The folks over at Klei Entertainment had a great idea with the original Shank, a visually impressive 2D sidescrolling, beat-em-up with a huge helping of blood and violence. So it’s not surprising that they decided to make a sequel whilst addressing several of the salient criticisms that were levied against the first game. Many of the issues that have been addressed in Shank 2 were small hold overs from the original, but the sum total of these changes has an enormous impact on the gameplay. The result is a title more varied and streamlined than the last, but also more challenging and difficult to master. Fortunately, the fun of playing another Shank game remains the same, and the improvements made to an already well made system work to make Shank 2 better than its predecessor in every way.
Shank 2 picks up immediately after the end of Shank, with the titular ex-hitman turned hero Robert ‘Shank’ Torres (yes, that is his full name) in an unnamed South American country. The game starts with Shank on a bus full of passengers which gets stopped at a military checkpoint. Unfortunately, his face is known to the local authorities who attempt to arrest him, and what happens next is pretty obvious. From there, Shank carves a path of death and destruction through the game’s 8 levels in an attempt to bring down a corrupt military dictator, General Magnus. The story wears its influences on its sleeves and, while at times steeped in clichés, is action packed and entertaining enough to keep players focused on the real viscera of the Shank experience: the gameplay.
This time around enemies drop the weapons they have after you kill them so some additional heavy weapons make into the mix including baseball bats, sais, and shovels to name a few. Also new to Shank 2 is the counter-kill system where a red exclamation point will appear over an enemy’s head. If the enemy is grabbed during this time, Shank will kill the enemy with his own weapon. As an example, countering baseball bat wielding enemies causes Shank to kick the bat down their throat as an instant kill. Indeed, the counter-kills add a surprising layer of depth and brutality to the experience, while also allowing the developers to put more enemies on-screen at once to really push players to the limit.
Additionally, the dodge dash from the first game has been replaced with a dodge roll that at first is tough to master as the range of the roll and the timing for some enemies take some practice to learn. The dodge can also be performed in the air to evade incoming attacks. Moreover, this time around Shank’s pounce attack can be performed on any enemy in the game which provides for further combat strategies to be employed to keep a combo string going while mixing up the action. In fact, mixing things up will be a key to success as the later levels throw varied groups at the player to keep things engaging. Mixing up combos is also made easier this time around as the player chooses their loadout before each level. The loadout can be changed at any time via the pause menu, which will give players something to experiment with in each level. As a result, changing weapons on the fly is as simple as changing the button that’s being pressed and traversal within the environments is as fluid as the animation thanks to the crisp refinements made to the controls.
All of these gameplay changes are also linked to the new scoring system that features leaderboard support. Of course, these enhancements don’t make the game a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, Shank 2 is much more difficult than its predecessor even on the normal setting, and dying causes the accumulated score to reset to zero. Additionally, there’s also a scoring penalty for each death incurred, which can make climbing the leaderboards a true test of skill.
Finally, Shank 2 also introduces Survival Mode, a wave-based mode very similar to Horde Mode in Gears of War 3 that can be played locally and online. Each survival mode game consists of 30 waves of enemies that also feature some boss enemies thrown periodically into the mix. After each wave there is a small lull, during which players can use money accrued to purchase turrets, health items, or weapon drops in preparation for the next wave. There are three different maps to play, each with their own unique traps and strategies for survival, and skins that are unlocked can also be used in survival mode each with unique attributes. For example, the Defender skin gains a discount on all things purchased in the shop in survival mode and also has damage bonuses for turrets.
Overall, Shank 2 is an impressive package, but there are two complaints which players could levy against the game. First, the campaign is very short with each level taking around 20-30 minutes to complete, and even that timing is perhaps generous for some of the earlier levels. Second, the lack of any co-op campaign element is a bit of a letdown, especially considering that it has been replaced with what would appear to be a limited Survival Mode. Luckily, this problem is mitigated by the simple fact that Survival Mode is actually a blast to play, and the only real complaint I can level against it is that having only three maps to play on gets repetitive fast.
However, these complaints aren’t game-breaking in the slightest, and Shank 2 is worth a purchase for fans invested in the further adventures of Shank, and even first timers looking for a challenging beat-em-up with nice visuals and a decent story. Granted, its more iterative than innovative, but Shank 2 is a reasonably priced game with several fun elements that improve upon the original’s formula while also scaling the game back in other areas.
PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score
+Variance in the enemy types keeps game challenging without feeling repetitive.
-Survival Mode is fun at first, but with only three maps present in the game it can get old fast.