Thanks to Electronic Arts and Klei Entertainment, three of our favourite digital download channels are now covered in blood and entrails. It’s all thanks to Shank 2, which has just sliced its way onto our high-definition screens, via the PlayStation Network, Xbox LIVE Arcade and PC. Infusing stylish colours with vicious attacks and insane amounts of gore, it makes us love being the powerful badass once again. While this one isn’t for the squeamish amongst us, those who don’t mind seeing crimson have a high quality experience awaiting them.
Anyone who played through the first game in this series will know what they’re getting into with this sequel. For a second time we’re given a game that plays like a mixture of a two-dimensional, side-scrolling beat ’em up, and a grindhouse movie. Thankfully both elements combine well to create an experience that has both style and substance.
After leaving his hometown for greener pastures, our titular hero finds himself making a return thanks to an unpleasant encounter with some guards who happened to stop his mode of transportation. At the hands of us players, their armed boarding procedure comes to a rather gruesome end. Once the carnage has started, it doesn’t end for a good two and a half hours or so, as Shank finds out that his Mexican village is being tormented by its evil ruler. The President’s heart happens to be about to give up, so he’s enlisted his grunts to capture the owner of the local orphanage. If you’re not aware, she happens to be the good guy’s adopted parent figure, and someone he feels was wronged due to previous actions. Not surprisingly, that event happens to act as the starting point for a revenge-filled quest.
Over the course of Shank 2 and its eight mission long campaign, gamers will discover some of the worst ways to die, as they battle for a family member’s life. Progression unlocks some pretty powerful weaponry, allowing the option to mix and match death dealers for each stage’s requirements. The list includes the familiar machete, chainsaw and throwing knife trio, alongside grenades, land mines, firearms and a sledgehammer. Combine those tools of the trade with some rather unpleasant themed traps and you’ve got mayhem waiting to happen. Those bad guys will never know what hit them. That is, unless you play on hard, where it takes quite a few hits to take out a basic grunt. Challenge driven masochists will need to use their thumb-driven reflexes and some slick counters attacks if they hope to survive.
Like its predecessor, Shank 2 utilizes an accessible and well-designed three weapon system, with a stage score/leaderboard system that awards high point amounts for creativity. One is used for quick and light attacks, while the others fall into the heavy and ranged categories. Your chosen equipment is complemented by explosives, which are limited use items (unlike the others.) Throughout the experience, different times will call for different measures, so it’s nice to have a good assortment at hand. Considering the game’s penchant for challenge, ranged weapons come in very handy, although close combat counter finishers are the highlight. Quickly pressing a button as an enemy prepares his attack, will have Shank grab and use the foe’s weapon against him in spectacular fashion.
Although it started a bit slow, the aforementioned campaign was quite a bit of fun to play through. It almost never lacked intensity and put up a good challenge, even on normal. The series’ fast, fluid and action-packed mechanics work quite well here, other than its evading roll. Tutorials kept popping up, in order to let me know that it could be used to get away from bad guys. However, I never found it to be very helpful, due to its short-distance nature and rather slow effect. That is the only real complaint I have, other than the fact that the fact that the experience is a bit too similar from start to finish. Its development team did add in some nice turret sections, as well as a couple of other creative elements (like decent boss fights,) but it would have been nice to have had a bit more variety.
While the single player adventure is the main draw here, it’s not the only gameplay option to be found. Once the final chapter has been written and the solo book has closed, gamers will find replay value in what is referred to as Survival Mode. It takes us online, by offering two player co-op and a bevy of unlockable characters. The goal is to survive wave upon wave of increasingly difficult foes, including bosses. Though, there’s a catch. You’re also required to protect three different caches from bombers. As a result, things become hectic quickly. Though, despite the fact that it can become easy to lose sight of your character in all of the visible mayhem, Survival is a good time. Fans of Call of Duty‘s Zombies mode will enjoy it a lot, especially since a very similar weapon shopping system is employed within.
Shank 2 continues the series’ love affair with hand drawn visuals. It resembles an artistically designed mature cartoon, which is not a bad thing at all. In fact, it looks great, with a lot of detail employed. Despite that comment, a couple of its shown cutscenes looked less polished than others, employing close-up shots of characters’ faces which lacked detail that was there at other times. Other than that, it’s hard to really find any faults here. Sure, a hint of framerate slowdown and a couple of visual glitches were noticed, but nothing major. Overlooking small things like that is easy when each single player and survival stage is unique, creative and stylishly crafted. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a couple of sections where shadows and an almost grayscale palette combined to showcase darkened combat sections, as they looked spectacular.
Grindhouse cinema is known for being over-the-top and cheesy, with dialogue that reflects those goals. That is certainly the case here. Laughable one-liners are joined by some rather macho dialogue. There’s no way that this game will win an award for scriptwriting, but what’s there works. Its necessary voice acting does the job as well, with some hits and misses to be found. The point is to just sit back and enjoy the experience as a violent spectacle as opposed to an Oscar worthy film. I must say that I had fun in this world and its routine damsel in distress storyline. Of course, the heart harvesting factor makes it different from the others (in a good way.)
What it all comes down to is how much you enjoy the old-school beat ’em up design. There are some differences to be found, but that formula is borrowed from heavily with Shank 2. This is a very solid and affordable game, which is worth your hard earned money and free time. The addition of a solid two-player co-op mode makes makes it a better deal, although its included campaign is an accessible, fun and easily replayable experience. This is an easy recommendation, provided that you’re not squeamish.
This review is based on the PSN version of the game, which we received for review purposes.
Shank 2 is a bloody good time, delivering a modern take on the side-scrolling beat 'em up formula which became incredibly popular during the 1990s.