Previews

Kane & Lynch: Dead Men

Psychos in arms

Traditionally, game attempts at movie homage have come across like The Godfather re-enacted by Thunderbirds puppets. Though that sounds pretty awesome, now I think of it. Anyway: Kane & Lynch.

It's a gleefully bloodthirsty new direction for Hitman developers IO, intended to show that 'cinematic' isn't only for cinemas. I've just played through an affectionate nod to Heat: specifically, the protracted, on-foot, city-street getaway bit.

Riot police and snipers encircle the escaping criminals, so it's a matter of directing my four-man pack of ageing mercenaries (including a distractingly ancient-looking Hugh Hefner-alike) to outflank them, using a refined version of the simple squad control system seen in IO's oft-forgotten Freedom Fighters. You need one guy behind the cops so their gunfire isn't blocked by the riot shields, another up high countersniping, and the rest using cars as cover to polish off stragglers with a grenade or two.

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The elaborate puzzles and thoughtful stealth of Hitman may be gone, but it's replaced with a tightly-focused cinematic styling. Each of the encounters I played through was a movie scene. Rather than a maze of tunnels filled with enemies, it's a (still entirely linear) sequence of stylised locations, where use of the environment is key to success.

Thus, escaping with a hostage in a tow from a nightclub involves sending the dancing crowd into a panic so you can find a path through the gyrating bodies under cover of confusion. There's also a Matrixian lobby scene, where you carve through armed guards by darting from impressively bullet-broken pillar to pillar.

Yes, it's all guns, guns, guns; the different environments seem to keep it varied, though whether there are enough tricks in K&L's box to last a whole game of such destructive merriment remains to be seen.

IO are clearly thirsty for a chart-topper. Hitman's always sold pretty well, but this thoroughbred action game also evidently wants to be just a little bit controversial and notorious, to be a byword for stylish ultraviolence on every format. This isn't just about making a superb game - it's about taking over the world.

K&L's origins are fairly obvious: had I played through the couple of set-piece-filled levels I sampled without prior knowledge of their developers, I'd almost certainly
have guessed at the makers of Hitman being behind them. The art, though amplified by an impressive new graphics engine, is that same fusion of cold hues and fascinatingly ugly men.

The weapons may no longer be a last resort of panicked bloodshed, and instead the game's primary means of progress, but they remain just a little difficult to use, grounded resolutely in something like reality. Most of all, it's set in a world devoid of goodness; the nicest thing you can say about anyone in it is that they may not be completely evil. No matter how far apart Hitman and K&L may be in other respects, they're both set in the same morally bankrupt universe.

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It's action gaming crafted to a degree rarely realised; if it can sustain what I've seen, it could bring us, potentially, the same level of polish and subtle experience-shaping found in Half-Life 2. The game it most feels like is Gears of War, from the stripped-down interface to the arrogant, potty-mouthed characters. Yet from what I've seen, it's a much smarter affair, with a strong emphasis on storytelling and character - even the loading screens are bulked up with antagonistic interplay from the two murderous leads.

It's probably not going to be the high watermark that Hitman: Blood Money was, but it could be one of the best pure action games in a while.

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