In one word: INTENSE
With the history of shooter basher I have, this review is going to be quite complicated as I love this game.
Shooters, specially FPSs (not the case), is a saturated (sub)genre. Therefore, making an interesting shooter, or even innovative is a very hard task. One way is to try and improve the gameplay, which is what defines the genre, and which is already extremely optimized. Other way to do it is by developing quality in other fields of game developing that are not exclusive to shooters, like graphics, sound, physics, story, etc. This is actually what most renowned shooters do with the technological ones, as this genre is usually where the last technologies in videogames go first.
As for Kane & Lynch, there is nothing new on it, but the story, characters and setting really make it an intense game. The best achievement of K&L is that you wont get tired of it, there is no repetitive combats one after another that leave you asking yourself if there is nothing else better to do with your time. To achieve this, the story accompanies you most of the time, even while playing it, and even while loading, making it impossible for the gamer to lose touch with it and, thus, losing his/her motivation. Most of the time, characters (mostly Kane & Lynch) talk about what is happening or about their background. Having your principal characters bitch at each other while controlling them and, specially, while shooting enemies is a very nice experience.
In addition, everything is very over the top. Kane & Lynch are two mercenaries in the death row, until they are freed while being moved to a different prison. Then Kane learns his old fellows, who he supposedly betrayed before ending up in prison, are behind the scape and threaten him to kill his wife and daughter unless he recover for them some money he, supposedly again, stole from them. Lynch's mission is to follow him all the time. After the story evolves for a while, making Kane, Lynch and your motivation stronger, you reach an end that fits pretty well the rest of the story. I wont tell anything more, but let's say it leaves you satisfied in the dissatisfaction (but this is highly subjective).
And, of course, characters are probably the best of the game. It's mostly about Kane & Lynch (by the end of the game you'll barely remember more than other two names), with the subtle addition of many other characters that "do their job". Probably, the best choice of I/O was to make these two guys a humorous duet. Yes, they are two ruthless mercenaries, but half of the conversations they have are hilarious, specially Lynch. I don't know what it is, maybe his glasses or maybe his hairstyle, or maybe it's that every time he screws it up both start bitching at each other. I realize now that I don't know why they are so funny. The game doesn't even lose its cruel atmosphere, but, every time they started a discussion I was just wetting my pants. And once again, this could happened in the middle of a gun-fight.
But characters are not only about laughing, there really are some hard moments in the game. There is a point around the middle of the game where they can even make you cry, and the end is also not a piece of cake. I cannot tell you more without spoiling the story, but I really enjoyed and feel like real the character development in this game. Oh!, and it's a cool detail when you hear the voices of every one you have disappointed in your life every time Kane is about to die.
The last of the "golden three" of the features in this games are the settings. Really. The game is linear and the graphics are not in the top of the industry, but the level designers have done a huge work that you wouldn't expect for a game like this. I mean, usually, for a shooter, graphics designers would save some work making you believe settings are huge while texturing, shading and modeling the smaller part possible. In K&L, however, scenarios are really wide. L. A. really looks like a living city, Tokyo is enormous
and, even when the scenario is short, they are full of details. Well, probably I'm exaggerating but, the key feature of a game as intense as this is, is that you don't have time to find the flaws. You are inside of the action most of the time and the settings just look how they have to.
That all is what can be said about the creative part, but the gameplay also makes this game what it is. In Kane & Lynch, you control dynamically a group of 2 to 5 mercenaries, with Kane being your avatar, the one that you control directly. To this purpose, you can give three different commands to any of your subordinates: position, attack a given target and follow you. When commanding to position, the guy will take the position you are looking at, while, when you look at an enemy and command to attack, the selected ally will attack this given enemy. You can also give them any weapon you want and they will also give you ammunition any time you need (well, twice at most, specially if you have some exotic weapon). As for the life system, it's the usual "rest and recover" that many shooter use lately. That is, when the life of Kane is about to end, if he doesn't receive any shoot for some seconds, he will recover. In addition, your allies can inject you a shoot of adrenaline if you fall, and you can do the same for them, with the limitation of one shot per minute.
As a popular example, Kane & Lynch's gameplay resembles a lot that of Gears of War, except that you have much more control over your troop. Yes, I know, both games are totally different, but I have played both at the same time, and there is plenty of similarities in the gameplay. In any case, the gameplay is much more fluid and, once you catch up with it (there is the unavoidable tutorial level, yes), you can easily beat it in the most difficult mode of game if you have experience with shooters. This doesn't mean it's unchallenging, it's easy (except maybe the last levels), but the amount of action and the importance of fast reactions make it look more difficult than it is. That is, the equilibrium in the difficulty level is not real (the game is easy), but the sensation for the gamer is alright. Max Payne, for example, was more difficult than this one. As said before, the concentration required and the motivation the story and characters give to the player hide the flaws of the game. And, of course, difficulty is subjective, so it may not be that easy for you after all.
