You arrive in Shanghai to meet your previous work buddy for a new job. The job, of course, goes completely off the rails. You are now sprinting through Shanghai hallways, express lanes, underground, sweatshops, eateries, and other culturally ambiguous set-pieces. Beneath the excessive yelling and derogatory commentary aimed at you, the player character the game continues to actively roll on as if nothing that just transpired in the last couple of hours even matter. Names aren’t really learned nor are antagonistic motivations. You, the player, simply exist in this never-ending descent of anxiety and dread.
Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is not a remarkable game at all, even more so when it comes to discussing the actual gameplay beats. The guns shoot as well as you would expect a video game gun to do, and the character Lynch stumbles over terrain and obstacles as gracefully as any heavily budgeted third person shooter sequel should. This is not an article to praise how well the game translates the visceral feeling of combat and combat feedback, because Kane & Lynch 2 doesn’t try to do this whatsoever. In fact, it’s perfectly reasonable (and often agreed upon) that K&L2’s gameplay mechanics are…less than serviceable. The game simply works.
The experience of playing K&L2 revolves around that notion that things are ‘working’ when it clearly doesn’t seem to be working out at all — both visually and narrative-wise. The game emulates a visual quirk of viewing all the events of K&L2 to a constantly struggling VHS recording, found footage style. (If you’ve ever watched the original [REC] or V/H/S, think more along those lines.) Whenever action occurs on the failing screen, the footage horribly distorts or crackles. There are segments where the tape will just warp uncomfortably until you’re suddenly cut to another scenario — a unique way to illustrate level transitions. Horribly graphic scenarios like torture are crudely ‘censored’ out of the viewers eyes — but the discomfort that comes from jumping into that scenery. It’s the right level of surrealism emulated near-perfectly within a video game setting that pumps out all of those ‘dark nights endlessly scrolling the internet’ without so much as breaking a sweat.
With that in mind, it’s fair to say that Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days views the player as someone who has time to kill, in a sense. You’re burning a good four to five hours in the single player component and the game doesn’t really introducing anything challenging to make that process any longer. The player is the viewer, and every level spent sifting through the visual garbage and near-deadpan violence is but another 30 minutes into that wormhole. When the game closes to it’s awkward, flying away into the sunset ending and you pull yourself away from the game to process all that’s transpired…the feedback feels cold. Meaningless. Those cops and Triad enemies you snuck around to pump full of shotgun slugs? Just another obstacle that gets in the way of your straight path. There are no clever design quirks or unique AI design nods that make the game stand out, just meaningless fodder in an equally meaningless experience. Even the act of finding weaponry comes off as tedious and often obstructive to the game. Why bother feeding more shots with unnamed AR/SMG knock-off when the pistol grants the same visual and mechanical reward? Meaningless. Guns in the single-player component don’t strive to be anything more than a new visual tool that may be slightly stronger to get through the fodder.
There’s so much meaningless, aimless design direction in Kane & Lynch 2 that it almost borders on parody — like a fake video game you’ve seen on a TV series. But, remarkably, K&L2 owns to that. It owns to it and only compliments the demands the game has of the ‘viewer;’ you are watching a chronicle of bad guys constantly struggling. You are viewing the crooked underbelly of Shanghai through the actions of these bad people. Kane & Lynch handles its atrocity with no sign of moral lesson to be learned: these actions come, and go, and neatly wrapped up as the ending credits roll.
It is incredibly rare to see a video game relish in blatant misery fetishization in the way K&L2 does. You have games like The Last of Us 2 and Silent Hill 4 that genuinely lays the misery of the world and its characters on thick but keeps the feeling of hope tucked neatly beneath its carpet. K&L2 refuses to show a single silver lining in that regard and once its carpet is pulled, there’s only roaches crawling away. Everything is still the same from the beginning to the end of playing Dog Days and it’s a very ‘take it or leave it’ deal. That’s the most endearing thing about the game and something that can be argued as an accomplishment on the developer’s part.