Especially throughout the last 15 years, videogame violence has been presented – usually – in one of two ways. In some cases, it’s spectacular, enjoyable, and morally laissez faire. Between Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto 5, and myriad others, you kill people largely as an input or a mechanic, and don’t give pulling a trigger any more thought than you would hitting the jump button in a platformer. In other cases, that have emerged more and more since the release of Spec Ops The Line, games tacitly or even expressly chide the player for performing violence. Red Dead Redemption 2, Hotline Miami, some moments in Far Cry, and Metro Exodus – among others – all directly implicate the player in on-screen violence. One shooter, however, unfairly derided at launch, despite being one of the greatest games of the last 20 years, occupies a more interesting middle ground. Frightening, vicious, and starkly subjective, it’s made by Hitman creator IO Interactive, and available now for under $5.
Kane and Lynch 2 is the anti triple-A mainstream shooters. Where third-person action and FPS games are often accessible, coherent, and allow for some kind of traditional hero narrative, Kane and Lynch 2 wants you to feel uncomfortable and shaky.
As the eponymous career criminals from IO’s 2007 original, Kane and Lynch Dead Men, you endure a series of gun battles while trying to escape from contemporary Shanghai after a job gone wrong. That’s the game on paper. In practice, it’s a bewildering and sensory onslaught of chaos, violence, and moral indifference designed to highlight the cruel realities of killing. Death is horrifying, but at the same time, no-one really seems to care. There are no moral reconciliations and no consequences – just more death.
This awful dispassion is reflected in Kane and Lynch 2’s distinctive, never-replicated aesthetic. Imagine the worst thing you’ve ever seen on the internet, the lowest depths of LiveLeak and uncensored CCTV tapes. Kane and Lynch 2 looks and sounds like it’s been shot on a handheld camera. The effect is twofold. In one sense, it boosts the realism, and creates the illusion that what you are seeing is real, candid footage. In another sense, it creates a stultifying distance – like staring at your TV or phone, you watch, passively, another ordeal after another ordeal after another ordeal.
Kane and Lynch 2 is one of the purest expressions of auteur intent in all of mainstream gaming. Visually, mechanically, and even in terms of length (it’s about four hours long), this is a game wholly committed to a bold and original vision. Ignore what you might have heard. Look past the old review scores. Kane and Lynch 2 was ahead of its time. Click the button below and head to GOG to get it now for $4.84 / £3.89. Hurry, though. The sale ends Tuesday February 6.