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.