Not a Review of Kane & Lynch (2007)


Kane and Lynch are totally bad-ass dudes. You know this from the very start because their names are “Kane” and “Lynch”. Mr. Kane is a criminal with big scars on his face who has run afoul of other criminals. They’re holding his wife and daughter hostage and are forcing him to do more terrible things. You’d think a guy who kills cops for breakfast would have considered the possibility that his beatific and passive female family wouldn’t be super safe, but the kidnapping comes as a surprise. “I thought they wouldn’t find you!” he says to them.

I feel like it’s much too easy to saddle some angry video game antihero with a daughter that he has to protect. It patly justifies why he’s shooting or otherwise killing everyone in front of him: it’s for his daughter! They use this device in a lot of other games. The Japanese developers of Nier even changed the story of their game for America. Instead of Mr. Nier fighting to save his sister (Yonah), the American version has Mr. Nier fighting to save his daughter (Yonah). I’m picturing the meeting where this was decided: “Well, here in Japan we all love our sisters the most”– everyone at the table looks around and nods in agreement– “but in America, they love their daughters the most.”

Anyway, you start the game as Mr. Kane, in one of those orange California State Prison jumpsuits that can withstand many more bullets than the bulletproof vests the guards are wearing. Kane & Lynch was developed by IO Interactive in Copenhagen, Denmark. This may explain why hardened criminals who’ve just been busted out of maximum security jail shout things like “get a move on!” to each other during intense firefights. It is also possible that the dialogue was written by a former World War II sergeant.

The masterminds of the criminal underworld then assign Mr. Lynch, a psychologically unstable man who experiences blackout episodes, to keep a watchful eye on Mr. Kane.

“Why are you being so mean,” someone says. “Obviously the story is pulpy on purpose.” Maybe. I submit for consideration the sequence where the evil bad guys commandeer one of those giant dump trucks at a construction site and try to use it to run over Kane’s fourteen year old daughter, and you, playing as Kane, have to shoot the dump truck to stop it before it gets to her. (This is after a big gun battle. They even shoot at you from the dump truck as they’re driving towards the daughter.) And it’s played totally straight, like I’m supposed to find it harrowing. If I don’t shoot it enough, the giant dump truck runs over the daughter, and I have to try again, and I miss again, and I witness many repetitions of the giant dump truck running her over (slowly– Austin Powers style) before I get the aim right and proceed to the next level. A video game has to allow for the possibility of loss, of getting it wrong, in order to be a game at all. But after the third or fourth or fifth try at a sequence like this, even the most artfully summoned emotional power (which this is not) can degrade into silliness.

Kane & Lynch is definitely not one of those titles that comes up when people talk about if games can be art or respected like other media. It’s the kind of game that people who are worried about violent and morally bankrupt video games imagine most video games to be. On top of that, it is a poor game and not very fun to play. The characters are difficult to control and they are constantly swearing in bizarre ways (“you’re on your fucking own!”), making its core experience one of alienation and toxic frustration.

The only reason I played it all the way through recently is because someone once told me he thought the anger and annoyance that this game evokes in you, the player, was a respectable achievement because that’s, like, the whole point of the story– that these men are angry and annoyed and ultimately impotent in the face of the world even though they kill a lot of people.

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