The Kane and Lynch franchise, however short-lived and obscure it is, has remained a point of fascination for many game enthusiasts. In an industry that often rewards brightly colored worlds and lighthearted tones with critical acclaim and high sales, this series envelopes you in a dark universe full of terrible men doing terrible things. But despite how hideous the games are, both in very different ways from one another, the series has remained fascinating to play, and even more to discuss. But after both of these incredibly short campaigns are finished, and every podcast and video essay on them have been heard and seen, it still feels like the themes of the game could be further explored.
Now, even as a fan of the series (especially the second game), I’m under no illusion that another entry in this series would be a hard sell not only to developer IO Interactive but to audiences who have no appetite for such a nihilistic experience. But just because a game isn’t fun doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist. The series ultimately has some real artistic merit behind it, even if all of its creative swings don’t ultimately connect. So, let’s imagine what a possible sequel could be if released today, and how it could not only carry forward the core tenets of the franchise but evolve them into something more palatable over a decade after it began.
First off, what are the core aspects of this franchise? Well, this is a fairly subjective answer, as different people value different things in their games. Even among fans of the franchise, there’s disagreement on this question, shown evident by how some love the original game, Dead Men, while hating the sequel, Dog Days, and others are correct. But for me, I’ve come down on the following being the defining features of Kane and Lynch:
- Dark and Gritty atmosphere and mood
- Nihilistic stories
- Violent gameplay
- Non-player choices having consequences
- Noticeable camera work
Again, you might disagree, but as far as I’m concerned, these are the core aspects of the franchise. For the rest of this piece, I’ll dig deeper and discuss why I see each element as so important, how it could be brought back in a new way, and if each aspect could even come back in the first place. Admittedly, in the 13 years since the release of Dead Men, the entire landscape of both wider American culture and video game culture has changed. Things that might have gotten handwaved in the past would be impossible to ignore today. Because of that, not all of these elements will survive without substantial changes, which I promise to get to soon. But first, while this doesn’t mean I’ll be going through these in order, let’s start with that first item.
(Spoilers for Kane and Lynch: Dead Men and Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days from here on out. You have been warned!)
Despite the differences in presentation, both games have done their best to present a bleak world full of despicable and rude characters. This is a defining feature, so I don’t believe it needs to go, but I do think it could be a little less cruel in some cases. After all, games with this tone are a dime a dozen, but the tone is often less of an issue and more the subtext of that tone when the characters are the same white males that appear in damn near every other video game. In 2007, it’d be easy to see Kane and Lynch as some kind of “default”, where their entire beings were defined only by their character traits and motivations. But the events of these games so often revolve around the trauma of women, whether as the direct result of Kane and Lynch’s actions or as motivators for their choices throughout the games. This subtext has made the titles, especially the first, so difficult to come back to since it’s so much more difficult to compartmentalize the real-life treatment of women, especially in the games industry.
Sure, the franchise is primarily targeted to young adult white males, but that excuse just doesn’t quite cut it anymore when gendered marketing campaigns are so much more outdated. So, how do we solve this? Well, I know this might be the hardest bandaid to rip off, so I’ll just do it now so that we don’t catch too many hairs. I say we don’t make Kane and Lynch the playable characters of this game. Crazy, I know, but I truly believe one of these games can thrive without our heroes in a starring role. Now, I do have a plan to keep them in this narrative, but for now, let’s shelf them in favor of another character, one that was scarcely seen in the series, Kane’s daughter, Jenny.
I think she could be the perfect protagonist for this game and provide a great opportunity to explore many of the other core elements of the series that I mentioned earlier: that player choice is rarely a factor in the game. The most pivotal moments of the franchise happen outside of gameplay, and often aren’t even taken by your player character. Look at Lynch killing the hostages in Dead Men of him accidentally shooting the girl at the start of Dog Days for examples of this. I think this concept could be explored deeper narratively through Kane’s daughter because she is the embodiment of this concept. Think about the trauma she went through in the first game: being in constant danger, witnessing the murder of her mother, getting shot herself, all thanks to numerous shitty men that had nothing to do with her, other than the one who just happened to contribute to her birth. Imagine the toll that could take on someone, and as she grows into a woman over the years, you’d have to assume there’s some unresolved trauma still lingering there. The entire series is about how the player must deal with the consequence of the actions the characters, not the player, make, and this change in character would make the third game a more direct examination of that.
So, if we have our Kane equivalent, who would be our Lynch? Well, that’s a much harder nut to crack. He doesn’t have a direct relative in the current canon, as his partner in Shanghai was killed in the second game long before they could have kids. So, instead, I’d question if we even need a direct connection to Lynch? Despite attempts to humanize him more in the sequel, Lynch is still largely viewed as just an insane wild card that throws a wrench into well-laid plans. Well, who’s to say we can’t put someone new in that role? I haven’t necessarily fully formed a hypothetical script for this hypothetical game, but ideally, this would be a somewhat linear adventure through a bunch of action setpieces. If that’s the case, who to say that she doesn’t come across a number of new characters with quirky personalities to fill that gap? It’d provide that back-and-forth dynamic from the earlier games, but the relative levity would greatly smooth over the other aspect that would return in this threequel: the nihilistic story.
