What is the concept? 2010’s Shank injected the fusty 2D brawler with much-needed dose of adrenaline, resulting in a wonderfully hyperkinetic and impishly violent game. For the sequel, the developers at Klei Entertainment knew not to tamper with their competent template, instead using the opportunity to refine their core mechanics. As such, the recent release of Shank 2 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 feels evolutionary rather the revolutionary. Yet, when a title allows you to strip a gun from an enemy and then use the firearm to discharge a few point-blank rounds into the foe’s stomach, innovation might just be superfluous.
Whereas evading enemies with a trigger pull could be a bit unwieldy in the first game, here a tap of the right stick initiates an impenetrable tuck and roll. Considering that games as diverse as God of War 3 to the Ninja Gaiden series use a similar technique, it’s pleasing to see the studio adopt this increasingly prevalent mechanic, as it allows Shank’s eponymous hero to dodge intuitively. Similarly, Klei also ditched the clumsy design decision which mapped the melee command to the same button used to snatch items. To help offset the frustrations associated with restrained ballistic targeting, Shank 2 allows firing in all directions. Periodically an exclamation point appears over a foe’s head, permitting nimble fingered gamers to execute an instant finisher. Collectively, these elements help cultivate a natural rhythm, encouraging players to shirk and slice at a palpable pace.
What are the game’s strengths? With so many methods of mayhem in Shank’s arsenal, the title avoids some of the reductive “only weapon X can defeat enemy Y” tropes that are dominant in the action genre. Pleasingly, almost any armament will whittle away an opponent’s health, allowing stubborn players to eventually persevere. That’s not to say certain weapons aren’t more useful against particular opponents; progress unlocks additional devices which may have a conspicuous advantage against a certain type of attacker. Largely, Shark 2 allows players to determine how they will butcher the game’s bevy of baddies.
Much of the charm of the original Shank stemmed from the game’s source material- Klei was unquestionably inspired by Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado and Machete. While there are still traces of the dusty tequila-drenched towns and Santana-inspired guitar wails, the sequel was crafted from a broader, richer palette. With locations ranging from jungles, docks, and an ancient temple, Shank 2 offers a greater amount of visual diversity. Likewise, the game’s selection of music is much wider, with songs recalling everything from Requiem for a Dream’s Lux Aeterna to the taut orchestral fanfares which have propelled the majority of action films for the last quarter century. While Shank can still move a bit mechanically at times, most of the animations which made larger enemies look like marionettes have been revamped to look more lifelike.
Although co-op play through the game’s campaign was been confiscated, it’s been replaced by an online Survival Mode. Accommodating up to two online participants, three different maps require players to suppress waves of enemies. While some foes are content on hurting heroes, others are tasked with attached timed explosives to piles of resources. While Survival Mode probably won’t hold most gamers attention for too long, the side-game is strengthened by characters with differing stat bonus, loadouts, and item discounts, allowing for some interesting strategic choices.
What are the game’s weaknesses? Shank communicated a portion of its plotline through unobtrusive picture-in-picture cinematics which played as gamers sliced through swaths of foes. For the sequel, supplemental story elements have been relegated to text-based collectable items scattered throughout the game’s stages, which seems like a step backwards.
Shank 2’s other narrative shortcoming emanates its skeletal story. Although the first game offered a straightforward revenge impetus, the motivation which drives players through each stage of the sequel isn’t as clear or compelling. To compensate for this deficiency, the developers have given Shank more instruments of destruction. From handheld weapons like shovels and cleavers (as well as boat engines, kitchen sinks, and fish) to environmental switches which can trigger a grisly calamity, the game’s delivers a bigger toolset for its bloodbath. Yet, as gratifying as tossing attackers into giant meat grinders is, it doesn’t feel as rewarding without a rousing premise.
Would I enjoy this game? Despite the feverish on-screen action, Shank 2’s journey demands a mastery of each control element. As such, enjoyment and completion of the game requires a bit of diligence, as players glean the methods of subduing each foe. So while button mashers are likely to encounter aggravation, those with determination to conquer the title’s challenges will be rewarded. Considering that Shank 2 is launching at a price that’s $5 cheaper that its ancestor, fans of blood-drenched brawlers won’t want to miss this satisfying and sinewy sequel.