It says buffering instead of loading! That's clever. It also looks like it's been filmed on a cheap camcorder and uploaded to YouTube, complete with compression artifacts, lens aberrations (both chromatic and optical, camera fans) and high ISO fuzziness. Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days resembles the nightmarish delights of shakey-cam horror Cloverfield crossed with a particularly barmy episode of You've Been Framed, and while it's not a style that will suit every taste, it's a slick, unique and extremely well-developed effect. Bright lights are smeared garishly across the screen, explosions cause the "video feed" to drop frames, gruesome point-blank headshots are pixellated and sprinting causes the perspective to reel and pitch wildly with nauseating realism.
So, Kane & Lynch 2 is effects heavy and all the prettier for it. And Shanghai is the perfect setting for its visual style: a grimy, neon and violent world in which the titular duo find themselves embroiled in a feud with the local head honcho, who just happens to have most of the city's police armed forces in his pocket. It's also a far more enjoyable experience than the lukewarm original, with an overhauled everything doing its utmost to banish thoughts of fiddly cover systems and braindead AI. This time around, you'll be hiding behind just as much cover, but doing so with consummate ease. One-button pops you in, pops you out or pops you into the next available cover depending on where you're pointing. Simple. Straightforward. Apart from the rare occasions when certain surfaces refuse to provide cover, or your character picks the wrong side of a crate to dive behind, it's a massive improvement on what's gone before.
There are other changes to the combat too, certain objects can be picked up and hurled at the enemy to be detonated mid-flight by a slap of the right trigger. Gas canisters and fire extinguishers in particular provide your most commonly chucked projectiles, exploding in a reality-defying but satisfyingly destructive fashion.
For the most part in Kane & Lynch 2 you'll mostly be hiding behind waist-high objects, taking shots at other men who are mostly hiding behind waist-high objects. As a shooting gallery it actually performs well, with automatic weapons feeling punchy, and the sound design producing an urgent, panicked banter between Kane and Lynch that, while never really progressing beyond Lynch shouting "Kane!" and Kane shouting "Lynch!", instils in every scene a deepening sense of hectic unhingedness. Again, the camera angles here are at times closely reminiscent of those of war footage - it's all stooped perspectives and flying debris - and for a camcorder with such a rubbish lens, it's got one hell of a microphone.
As it happens you'll spend most of your time as Lynch. Split screen and online co-op allows a friend to control his other half, which introduces an "I've fallen down, please help me" mechanic of player interaction. There are also a series of doors running throughout Shanghai which can only be opened by two men, conveniently pacing any one player's progress throughout the levels. This understandable but defiantly odd gaming conceit feels particularly jarring after the game's most harrowing scene - the details of which I'll spare you - seeing two very upset, naked, wet men struggling with a garage door is one of those times you sincerely hope nobody walks in on you playing games in your pants.
Despite the brevity of the single-player/co-op campaign (you'll clock it in under five hours), and the fact it's set entirely within Shanghai, the game does an admirable job of providing varied environments - only briefly lapsing into the tedium of the bleak, abandoned construction sites Lynch's girlfriend happens to live next to. Levels rapidly move from grim back alleys and sweat shops to busy streets and brightly lit shopping centres, and urban squalor is thrown into sharp relief by turning a corner and finding yourself in a stark, primary coloured McDonald's rip-off. There's probably even some social commentary in here if you think too hard.
Take the game online and Kane & Lynch 2 becomes more than a just a stylised cover shooter. Cops and Robbers forms the most basic of competitive modes, with criminals and crimestoppers squaring off against one another, but more interesting games can be found in the returning Fragile Alliance game mode. Here, up to eight criminals work together to carry out a heist, fighting their way through AI resistance until they reach the loot. Grabbing the goods is an utter free-for-all - dawdle and you'll come away from the cashgrab with less dough than your buddies - but the gains are shared equally between escaping criminals at the end of the round.
At any point after loading up on loot, a player can choose to turn a gun on his fellow criminal, to up his personal score as well as increase the size of the share every other player will come away with. This leads to some naturally forming tactics that, at first (assuming you're not actually an organised criminal and this doesn't come naturally to you), are difficult to wrap your head around. Rather than the criminal with the most dosh becoming a prime target for assassination, it's in all players' interests to have him finish alongside them. Preferable is the option to kill off the player with the least cash - this way, you increase the share and knock off the player with the most to gain from the split pot.
In practice, games of Fragile Alliance are rarely as involved as they sound on paper. A criminal who attacks another player is marked as a traitor regardless of any implicit mutual agreements players might have assumed had formed, and traitors can be killed with no penalty, and usually with big reward. So traitors are dealt with quickly, and as such treacherous acts are usually carried out as the team approaches the getaway vehicle.
To this end, playing Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days online is rife with suspicion, and the fear that at any moment another player might turn on you makes modes like Undercover Cop, in which one player is secretly given a mission to murder every other criminal, actually rather stressful. Systematic griefing still feels like griefing, and the relative complexity of the rules will no doubt lead to less patient players backstabbing before they can be backstabbed.
Still, it'd be unfair to overlook the ambition of Kane & Lynch 2's online options, and when they work well, they're by far the most enjoyable aspect of the package. The tight design of the single player campaign, in everything from its sound to its unpredictable if conventional environments, is somewhat let down by an abrupt ending that arrives too soon. And with a unique visual style setting it apart from anything else out there, Kane & Lynch 2 is proof that IO Interactive's series deserves a second chance.