Two and a bit years ago, a game called Freedom Fighters was released and it didn't change the world. Lost in a monolithic EA release schedule and yet another in a long parade of third-person squad actioners, I reviewed it back then and enjoyed it enough to give it 75%. And you'd have thought that would be case closed - but the game just would not leave my head.
As time went on I just began to remember it with abnormal fondness - to the extent that it has now become one third of my holy trinity of 'games you've probably never played, but should' list. It's a flawed game, but even now I rate it alongside Beyond Good & Evil and Psychonauts. Why? Why the attachment? Well, partly because it's a game that few played - and it didn't deserve that treatment - and partly because over-riding the game's problems there were moments of pure gaming exhilaration. There was this barking Russian choral music, simple squad controls that had the game rattle along breathlessly and... Well... You just felt a lot of love had gone into the project. If you don't mind, we'll gloss over the shit AI and repetitive levels for now...
As time passed since Freedom Fighters' release, everyone apart from me seemed to forget about it. With the gaming nation distracted by the shiny bald pate of IO Interactive's more successful Hitman series, the third-person squad mechanics of FF's plucky revolutionaries seemed to have been a one-off. A flop. An aberration. But deep in their Copenhagen lair, a group of developers apparently begged to differ. They were going to make a comeback - and this time they'd do it with style, and not a little lashing of old ultra-violence.
Kane & Lynch: Dead Men is an attempt to bring the purer end of cinema action onto your PC. Not the silly comedic mugging of the later Brosnan Bonds, nor the overblown budget of a Schwarzenegger outing - but the realistic gunplay, looks, sounds, chaotic atmosphere and dialogue of a Heat or Tony Scott's Man On Fire.
In fact, Io are so consciously following the works of director Michael Mann, this could be a game forged under his tutelage. This fact is underlined when Io boot up their jaw-dropping club scene and have lead character Kane shoot a man in the crowd; the similarity of which to the scene where Tom Cruise's cool-as-ice hitman performs a public execution in Collateral being overwhelming. "Michael Mann owes us one anyway," laughs the game's producer Hugh Grimley when I meet up with him later on, jangling the keys to the Hitman series as he does so.
But who are the sultry men who adorn these pages? Well, it's simple at one level, but the story gets complicated. "Everyone at IO will hate me for saying it, but it's kind-of a buddy movie thing," frowns Jens Peter Kurup, the game's director. "Just please, please don't call it a buddy movie! That just makes it sound like it's Mel Gibson and some guy... It makes it sound like something with lots of funny little jokes. It's not. It's dead serious."
So let's start with Lynch. He's the subsidiary character who'll accompany you (Kane) throughout the game, or who a mate will get to control in co-op. He's a psychopath. A proper, full-on medicated schizophrenic who distractedly hums at nothing in particular before embarking on murderous rampages through crowds of enemies and civilians alike. Let's get over it now: Dead Men is not a particularly accurate or knowledgeable account of mental health issues in modern-day society.
IT STARTED SO WELL...
Described by Io as looking like a "German teacher gone wrong", Lynch is not a happy cupcake. He once worked a day job in Detroit warehouses, but one day came home to find his wife brutally murdered - and seeing as his schizophrenia has had him blacking out and committing unspeakable acts of brutality, he's not altogether convinced that he didn't have a part in it. Conviction and death row beckons, and we'll leave him looking rather sad in a prison transport vehicle - sitting alongside the man he'll be baiting throughout the exciting plot arc that follows.