Generally there are two kinds of sequels these days: huge, game-changing, next-gen leaps forward; or mild improvements to the original formula. Shank 2, a new release developed by Klei Entertainment and published by EA, definitely skews towards the latter. It’s not wildly different from the original, but if you found yourself a fan of Shank‘s first bloody outing, you’ll find this is a must-play and a comfortable and fun follow-up.
Shank 2 is a grindhouse-style beat-em-up that looks and plays like a 70s drive-in exploitation movie. You play as Shank, a man who’s really freaking mad at the world. You kill everyone who crosses you with a myriad of bloody and entertaining moves on your way to, uh, stop an evil dictator selling black market kidneys or something? The story is not the strongest element here. It just serves as a fun and hilarious string to follow into more carnage. You have three main weapon slots devoted to a heavy weapon, a gun of some kind, and the titular shanks. Each weapon can be chained together to create lengthy combos through the clever shanking of bad guys. You’re also incredibly agile, able to pounce on enemies, counter heavy blows, and dodge nearly any attack with a flick of the right stick. The combat is amazingly fun, fluid, and full of bloody fluids. The first Shank had its gory moments, but Shank 2 definitely cranks up the blood and gore to earn that well-deserved M rating. This is not one to let the kids join in on.
Despite the added violence, the game is drawn in a clear and crisp 2D cartoon style, with sharp animation. The style is very distinct and cohesive. This is an impressive feat since Shank 2 boasts far more unique settings and enemy designs. The first Shank contained many distinct levels yet each one seemed to have a very similar art style, but this has thankfully been corrected in Shank 2. You’ll travel to deep jungles, dark caves, luxury resorts, enemy-filled construction sites and more. The level design is far more varied too, with many unique twists and platforming challenges to break up the fighting. Also, far more prominent are traps, which are activated with the flip of a switch and can help take out particularly stubborn enemies. Aside from the new locales, there are some new gameplay elements too. There are more enemies in this game, and while there are still plenty of re-skinned baddies that share patterns, the pool is much wider, with over a dozen enemy styles. You have acrobatic ninja women, tiny bomb-throwing fellows, a new fat enemy who belly-flops everywhere, and quite a few more.
The other new main feature is Shank’s new co-op partner, Corina. Unlike the poor sap holding controller 2 in the first Shank, Corina has an entirely unique move-set and string of animations. She also comes sporting her own unique pool of weapons, although most are swiped from the stash toted by Shank in the first game. However, she’s a pretty unique character to play as, being better for aerial combos and juggling but lacking in brute force. She makes appearances throughout the campaign, including an entire level on a ship where your perspective swaps to her. It’s a great addition unfortunately tempered by the disappointing co-op. The separate co-op campaign in the first title does not make an appearance here, instead being replaced by a co-op survival mode. It’s a shame, really, because Corina is a great character who is virtually unused. The survival game is your standard survival mode with a few tweaks, requiring two players to protect three stashes of weapons targeted by engineers armed with pipe bombs. Kill the baddies, protect the stashes, target the engineers and disarm any successful attempts, and there you have it. Fortunately, it’s fun and full of unique game elements, like different enemies from the campaign, the ability to purchase power-ups and defences, and 16 unlockable skins between both characters, each with unique stats. It’s very cool, but a full-featured co-op campaign or even a mini-campaign with the new character would have been much appreciated.
There are a few other things that make Shank 2 slightly lighter in content than its predecessor. There are far fewer levels, with only eight unique chapters compared to the twenty in Shank. Fortunately, the levels are much longer, and the boss fights are wrapped into the levels rather than being unique chapters themselves. In the end, it balances out to around a three-hour campaign, just like the first game. It’s short, but there’s an additional difficulty setting and the survival mode to work through. Another slight annoyance is the decrease in general cut scene quality. Due to the choppy look of some of the cut scenes, it looks as if the developer used a slightly higher compression rate. Klei also removed the picture-in-picture mid-level cut scenes (with one exception) and shuffled out the quick-time events used during the boss fights. It’s not a huge loss at all, but it seems odd that the bosses now just jump to a cut-scene when you cut down half of their health bar.
Minor quibbles, yes, but there’s one more minor point about the PC version. The game is adequate with a keyboard and mouse set-up, but if you want to enjoy the game with minimal control frustrations you’ll want to plug in a 360 controller or the next best thing you own. The console controls are near perfect, optimized for intuitive combos and rampant slicing.
Final Verdict: If you loved the first Shank, this one is a great by-the-numbers follow-up. There are a few annoying steps backwards in terms of content, but the campaign is even better, with a greater variation of enemies and fun boss battles. Essentially, the single-player is improved enough to make up for the slight dip in quality in other elements. But in the end, it’s a worthy follow-up if you just need more shanking of baddies.
[xrr rating=8/10, max_stars=10]
This review is based on a review copy of the Steam version of Shank 2 provided by Klei Entertainment.