I had a love/hate relationship with the original Shank. I adored the slick visuals and visceral combat, but the difficulty really tested my old man gaming skills. Sure, it was entirely plausible to beat the game with some patience. For some, though, the excessive challenge was a major turn off in an otherwise enchanting experience. With Shank 2, the team at Klei Entertainment was wise to not stray too far from what made the original so appealing, while at the same time making some subtle, but much needed, improvements. What we end up with is a solid sequel that fans of the original should definitely not hesitate picking up.
I am not going to lie; Shank 2 really feels like a refined version of the original more than an outright sequel. Everything here is familiar, but with more finesse. Attacks are executed much more quickly, the roll feature keeps you constantly moving and the addition of Survival mode replaces the traditional co-op. Going back to the first game after taking this one for a spin is like playing a beta version of the second. Nothing here feels revolutionary, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
If you never played the original, let me give you a quick rundown. You play as Shank, an ex-mob hitman with an attitude and a penchant for killing. It is a 2D side-scrolling action game that focuses on melee combat with a variety of weapons including chainsaws, meat cleavers and, of course, shanks. The combat is fast, challenging and full of violence, but that doesn’t mean it is shallow. Shank harkens back to the glory days of gaming, when sections of a level could wipe you out in the blink of an eye, and even regular enemies could easily drain your health without warning.
If you are new to the series, I cannot suggest enough to simply jump straight to the second game. It really is the definitive Shank experience. One of the things I really like about this sequel is a checkpoint system that keeps the frustration of dying minimal. Whenever you perish, you know it was your fault, but the game usually only drops you back a few minutes, and you get right back in the action. You can also switch weapons on death, properly gearing up for the situation. Mashing buttons won’t work this time around; you have to be more strategic in your approach. This carries over into boss battles that now work more like classic side-scrollers, forcing you to memorize patterns and strike when you can.
Speaking of the combat, the controls are now super responsive, making things much more fluid this time around. When surrounded by enemies, it is much more intuitive to perform counters or simply roll out of the chaos. The pounce move makes a return and really still is a godsend for getting out of a jam. Everything about Shank 2 feels so smooth, including its trademarked visual style.
This is one sexy game for 2D aficionados. The comic-book style gore and animations really lend themselves well to the feel of the game. The character designs are exaggerated and fun, while levels are chock full of devilish ways to dispose of your enemies and plenty of explosive opportunities. If there is one thing Shank excels at, it is visual fidelity.
Continuing the current trend, Shank 2 now includes a Horde-style mode as opposed to the traditional co-op of the first game. Survival mode drops you and a friend into levels with 30 waves of enemies that require teamwork to survive, hence the name. Much like the new Gears of War, you can earn money each round to purchase turrets and even wild boars to attack enemies. This mode also allows you to choose various characters instead of just Shank, each with their own abilities. While fun, this mode is either going to enthrall or bore you, and with a campaign that only lasts a couple hours, that might be the difference maker for your purchase decision. Personally, I loved the Survival mode, but note, you definitely need competent partners in order for it to work.
Shank 2, as I have stated, over and over again, is about refinement. The original game’s idea was fantastic, and the sequel simply manifests its promise. If you loved the original, it’s a safe bet you will enjoy this one. If you have never played the series, Shank 2 is the perfect jumping off point. For the price, the content is more than worth it, and you will be hard-pressed to find a more gorgeous 2D game on the service. Shank 2 is a great game that fans of classic side-scrolling action titles will not want to miss.
Review copy of the game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.