DO: Enjoy Jeff Agala’s art style, take the time to learn the moves/combos, buy this game!
DO NOT: Let the occasional frame rate chug, weak story, or short campaign get in the way of you enjoying this game.
TRY: Don’t just try it; buy it! It’s full of action, and easy to pick up and play. If you’re a fan of side-scrolling games like Contra or Castlevania and lots of blood, this game shouldn’t be missed.
Shank 2 is Klei Entertainment and Electronic Arts’ response to 2010’s action hit, Shank. If you aren’t familiar with the Shank series let me catch you up: You’re an angry guy who wants revenge. You’re armed with an array of weapons to hack your opponents up and the occasional gun to blow them apart, or in the case of the shotgun, transform their body into a pool of blood. Great, now you’re caught up.
What makes Shank 2 shine are the simple refinements made to the game based on feedback received from the first one. Honestly the only thing I still remembered about the first one was the annoyingly difficult final boss battle with Cesar so I had to go back and remind myself of the differences and I’m glad I did because it only made me enjoy the new game even more.
The combat system has been completely overhauled and it feels more natural and intuitive. The addition of the roll to evade enemies is great because it keeps the action moving at all times. Also, I’m a big fan of choosing weapon load out before entering the stage. In the first Shank you were able to switch weapons on the fly but I felt that I spent more time trying to find the right weapons and less time on fighting the swarm of enemies around me.
Another new addition to combat is the counter system. It’s a great feeling to halt an enemy’s attack and use their own weapon against them. There are different animations/kills for each weapon that an enemy carries and I highly encourage you to try out all of the counters.
Combos return to the game and feel more natural to string together. If you’re a button masher and don’t “do” combos that’s not a problem. You’ll probably die a little more often than the person who takes the time to perfect the combo system but it won’t mean the game is impossible to complete. If you decide to take the time to learn to string together combos you’ll be rewarded with less deaths and more destruction.
Not only was the combat system overhauled but the enemy AI seemed to be as well. The enemies are noticeably smarter than in the previous game and the boss battles are varied and force players to devise strategies on the fly. Though the bosses are definitely tough, they aren’t impossible. If you find yourself dying a lot don’t fret, just read the loading screens because Klei did a fantastic job of providing relevant strategy tips during the load screens. This was very helpful for me, especially for the last boss.
Shank 2’s story is simple: your friend has been kidnapped, your village destroyed, and you’re looking for revenge. Everything beyond that doesn’t matter, which is good because the story is very loose and doesn’t really explain anything, which is a shame.
Assuming that this game is the success for Klei that I believe it will be, they have a huge challenge for them next time—make us care about Shank. Right now the action is what’s driving the train on this franchise and assuming Klei doesn’t change too much of the combat system next time (and they really shouldn’t) it’s going to be a hard sell to get gamers to play the same type of game again.
We need a reason to care about Shank or a reason to seek revenge. In its current state Shank 2 provides neither. The transition from level to level feels like different departments at Klei did the cut scenes for each level and they forgot to make sure the final product made sense. It doesn’t.
A good example of this is the level where players take control of Corina. One of the later cut scenes show Shank and Corina in a boat heading to their destination but when the level actually starts you’re playing as Corina and Shank’s nowhere to be found.
This level was obviously meant to be the “carrot” that encourages players to try out the multiplayer portion where they can play as several different characters but it was done in a way that felt very detached. Thankfully every other part of the game makes up for this huge oversight.
Story aside, Shank 2 is wonderful 2-D, side-scrolling action title that is a perfect fit for the PSN or XBLA. The action is fast and challenging while not being too difficult. Jeff Agala’s art direction is a great fit for this title and each enemy and character looks more detailed than the previous game. With no level taking longer than 30 minutes to complete (except for the final one), the levels are aptly sized for the person who, like myself, has a two year old and can only dedicate small windows of time to a game.
Besides the occasional frame rate chug that would slow my game down I felt that the game play was solid and fast and everything I wanted it to be. Attention to small details like the load-screen strategy tips, button-masher friendly combo system, and cartoon-styled over the top violence are what make this title a must buy.