Now, nihilism is a concept I’m deeply uncomfortable with. It’s something I never want to indulge in, but for those of us not fully in danger of losing grasp of the joys of existence, it can be a topic that is fascinating to visit. In the case of Kane and Lynch, it is often shown by the titular characters committing heinous acts that ultimately don’t get them out of the turmoil they attempted to escape. The games portray all of the murder and suffering as ultimately meaningless since participating often either doesn’t get anyone what they want or just leads to more suffering for everyone. This game could take that theme in a similar way, but with that focus on how the actions of one often have unintended consequences for others.
For example, in Dog Days, you run through these back alleies and run-down buildings which are all places that the lowest in society call home. But those grimy environments stand in stark contrast to the clean and precise architecture of the skyscrapers you shoot through at the end of the game. While the game isn’t necessarily about how capitalism leads to success for a select few and a lifetime of suffering for everyone else, the environmental design certainly points you in that direction. In that way, I want the theme of unintended suffering due to the actions of others to be highlighted. There are countless ways to do this, but I’d advise not doing so in the same exact ways Dog Days did.
I love Dog Days, but another problematic aspect of it is the fact that the game does have some white savior vibes. It’s not necessarily about a foreigner coming to solve the issues of the native, but the fact that the protagonists, white men, shoot a LOT of Chinese people in their own country, destroying much of their property along the way, is pretty icky. So, instead of focusing on the horrors of another country, how about being brave enough to set it right here in the United States? If 2020 hasn’t been proof enough, there’s a lot of bad shit happening here, but there has been for a long time. Go in the right places and behind the thin sheen of patriotism is a world just as dark and grimy as anything in Shanghai. I say set the game in these seedy back-alleys of society. This way, you can make similar parallels to the perils of capitalism as the second game did, but in a way that is much more direct and relevant to today’s audience. And speaking of today’s audience, let’s address the elephant in the room.
I’ve already said how brutal, unpleasant, and ugly these games are. So, after the events of the last few years alone, who in God’s name would want to play a game like this right now? The appetite for this kind of content is low, and will likely stay that way for many years considering the scale of recent events. How do you put out a game with such bleak and depressing subject matter and not have it bum everyone out? Well, I think it’s possible if we look to The Last of Us Part II for inspiration.
Anyone who cares enough about games to read an article about Kane and Lynch probably already knows much about the discourse around The Last of Us Part II. While I viewed it as a tragic tale with heavy doses of optimism, especially near the end, many others saw it as a tour of suffering whose only purpose was to reiterate for the millionth time that “violence is bad”. Well, while that latter take is very reductive, we can see clear similarities to Kane and Lynch, with both having grizzly subject matter. The difference here is that Kane and Lynch have no other reading of it than pure nihilism, the reasons for that having been outlined earlier. Both have dark narratives, but the endings, and therefore message, of the Kane and Lynch games, always give it a harder edge. Well, what if we take a page from The Last of Us Part II and give the game a less bleak ending? I’m not saying Kane’s daughter gets to frolic into the sunset or anything, I’m saying we give all of the suffering and pain a justification this time around, which would be a first for the series. And I have just the pitch for how to implement such a thing.
We’ve already talked about how this game would be about the consequences we suffer due to the choices of others. So, I think the best way to highlight that theme would be for Jenny to face the man whose choices so deeply scared her, Kane himself! How they get to this meeting is up to whoever would make the game, but I imagine meeting Kane as the emotional climax of the story.
But during that meeting, I want it to be more of a confrontation than a family reunion. Whether the player has an affinity for Kane (and considering the ones who would play this, they very well might) or not, I think it’d be important to cast Kane as a villain outright, with no room for redeeming him after all these years. He’d likely still be in hiding due to the events of Dog Days, so even in the years between, he will have never been able to live as he might have wanted. He’d be much older after all these years as well, but the hostility that Jenny would have against him would serve to highlight how his entire life has been nothing but misery. But her disdain for him would hopefully highlight that it didn’t have to be like this.
The fact that Kane had a wife and kid at all implies that he wasn’t always this bitter asshole of the first two games. At some point, he too was a decent man just trying to get by in the world. But, due to circumstance or just pure malice, he chose to be something other than decent. He chose to start and continue the cycle of violence… Kane is the one who chose to put the lives of innocents, including his own family, in danger. He chose to partake in all the events that eventually lead him to the end of a life full of mostly pain. And that would retroactively make the core theme of the entire series about choice. If he just decided to stay straight, none of the horrid events of these games would have happened.
And to further highlight the importance of personal choice, I think it would serve the purpose of the narrative to have Jenny, despite the childhood trauma and tour of stuffing he just succumbed to in the game, choose to not become the person her father was. None of this “being shitty is in their family genes” nonsense, commit to her being a wholly different person from her father and frame her defiance as altruistic and necessary rather than spiteful and mean. Hell, I’d even go so far as to kill off Kane sometime after their confrontation, but even that doesn’t feel too necessary, as he’s already doomed to the life he’s made for himself.
