America - Front
America - Back
By Arthur Kabrick 16th Sep 2010 | 4,936 views
Adam “Kane” Marcus and James Lynch are, for some reason, back, with an adventure perhaps even more ridiculous and nonsensical than their last. Since escaping death row in the original game, they appear to be best friends, despite the fact that they clearly despise each other with every fibre of their respective beings.
For no adequately explored reason, Kane and Lynch find themselves in Shanghai, which is apparently filled to the brim with hordes of corrupt police, gangsters and what appears to be the entire Chinese armed forces. Lynch, through an old British gentleman named “Glazer”, has managed to find a job which involves smuggling weapons into Africa. This job will yield an enormous payout, which will fund both of their retirements (or they could get real jobs, but judging by their attitude to life, this could prove difficult) and will also provide some money for Kane’s daughter Jenny, who hates her father (in case you haven’t noticed, everybody hates everybody in this game).
Needless to say, everything goes haywire when Lynch “accidentally” shoots the daughter of the most powerful man in Shanghai, Shangsi, at which point Kane, Lynch and Glazer decide against getting the hell out of China as fast as possible, deciding instead to remain in the city which is the home of a man who hates all three of them and seems to be in possession of the entire police force, army and secret service of China, and does not hesitate to send every single one of these law enforcement officers to fight an old man, a psychopath, and… Kane.
The story is best off being disregarded, because it makes no sense whatsoever. Nobody in any circumstances would make the decisions made by Kane and Lynch, and with good reason, because nobody in any circumstance wants the whole of China trying to kill them. Except, perhaps, Kane, Lynch and Glazer; they try to track down and kill Shangsi, no matter how many thousands of times they have to stick to a wall and fire at generic enemies with a sub-machine gun to do so.
You spend almost all of the campaign playing as medicated psychopath (indeed, this fact is featured on the game’s back cover. That’s how little interesting content there is here) Lynch. The enormous majority of the game consists of “Cover-Peek-Shoot”. Like all third person shooters, it uses a slightly perverse version of the Gears of War cover system. Like the latter, you press X/A to take cover, and X/A whilst aiming at another cover object makes you take cover on said object. Unfortunately, X/A is not the button for “Run”, but L2/LT, so the whole system feels extremely disjointed, like the rest of the game. On occasion, you get fed up of taking cover on chest high walls and pillars and decide to run in, at which point you are shot at point blank by a Chinese secret service agent hiding behind a wall, and the game matter-of-factly points out that you are dead, and throws a final insult in the form of the exact time at which you died. Only one level breaks the cover-based combat pattern, and this is undoubtedly the most enjoyable level in the game (though also probably the shortest.)
Perhaps one more level could be counted as not being entirely composed of cover-based combat, but mostly so. This is the infamous, yet obligatory, stealth level, included in perhaps every shooter of the last five years. Lynch’s stealth abilities are not exactly on par with those of Sam Fisher or Solid Snake. They’re not even equal with Nathan Drake, to be honest. He can crouch, take cover, and take a human shield, which serves no real purpose: Lynch grabs an unsuspecting guard from behind, and conjures up a pistol from nowhere (which disappears the moment the guard dies), and in doing so alerts every other guard in the vicinity. All of these newly alerted foes hesitate for perhaps a second, before remembering that they are just paid killers and they probably don’t even know the man you’re holding, and shoot him, then shoot you. You then die, as the game once again condescendingly points out. You can also execute him, but this is even more pointless, because you don’t execute a human shield when there are dozens of enemies ready and willing to do the same thing.
One welcome feature in Dog Days is that your character falls down rather un-gracefully when on critical health. You can, at any point, press X/A to stand up, or if you are near cover, to go straight into said cover. It’s safe to say that this is the only remotely original (though, mind you, not completely original – this is quite a standard feature in co-operative modes, but your partner often needs to revive you), good idea in the game. Since you will usually enter this state after peeking out of cover for too long at a stretch, this is quite literally a life saver.
The weapons in Dog Days are not particularly varied. There is the aforementioned pistol which you will never use unless in possession of a human shield; a wide variety of sub-machine guns with nothing to really distinguish them (none of the guns are named; you merely see a small icon); a similarly wide variety of assault rifles with not very much to distinguish them from the sub-machine guns; a few shotguns which are mostly quite useless because you’ll never get close enough to use them; and a couple of sniper rifles which don’t seem to possess a scope, and while these are the most powerful weapons in the game, they are rarely used, firstly because they are rarely picked up, secondly because they have little ammo, and thirdly because if you poke your head out long enough to snipe, you will be shot. In addition, you can pick up, throw and shoot a few different types of explosive tank, which all seem to do the same thing. The explosion is quite large, so you’re almost guaranteed to kill at least one guard if you aim well, and as many as three or four if your timing is right. Then, you curse yourself for using the tank so soon as you remain in cover and fight off another twenty or so armed guards. Apparently, it never occurs to Shangsi to send a silent assassin, rather than several thousand poorly-trained foot soldiers, though to his credit you do encounter some helicopters near the end of the game (which you have to take down with standard weaponry. No RPGs here. No grenades, either, which is strange for a game which relies so heavily on cover-based combat).
So, to summarise the campaign, Kane and Lynch do nothing of any significance for a good five hours whilst hiding behind chest high walls and gunning down wave after wave of Chinese soldiers for no particular reason. It can be played single player (in which case, you control Lynch, or Kane for the final level), and local or online co-op (where player two controls Kane, or Lynch in the final level).
