If you’re in the dark about what sort of game Shank 2 is, know this: in a cut-scene following the third level, the game’s protagonist (the titular Shank) finds himself being chased through the water by a shark. Shank’s solution to this dilemma is, naturally, to jam his hands into the shark’s mouth and tear out its jaws. That’s just the kind of guy Shank is – the kind of guy who solves his problems by tearing anything that gets in his way asunder.
For those who didn’t play the first Shank, pick up your nearest illustrated dictionary and turn to the word ‘brutal’ for a screenshot. It was a Final Fight-esque beat-em-up with cartoony superviolence and crazy difficulty spikes. Shank 2 keeps the former, mostly ditches the latter, and makes various tweaks to the Shank formula of guns, blades and chainsaw attacks. The controls have been improved greatly: you can now change directions mid-attack, which is a godsend, and dodge moves are assigned to the right stick (if you’re playing on PC, make sure you have a controller plugged in). It all flows a bit better than before.
The combat, which makes up about 95% of the gameplay, is theoretically combo-based, but there isn’t really much incentive for stringing together chains of attacks other than the inherent awesomeness of being a badass. One loading scene encourages you to hurl an enemy into the air and then use the pounce attack, not because it’s an overly effective strategy in many situations, but because it “looks cool”. Which, to be fair, it does.
One feature we miss from the original Shank is the ability to switch weapons on the fly. You can only do so when you die now, and dying significantly lowers your score (or sends you back to the start of the level in Hard mode). This takes some of the strategy out of the game, and thus makes you less inclined to pay attention to the results screen at the end of the level. More incentive to replay would have been great, since the game can be wrapped up in about three hours.
Still, get into a groove with Shank 2 and you’ll experience moments of straight gaming bliss. My run through level 6 stands out as utter magic, full of 20+ hit combos, stylish takedowns and generally beautiful fights. It’s a little too easy to lean on your ranged weapons at times, but getting in the thick of the action can be extremely satisfying, especially when the game throws multiple different enemies at you and you find yourself dodging grenades, bullets, charge attacks and knife-wielding soldiers all at once. You can pick up discarded weapons from dead enemies too, giving combat a bit more variety.
Best of all are the boss fights. They’re more fun if you go in with a weapons loadout not suited to the enemy, because otherwise they can be a bit too easy, but figuring out the timing necessary to avoid each attack barrage, and the best way to get up close and personal to do some serious damage, is a blast.
The game’s art style is mostly pretty wonderful, although some of the first game’s artistic flourishes are missing. It’s all a little less zany, and Shank doesn’t twirl around comically while firing off his pistols anymore. The art in the cut-scenes feels a little off too, as though the team settled on second drafts of very good art when a further revision would have been worthwhile.
A two-player survival mode has been thrown in as well, in lieu of the first game’s problematic co-op mode. This is an improvement, tasking you and another player with protecting supply points from bomb-planting enemies. It’s good fun, although I didn’t feel compelled to play it more than a few times.
Shank 2 is an enjoyable little slice of action. There’s certainly room for improvement, and a Hard mode that doesn’t remove all the checkpoints would have been appreciated for those who mastered the harder original and will breeze through this one, but it provides enough moments of pure fun to warrant a look.