And finally, it's the women in videogames section again! Is K&L a sexist game? Mostly it is, but a bit less than the usual. Like in Max Payne or Tarantino movies, there is always room for some badass woman in this game, they are not too many (two of them) and they are not the protagonists, but is more than the average. Oh!, and they are not supersexy women nor do they wear a combat bikini or something like that, that is, they are not designed to sexually stimulate the statistically male gamer. And some of the cops in Tokyo are women, :) That certainly surprised me.
There is not too many bad things to say about this game.
Some have said that, for example, the graphics are a bit under the standards. Probably they are, but, I think they do a very good work and the graphic quality of this game make it possible for it to run in older machines. And they are also very detailed, with curiosities like both characters having their beard shaved once in a while during the game and clothes changed depending on the mission. But, of course, for hardcore gamers with high end machines, this title can fall a bit short in comparison with other games like the aforementioned Gear of War, Crysys, Bioshock or the yet to be released PC version of Assasin's Creed.
Other obvious problems with the game come from some unpolished features of the gameplay. The easiest to see is the problem related with cover. Cover in this game is not user triggered, it's automatic. That means sometimes Kane will cover went the player doesn't want too, and sometimes he wont when the player wants. Other problems relate to the A.I. of the teammates. Apart form not being able to cure other teammates, they also don't share ammunition with each other(although they don't seem to need it anyway). And there is the usual lack of strategy that A.I.s use to have. Sometimes they run into the enemy lines like suicides, when an enemy is clearly superior to the surrounding ones (because he is in a turret or has a more powerful weapon) they don't necessarily attack him the first, they go wherever you indicate, no matter how uncovered or far the position is, etc. I specially remember a guy in a level that was stuck with his gun and would only use it to attack. Because of this, he always needed to get too close to enemy lines to shoot effectively, and was always knocked down behind enemy lines and too far to be saved. As the game ends if you lose one of your men, I had to babysit this guy through half of the level just so he couldn't ruin the rest of the strategy.
The ease of the game softens most of these problems/bugs, but is usual for the player to feel that he/she does most of the work. Sometimes, it even looks like enemies wont fall unless you shoot them. I would say that, at least 50% of the enemy casualties are thanks to Kane, to the player, when most of the game you command a troop of 5 men, Kane included. And there is this feeling of being a shepherd you have once in a while, too.
There is, maybe, another negative aspect of Kane & Lynch to comment. I didn't want to tell this, because it's bit of a spoiler for the story (not a major spoiler, but you can pass directly to the summary if you prefer) and it's not necessarily something wrong but, there seem to be some deliberated plot holes in the script. Maybe I have missed something (not probable) because not all the unknowns of Kane and Lynch are revealed by the end of the game. What does this mean? I prefer to think they are actually deliberated because you cannot judge completely these two guys without this info on them, which mean that it's the player who decided what happened or even if what happened is important or not to judge them. I felt a bit disappointed when I finished the game for not knowing this things but, lately, it kind of gave more deep to the characters. On the contrary, think of those horror/mystery stories where the mystery is revealed at the end and it's so silly you would have prefer not to know it in order to enjoy the plot better.
The other possibility is, well, you know, a second part. That would be just wrong.
The Bottom Line
It's hard to write a good review about a shooter, as this is a genre that many studios exploit without pity. And, well, shooters are about shooting, about killing, which no matter how many times we do this or if it's virtual, it's violent and bad. Yeah!, yeah!, I know, wrong philosophy of life for a gamer, but you know it's true, and you know that killing has become too usual in videogames. Still, many of us, matured gamers have grown ok, and have learn to enjoy violent videogames without any trace of inner violence derived from it. It can even be therapeutic if you have had a bad day.
In that context, Kane & Lynch works great. It's not even hypocritical, you know you are doing wrong, you control mercenaries that kill for money or for vengeance, that kill innocent people. They live in a bubble where only their well-being is important, and they are too used to violence to start looking for it through other ways. But, out of this deep search of the human nature in Kane & Lynch, the good thing with this game is that, it's so absurdly violent that even meshed up teenagers will understand there is no way this can happen in real life.
In summary, you need some action?, you need to relive some stress?, haven't had luck with your deep instincts today? Kane & Lynch is what you need. Not too difficult, direct and over-the-top varied action. And you have a great storyline to tie this all together. If you liked Max Payne, if you enjoy watching Tarantino or Jon Woo movies and the like, Kane & Lynch is a game made for you. It may not be as good as the mentioned references (or is it?), but is the nearest one I've seen in a lot of time (and believe me, I wouldn't use the words "Max Payne" in "vayne").