Also present are perhaps the most confusing and complicated online modes I have ever seen, which the game attempts to explain through a series of videos, and fails miserably: Fragile Alliance, Undercover Cop and Cops & Robbers. Forgive me if this explanation isn’t particularly clear – even after a few rounds of each, I still don’t fully understand.
First, Fragile Alliance, because it is listed first: “A game of Greed, Betrayal and Revenge”, as stated by the game manual, which explains the game mode with even less clarity than the video. You enter an online lobby with random players from around the world (with, from what I’ve gathered, rather foul mouths). Each of you is a robber in a “Fragile Alliance”, attempting to steal something or other (this varies depending on the map). Naturally, the treasure is guarded, by AI-controlled police. As long as you remain in the alliance, which is to say, you don’t shoot any of the other robbers, all money collected by the alliance is shared in equal measure, and some goes to you. If, however, you go rogue and attack a fellow thief, you are branded a traitor, given an enormous yellow card, and shortly thereafter killed by the remaining thieves. If you die, you lose all of your money. If you are killed while part of the Alliance, you respawn as a cop, and gain a reward for killing robbers – in particular, the one who killed you. You can also collect some money, and you will share 10% of this with any other surviving human cops. If you are killed while a traitor, you do not respawn, and you must wait for the end of the round. This comes when all of the robbers are dead, or have escaped via an inconveniently placed escape vehicle. Money you have earned can be spent on weapons, but none of these are very much better than your starting weapons, and if (when) you die, you will lose them.
Undercover Cop is, thankfully, very similar to Fragile Alliance. In fact, the only difference is that one of the eight robbers is… you guessed it, an undercover cop. This cop must pretend to be a robber, whilst simultaneously (somehow) killing all of the robbers. Like a regular cop, he keeps 10% of the loot he collects. Cops & Robbers is a team based game (a genuine team based game, this time). The robbers must, again, steal loot and escape, and the cops must stop the robbers, and “retrieve” (read: steal) the loot themselves.
Call me unimaginative, but what happened to Capture the *Insert Game-Related Object* and Team Deathmatch? It’s very nice to have original modes, yes, and even better if they make some inkling of sense and are actually enjoyable (no, and no, in this case), but some familiarity is always nice. You probably won’t get a huge amount of playtime out of the multiplayer, unless for whatever strange reason you enjoy it – most will play enough to satisfy a morbid curiosity about just what the hell is going on, and then stop.
Also present is an offline mode named “Arcade”. This is basically Fragile Alliance, except it’s offline and doesn’t support multiplayer, so there’s no real point to it. Perhaps it was included to increase the replay value for gamers with no internet connection, except that it fails at this as well.
The visuals in Dog Days are, quite frankly, ridiculous, and not in a good way. For some reason, the camera behaves as if it is handheld, which doesn’t lend any atmosphere or authenticity to the game, it just makes it an exceedingly annoying experience. Fortunately, this can be turned off. What cannot be turned off, however, is a strange tendency of the game to display hazy vertical bars whenever you are looking at a light source – a little like a handheld camera out of the mid-1990s. I’m not sure what they’re trying to imply here. Is somebody following Kane and Lynch, and filming everything they do? Why isn’t he killed? Textures are blurry and bland, and characters’ lips don’t even come close to syncing with their words. Indeed, it looks more like they are grinding their teeth than speaking, especially in the case of the in-game dialogue. There is no excuse for this level of shoddy design and sheer laziness when you are being funded by Square Enix.
The poor story makes bad dialogue near inevitable. Kane and Lynch have perhaps the most generic voices I have ever heard, and Glazer sounds like he is trying to do an impression of Michael Caine, and failing miserably, which is terrible because Michael Caine has one of the most amazing voices in the history of the world. The dialogue switches from “Look how many enemies there are here!” and “We need to find an exit!” to “God, I’m so miserable and I want to die” and back with no real warning, but both Kane and Lynch speak with such a profound lack of conviction that you won’t feel touched at all. Very occasionally, dialogue advances the story, but the story of Kane and Lynch 2 could be condensed into a minute-long video, so this isn’t really necessary.
Dog Days is, fortunately, quite a short game (fortunately because you don’t have to play it for very long). The story clocks in at around 5-6 hours, depending on how often you are willing to try something different and, in due course, be killed for daring to try and make the game enjoyable. If the online is your thing, you could play it for a while, but it is overwhelmingly likely that it won’t be your thing, because Dog Days isn’t really suited to online co-operetitive (best word I can think of to describe Fragile Alliance), or for that matter, to offline or online co-operative, or even single player. You may perhaps be thinking to yourself “this is actually quite enjoyable” for a full half hour of the campaign, that being the only part which doesn’t condemn you to the endless pattern of Cover-Shoot-Listen to existential nonsense from Kane and Lynch-Cover-Shoot.
No part of Dog Days stands alone as being entirely terrible. It is the sum total of poor graphics; a pathetic story; average-at-best voice acting; generic, bland and repetitive gameplay; nonsensical online modes; and a complete lack of character development. There is no real reason to purchase this game, because far better alternatives in the same genre are available on all platforms, and actually feature some new ideas, or else created the ideas which have nowadays become so common. This is the very definition of “derivative third person shooter”, and you want none of it.