Right ambience, visual style save summer games

Allistair Pinsof

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment of news and reviews in the video-game industry.

Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days [PS3, Xbox 360, PC]

As with so many games, “Kane and Lynch 2’s” visual presentation surpasses anything else the game has to offer. The game’s unique visual style, emulating a badly compressed YouTube video, brings the streets of Shanghai to life with an ominous glow: Pink neon-lights attached to high-rises complement the bloodbath below, the sun turns the sky white as snow and visual artifacts distort the screen in moments when you need clarity. Unfortunately, the game is also lacking in length and precision — not an aesthetic choice. As Lynch and his sociopathic partner, Kane, try to escape from the Chinese mafia and get out of Shanghai, they take part in a four-hour routine of ducking behind boxes and returning fire. This wouldn’t be so bad if the guns didn’t feel weightless, the cover system wasn’t unreliable and if the game mimicked the pacing of other modern shooters. It also doesn’t help that the computer-controlled A.I. is useless, so it’s best to have a friend to play the other role. It’s also unfortunate that the game has so many basic flaws and bugs (the game froze more than once early on) because the multiplayer is something truly unique. You and your teammates must successfully pull off a heist, but at any moment a player can turn on others for the sake of taking their share of the money. An addition in this sequel is Undercover Cop mode, which adds in a player who must keep his cover and take down unsuspecting teammates. As you can imagine, it almost always plays out like a tense heist movie: The car doesn’t show up on time, the guy you thought you could trust turns on you and greed always comes with a price. Unlike a heist movie, the criminals generally run in circles firing shotguns at each other, trying to come to grips with the controls and rules.

Grade: C

Limbo [Xbox 360 ­— Xbox Live Arcade]

Sometimes a title card can tell you everything. “Limbos’” white text is presented in large, blocky font, looking as if it were cut from cardboard, offset by a pure-black background — nothing else is on the screen. The game’s intentions are pretty clear: It wants to pretend video games existed during German Expressionism and that this is the gem we all missed. The game itself, a 2-D puzzle platformer, keeps things as minimalistic as its black-and-white presentation. “Limbo” throws one trap or puzzle at a time, often driving you into lunacy because of the simplicity of it all. Sometimes it’s because of a puzzle that feels impossible, but most of the time it’s because of the game’s frequent deathtraps that serve only to ruin the pace and frustrate players. One can imagine they are an attempt at dark humor, with how violent the death animations are for what is ostensibly a prepubescent boy. While the pacing and visual style might turn away most players, it’s hard not to admire the dedication to a unique vision that Playdead Studios have brought with their debut game. At its best, “Limbo” casts a spell on you with its surreal ambience and haunting setting.

Grade: B