(Square Enix for Xbox 360)
By Mike Delano
The best aspect of Kane & Lynch: Dead Men was its modern, realistic aesthetic. In a sea of robotic or ‘roid-raged lead characters and exaggerated sci-fi or fantasy settings, it was refreshing to play as a pair of scruffy, beer-bellied lowlifes and guide them through fantastically detailed and evocative present-day settings like crowded nightclubs or construction sites at dawn. Stellar presentation turns out to be the highlight of the sequel as well. The Shanghai job-gone-wrong plot is told through cutscenes and combat that is all filtered though grainy, shaky cam footage meant to recall the uncomfortable realism of YouTube-quality, man-on-the-street video journalism. It’s a bold move that pays off, giving the game an unmistakably cool look, yet still allows the developers to craft beautifully dense environments, from claustrophobic sweatshops and apartment buildings to neon-drenched city streets and rooftops. It’s a game world that should definitely be experienced, so it’s disappointing that the third-person cover-based shooting in the single player campaign doesn’t offer much beyond advancing through endless waves of enemies using a handful of very similar weapons. The scenarios are much livelier in online multiplayer, where you can try to sniff out an undercover cop from your gang of heist runners or be fatally betrayed by a fellow criminal during a job only to respawn as a cop to get revenge. Online or off, the game is firmly weighted toward stylistic and conceptual ambition rather than gameplay innovation, and that balance can lead to frustration as often as it does satisfaction.