I haven’t managed to get my hands on a copy of Dog Days yet. Time has been a precious commodity to me in recent weeks and money has been even tighter, especially after my girlfriend managed to convince me to take her to Florence for a spot of high culture this month. And whilst I can’t wait to slump onto the sofa with a cold beer and a copy of IO Interactive’s latest slotted into my 360, part of me is rather pleased with the lukewarm reception that the game has received. Let me explain myself.
I was a huge fan of Kane and Lynch: Dead Men, the foul-mouthed shooter-cum-action-movie that first introduced us to the titular grouchy mercenary and his thoroughly unpleasant psychopath sidekick. Where a lot of critics saw messy, outdated visuals, I saw a refreshing attempt to try something new. Where many complained about wonky cameras and ridiculous difficulty spikes, I gladly accepted these flaws as the tolerable side effects of a brave and ambitious vision. And where others saw a needlessly crude and dirty script, I saw a rollicking tale that was no less in good taste than many of the books, films, and albums I’ve been regularly enjoying ever since I turned eighteen.
So, I set the demo for Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days to download with a sense of sweet anticipation bubbling away inside me. Five minutes into the action and I was not in the least bit disappointed: the number of marked improvements over the original that stood out loud and proud was quite astonishing. Gone are the blocky, last-gen graphics, replaced by stunning character models and nice-looking textures that feel perfectly at home in 2010. Gone too are most of the frustrations I’d previously had with the controls. Whilst Lynch doesn’t snap in and out of cover with anywhere near the satisfying precision of Marcus Fenix, Dog Days feels like a well-honed shooter nonetheless. And as for the new presentation style, it’s fair to say that it blew me away. The shaky home video effect is bound to make some gamers feel a little queasy but its implementation into everything from the demo’s opening credits to the “Game Over” screen was effortlessly stylish. There’s no getting around the fact that the first K&L was as ugly as it was original – the second game’s demo suggests that IO have added style and beauty to the franchise’s already heady mix.
At first it came as something of a shock, then, to see the general critical consensus marking Dog Days down as a decent but limited shooter and nothing more. I trawled through half a dozen reviews one day on my commute to work and they all seemed to be saying the same things. It looks as if Dog Days, for all its improvements, fails to match the scope and ambition of Dead Men, offering a short but solid blast of action and not too much in the way of variety. At least, that’s what the majority of critics are saying, and my empty wallet means I haven’t yet had the opportunity to purchase the game and find out for myself. It’s certainly a shame if, as seems the case from most reviews, the daring set pieces and inventive variety of the first game have been sacrificed to make way for a short and punchy action romp that offers little in the way of changes of pace. For all its numerous flaws, Dead Men always remained fresh and never got boring, whilst – by the sounds of it – the cover-fire-move mechanics of Dog Days feel more than a little dog-eared by the end of its brief runtime. However, if what Eidos has served up for us is a brief, stylish and violent caper through the streets of Shanghai, I won’t be complaining too much.
We can’t tell yet, but it sounds as if Dog Days won’t hold its position at the top of the sales charts for too long. And if it isn’t commercially successful, it could sound the death knell for the whole franchise. I’ll be sorry to see K&L go but mediocre reviews do have one positive effect for consumers, if not for developers and publishers: they tend to lead to lower prices. With a little luck, within a few months Dog Days will be available for half the price it’s currently retailing at (a price that I, quite frankly, can’t afford). And if that’s the case, then by Christmas I should be able to pick myself up a bargain that’ll keep me entertained for a few hours and leave me with some closure afterwards, rather than staring accusingly at me from the shelf because I haven’t had the time to finish it. There will always be a place in my heart for games that offer a short, shallow flash of entertainment, just as The Simpsons will always remain a pleasant accompaniment to a stolen twenty minutes of downtime after work. Sure, I might be a selfish jerk for wanting a game to fail just so that I get a cheap and manageable chunk of gaming goodness to consume. But if Dog Days does prove to be the end of Kane and Lynch (and there’s no saying it will be, of course), doesn’t it just give IO Interactive the opportunity to turn their considerable talents to a fresh challenge before the series gets stale?
What do you think of Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days? And are you sometimes glad when a game you’ve been waiting for gets less than perfect reviews?