Dog Days has an admittedly brilliant presentation gimmick that sets it far apart from the look of its predecessor and just about every other shooter on the market. While the world is modeled and textured in the rather bland shader-rama that has become standard for 360 shooters, several graphical filters and effects are applied to make the game look like one of those found footage movies. The whole thing looks like it was recorded by a strangely persistent bystander using a cell phone or a handycam, and then uploaded to Youtube. The view even wobbles when Lynch starts booking it, as if the person filming is trying to keep up.
Bright lights overwhelm the “camera” and smear across the screen, fast movements produce compression artifacting, a slew of different lens flares are present for all the different lighting conditions, and the screen gets speckled with bloodspots and splotches of pixilation when Lynch gets injured. When you inflict a particularly gruesome headshot the game will even censor it out with a grainy pixel mosaic, strangely making the effect more visceral than games that show the full-on gore of a shotgun to the face.
This art style is applied to everything, from the sloppy, jarring cuts in the cinematics to the opening menu. Every time you boot up the game you’ll be greeted by an eerily realistic vista—a camera view through a rain-speckled hotel room window overlooking the dreary gray Shanghai skyline, or a wind-buffeted shot of a desolate airfield. The handycam style is great but feels wasted on a game that is otherwise so stylistically empty. Why not make it part of the story, where a gutsy reporter or a Youtube douchebag with more SD cards than sense is actually following these madmen around as part of the plot? The whole time I was thinking, “Wow, this would be incredible in a District 9 game,” or “the next Call of Duty as a terrified combat photographer? Sign me up!” In fact, this grainy footage effect reminded me a lot of Manhunt, another game with a fantastic sense of style but gameplay that got repetitive and annoying.
At least Manhunt had a great premise and sort of followed through on it, but the visual style of Dog Days isn’t attached to a compelling narrative. Many critics complained that Dead Men was bad from the start because Kane and Lynch are fundamentally unlikable protagonists—career criminal sociopaths that turn everything they touch into a disaster. I’d like to counter that these guys can be great characters…but only if they are written well. These are potentially fascinating characters—the kind of psychos I wish Rockstar would man up and put in their crime thrillers—but the writing isn’t using them to even a fraction of their potential.
In terms of characterization, the bottom falls out from both Kane and Lynch’s personality rather quickly. They don’t act like nearly-unhinged murderers but more like bumbling fools; in fact, in the last third of the game they’re basically floating on wishful thinking. Halfway through the game the situation feels nonstop-desperate, to the point where you just stop caring. There are a few shining moments where you feel like a crazed man on the run, constantly hunted, but with the combat so banal and homogenous it’s hard to maintain that feeling of desperation. Unfortunately the found-footage angle prevents the story from using Lynch’s inherent psychosis. He’ll mumble to himself occasionally but you never really feel crazy. It would have been cool to play through his flashbacks or a psychotic episode or two, but since you view the game through a third person filming the action, you never get into either Kane or Lynch’s head.
After so many catastrophes, double-crosses and obviously-doomed jobs you wonder why either of these guys is putting up with the other, but there aren’t any strong feelings either way. Marcus and Dom at least had a long-standing friendship in Gears of War. You’d expect Kane and Lynch to downright despise each other at this point, or maintain a shaky, ironic friendship considering it’s them against the odds, but by the halfway point there’s nothing, just emptiness.
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