Game publisher Eidos seems determined to make games that recreate the pivotal gunfight from Michael Mann's Heat. Prior failed efforts include 25 To Life and Reservoir Dogs. Both cast players as gunslingers trading lead in tactical urban shootouts—cops and robbers with automatic weapons. And both attempts stunk like tear gas. Kane & Lynch: Dead Men, crafted in the same house that made the Hitman games, is better than Eidos' other odious offerings, but not by much.
The titular mobsters are consummate bad guys. They kill for money, and wear their karmic debt on their faces. Kane is scarred and graying. Lynch is craggy and damn near bald. These guys are ugly villains doing ugly things, and climbing into their shoes would be fun if so many parts of the game didn't feel so broken. Those Heat-style gunfights require smart use of duck-and-cover tactics, but the game's system for hiding behind blockades is glitchy and undependable. Infrequent checkpoints aggravate this problem, forcing players to replay deadly missions over and over.
To make matters worse, players are frequently responsible for babysitting their lame-brained compatriots. Escort missions generally stink: Kane frequently has to keep tabs on a handful of allies. In the co-op version, a second player can call the shots for Lynch, but there's no option to play this two-player mode online.
Kane & Lynch: Dead Men makes an admirable attempt at telling a violent story about paid killers and the lengths they'll go to for revenge. But the edges are frayed by comparison with movies and TV shows that do the same thing. The duo looks tough, but they behave like a bickering couple on a honeymoon cruise. It's hard to care for these thugs, and the game's makers know this, so they drag Kane's innocent family into the sordid affair. Just another cheap shot.
Beyond the game: Last year, rumors flew that Gamespot writer Jeff Gerstmann was canned for panning Kane & Lynch: Dead Men after Eidos spent a fortune in advertising on the site. Eidos and Gamespot denied the charges, but the gaming community remains suspicious of the circumstances of Gerstmann's firing.
Worth playing for: Fragile Alliance is an imaginative take on multiplayer. At first, everyone cooperates for a robbery. Then, just before the getaway, players backstab each other, trying to make off with the most loot.
Frustration sets in when: The game is merely frustrating until you get to Havana, when it becomes a nightmare of trial-and-error repetition.
Final judgment: A hell of a game to lose your job over.