I think that’s how you effectively evolve the series. No longer would it just be an entertaining ride through Depravityville, but it would actually have something substantial to say about those who choose to commit acts of depravity. It’d also help if a few of the characters you meet earlier in the game aren’t also just assholes who only think about themselves, as showing their humanity and compassion would tie so much more into that core theme of choice. Plus, it’s important to also take a page out of Naughty Dogs book again and not give any agency to the player in this matter. No matter how you feel about Kane, the game’s point of view is that he was far from righteous, and I feel there’s power in declaring that so definitively. Now if she gets to walk away into the sunset or not, I can’t say, but I do believe that, after all, she will have been through, she deserves to live her life free of the influence of her dad and the world he chose to submerge himself in.
So, we’ve addressed the nihilistic narrative, the dark and gritty tone, and the consequences of the choices of others. Now the last two, violent gameplay and noticeable camera, are aspects less steeped in story and more steeped in gameplay and structure. First off, let’s examine the camera work in these games. Dead Men had an admittedly flat aesthetic, which has aged poorly over the years, but Dog Days’ defining feature for most is its visual aesthetic. The way it utilized the hallmarks of camcorder video was revolutionary, and sadly few games, if any, have tried to emulate it. So, bringing that style back is a must, but we can do so much more with it. The original style was meant to emulate not only handheld camera footage but also those sketchy digital videos that you’d find online well before YouTube. We’ve gone way past that era, so why not incorporate modern aspects of online video in a new way that even affects gameplay.
Do you know how most sites, like Reddit, place a big ol play/ pause button in the center of the screen when you mouse over a video? Why not play with that idea and incorporate it into the UI. That button, scaled-down of course, could be the player’s reticle when aiming, and the time stamp and progress bar below could also appear when aiming to show ammo count and health. Do you know how apps like Vine and Snapchat have normalized videos that are only seconds long? Well, bring that into the Kane and Lynch universe to spice up the cutscenes. Or better yet, force the player to play some sections in timed increments. The 6 seconds of Vine or 10 of Snapchat might be too small to allow for good gameplay, but the minute limit of Instagram videos and 2+ minute limit of Twitter videos could easily facilitate longer stretches of gameplay.
Shit, I think you could even incorporate apps like TikTok into the game as well during non-combat segments. There are often times, in the second game especially, where the titular characters walk in complete silence. Wouldn’t it be fun too, if only for some sequences, ditch the 3rd person camera and see the main character being controlled in the background of some random TikTok with some random pop song playing? The Korean and Chinese pop songs in the second game already served to highlight the grisliness of that world in that game, and including this in a threequel would help do the same.
These additions could also tie back into how we absorb these stories in the real world as well. Think about when a tragedy happens in real life. We rarely get one full video documenting it all, but instead, we get a few fragments shared by dozens of different people on dozens of different sites that get reposted everywhere. Stitching the game together in a similar fashion would not only ground the game in a similar way to Dog Days but reflect those real-life traumatic events we see online. Now yes, all of that sounds a bit crazy, especially for the change from a 3rd person camera. But I’d like to ask, who said all of these games have to be 3rd person shooters?
This change, even more than the protagonist swap, might be even more controversial. I can’t say I love the gameplay of the original titles, but as someone who plays a lot of shooters, it spoke a language, gameplay-wise, that I could easily understand. Well, Jenny is her own woman, and while you could find narrative reasons for her to be proficient with guns, I think it would be more fun to give her a different move set. I think it would be really neat if this game was more melee-focused, similar to how Sleeping Dogs is balanced more towards fists than firearms. This would make the perspective a lot less restrictive, allowing for some of the camera tricks I described earlier, but it’d also give more ways for the brutality of the world to be highlighted. Thanks in part to the prevalence of guns in American media, shooting someone can often come off as cold and impersonal. I mean, just to go back to The Last of Us Part II, most times I shot someone I barely registered it. But every time I did a stealth takedown or was forced to brawl hand to hand, I winced at every grimace and cry the enemies made. Now, I would hope that there are still moments to breathe between the combat so that the gravity of killing someone with your bare hands doesn’t desensitize the player. But I think that this shift could not only make the game more exciting to those turned off by shooters but also drive home its desperately grim nature as well.
And, I’m pretty sure that’s all I got as far as my insane ramblings on a dead franchise goes. I know that the Kane and Lynch series has never done well critically, and considering all of the elements I’ve discussed, I totally get why. These games are outright unpleasant, but by the second game in the series, that hostile tone became its defining trait. I think the unique presentation and narrative themes of Dog Days at least is something worth remembering, and this entire article was as much of a celebration of that game as it was a dream of seeing its legacy continue. If you’ve never cared about these games before, hopefully, I indirectly convinced you to at least try the sequel. If you’re already a fan of the series, hopefully, my pitch did the series justice. But hey, even if it didn’t, who cares? Not like we’ll ever get a third game…right?