It’s little wonder that Lionsgate is developing “Kane and Lynch: Dead Men” as a feature film, since the game feels eerily like an interactive Michael Mann movie.

It’s little wonder that Lionsgate is developing “Kane and Lynch: Dead Men” as a feature film, since the game feels eerily like an interactive Michael Mann movie. That’s good news for gamers used to generic characters and hackneyed storylines, since it makes for a refreshingly engaging experience. “Kane and Lynch” has its faults and is certainly not as polished as many of the higher-profile action games on the market, but it has more soul and original ideas than any of its competitors. If there’s any justice for the outlaws who star in this title, they’ll find a following amid the holiday glut.

The first pleasant surprise: Kane and Lynch aren’t overly muscled Rambo clones or futuristic soldiers in advanced armor. They’re ugly, balding middle-aged men in ill-fitting clothes, one an ex-mercenary and the other a schizophrenic, each with demons in his past.

Their journey takes them around the world and into some amazing settings where “Kane and Lynch” really stands out. In a dark Tokyo disco, for instance, they have to avoid a dozen Yakuza amid hundreds of screaming civilians.

Later on, they rappel down a giant office tower in order to break into a boardroom meeting. Near the end, they sneak through a Venezuelan jungle in search of a gang hideout. All of these settings are distinct and intensely cinematic, as are the various gameplay elements that they involve, from stealth to squad commands to frenzied shooting.

Despite the varying goals players have to achieve, “Kane and Lynch” controls like a dream. Action game devotees may find that moves like taking cover and commanding squadmates are too simplistic, but those who haven’t completed “Halo 3“ and “Call of Duty 4“ yet will appreciate how simple it is to do so many complicated things.

Except for a few levels with unclear directions, “Kane and Lynch” expertly balances accessibility without sacrificing challenge, particularly on the difficult setting.

But while it’s relatively easy to play, casual gamers should be warned: “Kane and Lynch” is one of the most family-unfriendly games ever made. Anyone with moral qualms about killing hundreds of police officers and security guards should stay away. Those who don’t mind, however, will appreciate that this is a rare game that doesn’t shy away from the moral implications of a story about a psychopath and an ex-gang member.

That’s particularly true at the end of the game, where “Kane and Lynch” presents players with a harsh moral quandary. Players are forced to make one of two very unpleasant decisions about whom to save and whom to let die, and the game doesn’t shy away from the consequences.

“Kane and Lynch” has two names in the title for a reason. While a one-player version lets players control Kane and occasionally give orders to Lynch, two players is the way to go, since both men have distinct jobs on every mission. That’s why it’s baffling and tragic that Eidos released this game without the ability for two people to play through the story online.

Online multiplayer, however, is present and quite impressive. Called “Fragile Alliance,” this game puts up to eight people on a team of thieves and forces them to cooperate in order to land a score, but then lets them steal from each other before they escape. Though the small number of maps is limiting, the gameplay forces players to think much more strategically than typical “shoot everyone you see” multiplayer games.

While the visuals aren’t as sharp as in some other titles, “Kane and Lynch” features an appropriately washed out film quality and lots of dead-on details in design elements like costumes. Voice work is excellent, particularly for the two lead characters, as is the score by composer Jesper Kyd.

Kane and Lynch: Dead Men

Rated M. $50-$60.

Production

An Eidos presentation of a game developed by IO Interactive for the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

Crew

Reviewed on Xbox 360
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