Ah, Io Interactive. Fresh from bringing us no less than four Hitman games starring the enigmatic Agent 47, we heard that they would now be making Kane & Lynch, a Michael-Mann inspired co-op enabled third-person shooter. Unfortunately as you may be aware, the later stages of the game's development and particularly the game's actual release have been fairly troubled. But what I want to say to you as I embark on this review of the game's PC version is that it's always worth separating games from their scandals on occasions like this. Looking at Kane & Lynch objectively, it's a solid, very adult, and deeply entertaining game, even if it does in some ways fall a bit short of our original lofty expectations.
Before we tear into the meat of the review it’s worth a word about those main characters themselves. They’re arguably the Lynchpin (aha!) upon which the rest of the game is held, and they are strikingly unlike almost anyone that we’ve been able to play as in games up to this point - although they are much inspired by various characters from various gritty thriller films. Adam “Kane” Marcus is a British ex-mercenary. It’s his snappily-suited bod that you’ll control for the duration of the game in single-player mode. Formerly an employee of the sinister mercenary force The 7, Kane has long since been arrested and jailed for his numerous crimes, but more specifically an incident in Venezuela some years before where some 25 civilians were killed. This event made Kane extremely unpopular with The 7 for reasons we won’t get into. James Seth Lynch is a diagnosed and medicated schizophrenic psychopath. Without access to his medication (which he initially claims is for a stomach illness) Lynch is prone to blackouts which often see him committing horrendous acts of motiveless mass violence. Even outside of these blackouts he is a more than capable killing machine, who may or may not have killed his wife. Either way, Kane and Lynch begin the game in a prison transport taking them to Death Row. They will pay for their respective crimes with their lives.
However, en route to their execution, Lynch tells Kane to get his head down - moments later their truck is rolled over and broken into - they are freed by a heavily armed mercenary force. Soon Kane is provided with Lynch as a minder - their task is to retrieve two suitcases that Kane escaped Venezuela with. Kane’s reward is to have his estranged wife and daughter, who have been kidnapped by The 7, released unharmed. Lynch’s reward is to become a member of The 7 - whether or not they succeed, The 7 inform Kane that he will be killed. And so the two set off, quickly developing a mutual hatred. Their quest takes them into all kinds of unexpected places and locations lifted spectacularly from Hollywood, and each of their escapades invariably leads to an enormous bloodbath. You’ll realise that K&L is not for the faint hearted or morally wavering - cops, security guards, and innocent bystanders of various kinds will take the pair’s bullets, as well as the balaclava-clad criminal scum we’d expect from a genre dominated often by Max Payne. It’s worth contrasting Kane and Lynch with Payne for a moment - whereas Payne might be a damaged cop, make no mistake, both Kane and Lynch are almost completely remorseless self-interested killers with barely a scrap of humanity to share between them.
The action is meaty and violent, as Kane and Lynch undertake various missions to wrap up their issues with The 7. Usually you're accompanied by a small squad of fellow ex-mercenaries, and whilst the control system for these chaps is a tad flaky, it's rarely essential so this isn't a huge worry. The cover system too, is largely very competent, although there are very occasional niggles that might get you killed. There's a healthy spread of real-world weapons, from two types of pistol to a highly entertaining grenade launcher, via miscellaneous shotguns, automatic rifles, SMGs and a sniper rifle. Pleasingly, you can also find modified versions of a few guns – a silenced sniper rifle becomes available at one point, for example, and pistols and SMGs with flashlights on them can also be found. You can swap weapons with your team-mates, which is great when you realise you can collect machineguns to arm them all with and also when you realise one of them has a weapon you've never used. You can get extra ammo from them and they revive you with adrenalin when you get shot up too much. But too much adrenalin too quickly can cause a death through overdose, and your allies need you to inject them sometimes, too. Fail to do so promptly and you’ll fail the mission.
Ultimately K&L's action is incredibly engaging – there are some set pieces, such as the rappelling attack on a Tokyo skyscraper and a gunfight in a rainy construction site that truly impress. Even though a few plot elements annoyingly leave you needing to guess why you have to do certain things, generally speaking the game is a pacey, gritty and supremely brutal story-driven experience.
Unfortunately the multiplayer is where K&L really falls down. Firstly, there is no online co-op. Secondly, whilst split-screen co-op is available (a very rare thing, of course, on the PC) you inexcusably need Xbox 360 controllers to play it. This is frankly a flagrant and sickening attempt by Microsoft and Games for Windows Live to arbitrarily impose the controller on us. If you're a die-hard mouse-and-keyboard man like me, the expense of two of these controllers won't be worth it, so the co-op is out too. Thirdly and finally, even the innovative Fragile Alliance online multiplayer runs entirely through Games for Windows Live and involves all that system's issues.
At the end of the day K&L is a unique and enthralling single-player experience, albeit a fairly brief one, with a few niggles here and there. If the theme appeals and you're aware of the multiplayer's shortcomings and the general brevity of the game, K&L is a more than worthwhile purchase for fans of quality action and regret plots.