presented, that Io Interactive’s last-gen IP has managed to endure quasi-fondly in the memory as long as it has.
A seemingly vanilla and no-frills third-person shooter, the whole experience is made dramatically more interesting by its audiovisual presentation, as the shaky cam, VHS imbued art style seeks to create a window into a grimy world, where the dirty neon of downtown Shanghai bleeds greedily across the screen alongside clumps of detail enmeshed in congealed puddles of textured filth.
If the world finds itself stained by this befouled aesthetic, so too do a number of other visual flourishes contribute considerably to the overall video nasty veneer too. Killed enemies, for example, find their faces masked by an inelegant mess of video macro blocking – an act that feels at times, directed as much towards the preservation of sensitivity in the face of extreme violence as much as it robs the identity of those who have fallen.
Given the relatively humble hardware of the time, the way that the blurriness and assortment of visual artifacts all conspire to hide the technical problems that the game might have had, too. Frame rate drops, low-resolution visuals and screen tearing are all rampant and yet, they are easily passed off as being part and parcel with the game’s deliberately low rent VHS style presentation.
Such deliberate visual styling choices also expose an intriguing truth – there’s no cause for a remaster of Kane & Lynch 2, since upping the resolution and adding in additional detail would be at odds with the deliberately lo-fi aesthetic.
Likewise, beyond the fanfare of its raucous shootouts, audio is leveraged with equal, humanity depriving brutality. Early on, after a protracted and frenzied bloody chase through the streets of Shanghai, a cornered thug slits his own throat just as the audio cuts out for a few seconds, denying the audience his final blood-curdling screams and the slump of his lifeless form onto the dirty floor.
In keeping with this found footage approach, Kane & Lynch 2 also makes the player question who is actually holding the camera while the titular protagonists are off honoring the rigors of their murderous nature. Is it some poor sap that our duo has scooped off the street? Some nefarious and unnamed third party? Regardless of who it is, the feeling is palpable. Most notably the sensation of the perspective going into a full-shaky cam mode, and having the wind whoosh past your face as you scramble and sprint your way down a murky corridor proving to be an intoxicating event.
In essence, Kane & Lynch 2 ends up feeling, looking and sounding akin to a Michael Mann flick, by way of a found footage auteur like Adam Wingard. The clinical, street-level violence of the former having its brutality exacerbated by the style of the latter.
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It’s surprising, really, that this almost esoteric brand of audiovisual presentation hasn’t been more openly embraced by other games. Sure, you could say that Dennaton’s Hotline Miami games mimic this to an extent, but the effect is very different when comparing a top-down blaster, to the much more intimate over the shoulder experience that Kane and Lynch 2 offers.
Brought into sharp relief with the comparatively more conservative stylings of Io’s much more recent and widely accepted Hitman series, it’s easy to see why Io Interactive seemingly and dutifully continues down the path forged by Agent 47, apparently content to leave the tawdry spectacle of the Kane & Lynch franchise behind.
With relatively little new to offer in gameplay terms, and by proxy a wide commercial audience, Kane and Lynch 2 instead doubles down on the nastiness and invites its audience to their own private cesspool, one where the imprecise haze of its presentation serves to enhance the brutality and ultraviolence that lay beneath.
Ultimately, chances are that the famed Danish studio won’t ever return to the series and in a way that would be fitting; effectively relegating Kane and Lynch 2 to a dusty, solitary existence on digital and second-hand physical store shelves, to be ignored and forgotten by all but the most determined grime seekers.