Here's one for you - what did the traitor say to the schizophrenic? "Take your medicine, you f**king psychopath." Welcome to what IO did next. It's nasty. It's gritty. It's very much in-your-face. During several punishing hours spent somewhere in the heart of London's trendy Covent Garden, we can't prise our eyes away from the mega-screen Kane & Lynch: Dead Men is playing out on. We see battalions of goons riddled with bullets and watch their bodies flail epileptically, blood spurting from every artery as they clatter to the floor. We watch a massacre in a nightclub, where Kane and suited mercenaries shoot it out and hundreds of would-be loved-up clubbers ABSOLUTELY SHIT IT as they use the dancers as cover. With the inevitable casualties. Murder on the dance floor indeed. And just to make sure we get the message, we see said drugged-up psycho - unprovoked - smash a young woman in the face, bundling her to the floor and executing her without remorse, and we shudder at the crack of fist on jaw as much as the unashamed brutality. IO is getting serious. Very serious.
"We're giving people a mature game, we've got the gore and the violence but we're not mature just because of that. We want to give grown-ups something they want", says Producer Hugh Grimley. Kane & Lynch: Dead Men is an impressively violent third-person action game with squad elements, but it's driven less by a desire to shock than their commitment to deliver that holy grail of gaming: believable characters in a jaw-dropping plot, one that avoids cliché and destroys everything you once thought you knew about game stories. Although its squad control system firmly echoes Freedom Fighters, and its emphasis on crowd scenes to bring environments to life are an obvious evolution from Hitman, its true inspiration, according to IO, are the finest action dramas, principally Heat and Man On Fire (tag line: 'He'll deliver more justice in a weekend than ten years of your courts and tribunals' ie - lots of Blammo).
IO are keen to stress the background of these anti-heroes, revealing the sort of fully fleshed-out detail and back-stories that are more typical to the characterisation in a novel or screenplay, where character credibility is the key-stone. Enter Kane and Lynch, the leading men who are rarely apart in this narrative. Both were once regular Joes, whose tragedies are made manifest and metaphorical in their physical appearance. Kane is a broken man, whose eyes are swollen and bloodshot, with suspiciously nonexistent pupils and a scar running the length of his cracked, leathery skin. Meanwhile, Lynch takes on the look of a warped pervert, his face ravaged as much by the pills he pops as the schizophrenia they're supposed to control, and he's pregnant with a twisted menace that makes Steve Buscemi's darkest roles look about as creepy as Terry Wogan.
"Most action games give their hero a movie star look. Here we made them rough, a little more gritty," Hugh grossly understates. Game Director Jens Peter Kurip emphasises "We're trying to stay away from the ex-SAS guy who has a problem with his country. It's been done. Even if you were really good at writing a story, you'd be f**ked. Where do you go? We try to keep them as unique as possible." These 'unique' characters shunt you in turn between repulsion and intrigue.
You'll assume the role of Kane in this modern-day, anti-buddy game. After his family life falls apart, Kane uses his everyday job as an overseas consultant to become a member of a crime-gang called Seven. When a job in Venezuela goes wrong, he is the sole escapee, managing to make off with the loot. After doing one to America he's arrested, tried and sentenced to death for the crimes perpetrated that day. The game opens with you, as Kane, sat in the same prison transport as Lynch. Lynch's ordinary life working at a Freezer factory to put bread on the table for the wife was slowly eroded over the years by schizophrenia, random black-outs, and mood swings invoked by the pills supposed to regulate his illness. One day he comes home to find his wife brutally murdered. He's sure he can't remember doing anything. But the law sends him down for it, and so he's sat next to Kane, on a bus, somewhere in LA, trundling towards their execution...