If you’re not familiar with the original, Shank 2 is a 2-D character action game that relies on guns, blood, and revenge to get the message across. It comes out at a time where there is a lack of stylistic action games, but is both a blessing and a curse, as it suffers from going too heavy on the style and not providing you with enough of a game. The game comes down to murdering your way through nameless thugs, some light platforming, and tossing in a cavalcade of infuriating boss fights. Rinse and repeat for a couple hours and you have Shank 2.
You play as Shank, a testosterone-filled anti-hero who is in search of his love from the first game. You find yourself brawling through eight stages in the campaign. Each level has its own unique environment, like a city, small town, or jungle, and features enemies specific to that location. Most of the time the enemies are nothing more than palette swaps, and you quickly figure out how to take each of them down with ease, making Shank feel like an agile tank. Of course, each stage ends with a frustrating fight. Similar to the first Shank, Klei found it necessary for these to act as a brick wall and put a dead stop to the flow of the game. I understand the need for boss fights and the patterns and mechanics that come along with it, but changing the feel from stylistic flow to “how can I kill this guy without dying?” is too jarring. Once you have killed the boss in the cheapest, most frantic way possible, you are rewarded with a cutscene that would even make Machete shake his head.
The animation is stunning, but the story is laughable
The variety of weapons throughout Shank 2 adds another element to the combat. At the beginning of each level, you can select your melee, ranged, and explosive weapon of choice and each come with different stats and bonuses. While you always have your standard loadout equipped, you are welcome to pick up anything dropped by enemies from torches to shovels, and even a giant fish. I’m not certain if the damage is different for each weapon, but the animations and effects (like popping enemies up or driving them to the ground) change with every pickup. There are more than enough weapons to use throughout the game and each comes with their very own killing animation, which is more than enough motivation to get you to try each at least once.
To compliment the array of weapons, the controls of the game have been vastly improved. Not only have the buttons been mapped properly (pickup weapon and melee are no longer the same button) but Shank is now equipped with a dodge roll. This changes everything. No longer do you have to block punches and bullets with your face, and it makes moving Shank around the screen feel incredibly fluid and aggressive. You also have been blessed with the ability to counter, which adds another useful trick to your arsenal. At first the game feels frantic, and you will mash the controls to clear every screen. While this works for the first level, you will soon find that you need to step back and actually learn the finer elements of combat. It took me about an hour to get used to everything, and by then I was killing in style like a well-oiled machine.
You get to murder a lot of dudes, in many different ways.
I spent most of my time playing Shank 2’s cooperative survival mode. It plays like your typical survival mode as you have to slice, pummel, and shank (sorry) your way through waves of increasingly difficult enemies with a friend either on a couch or online. There are natural break points and boss fights, and there’s also a clever gimmick that requires more strategy than simply killing up all the bad dudes. On each of the three maps you have a cache that you have to protect from bomb-wielding enemies. This definitely throws a challenge into the mix as you must carefully disarm any bombs that are planted, all while continuing to murder everyone on screen. Gold dropped from enemies becomes cash that you can use to purchase various items that will aid your survival. Health-restoring booze, decoy allies, and my personal favorite - the pet boar that will punt away enemies close to your cache.
As you complete in-game challenges, such as countering 50 enemies, you unlock characters to use in survival mode. Keep in mind that both unlockables and achievements are earned separately. These unlocked characters amount to little more than new multiplayer skins, but it is nice to see Klei paying homage to various action characters such as Deathspank, Shaft, or the Bride from Kill Bill, as well as familiar faces from the first game. Like the campaign, you can make more than a superficial change in the weapon loadouts. Male and female characters each have their own variety of weapons and I really appreciated that I could equip myself with items that complimented my play style. Personally I went with chainsaw/pistols/proxy mines during my time with survival mode trying to emulate a Devil May Cry style. The survival mode definitely contains more of a game than the single player campaign, but I only ask why no co-op campaign this time around?
The game lacks a co-op campaign, but contains an addictive survival mode.
Shank 2 delivers a beautifully violent experience that relies on style to carry the game. It is a well-tuned, bloody spectacle that comes off as an old revenge flick with little to no payoff. It can be stunning at times, but halted by parts that are just downright frustrating. The campaign is short and uninspiring, and players will turn to the survival mode to get the most out of Shank 2. The game is well worth your ten dollars, but after my time with Shank 2 I wish Klei could have provided a little more substance to go along with their overwhelming amount of style.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game, provided by publisher Electronic Arts.