So starting off this week we have Shank 2, the sequel to the 2010 mexicana murder-fest Shank. Still made by Klei Entertainment and still featuring lots of good stylized ultra-violence, Shank 2 looks improve looks to upon on its predecessor in every way. Honestly there isn’t really much of hook to be questioned here. This is a sequel to a fairly well received game that simply looks to be a better version of the first one. The only real issue to discuss here is does the Shank formula still hold water and is there enough new content here to make it worth the consumer’s while.
There a lot of high points to this game and we’re going to start off with my favorite one which is the very impressive animation. There are of course the high quality cutscenes which feature a distinctive bold lined style that I really enjoy. These cutscenes also feature most of the game’s more violent moments which are all pretty sweet. The real highlight though is the fluidity of the in-game animation. Shank moves between attack animations incredibly smoothly and things rarely-if ever-feel stitched together in the way other similar games do. It’s almost as if the game can read your mind and puts together your combo animations before you can ask for them; it’s really good is what I’m trying to say. This kind of silky smooth beauty serves a function to go with its form though as it helps the much improved combat feel as satisfying as it does.
Onto the topic of gameplay, things are ostensibly the same as the first game but far more refined. A lot of effort is made to reduce the first game’s clunkier elements and streamline them, as a result things feel far faster yet you end up with more control. It’s a lot easier to keep a consistent flow in combat and more importantly to direct that flow towards new enemies. Oddly enough this is achieved by getting to bring fewer options into the battle with you; in the first game-if I remember correctly-you could change your heavy and ranged weapon at any time whereas in this game you pick your weapons before the level starts and that’s what you’re stuck with. This actually ends up working out better as it gives you less to focus on and helps you develop a specific combat style with weapons you’re comfortable with. For example I never changed from the opening ranged weapons of throwing knives despite the fact pistols and a shotgun were introduced. This is because all the weapons are essentially equivalent but play very differently, I just happened to really like the high damage and range of the throwing knives and it meshed well with how I played the game. There is also a new counter system that allows you to stop an enemy that’s about to attack with a quick press of the right trigger. These counters are quick and brutal but because the visual indicator for them can sometimes be hard to catch during the frenzy of combat it’s easy to miss them and not take full advantage of the system.
Unfortunately for as nice as the game looks and as fun as it is to play there some areas where it’s lacking and I feel the writing is a big one. The actual plot is pretty good: Shank is going to visit his childhood orphanage, finds it destroyed, and gets caught up helping a rebellion overthrow a nasty dictator whose militia was the one who burned down his childhood home. Along the way he sees the awful stuff this dictator has been doing that spans from abiding if not actively supporting a tribe of cannibals and cultists to black market organ transplants behind a front of a ritzy resort full of ninja Swedish masseuses, keep in mind I never said this game was serious. It’s an interesting story that would be made far better if the characters were anything other than cardboard cutouts. The characters just feel incredibly underdeveloped and their emotions, when they have them, feel undeserved. While you can dig into the extra files you can find in the levels to get a better idea of their motivations, from just the story they all feel like simple robotic devices to keep the story moving. The character of Shank specifically (Robert “Shank” Torres, if you were curious about his full name) feels like nothing more than an avatar of destruction with no express wants or desires aside from detached wanton carnage and fun as that can be I tend to want more from my protagonists.
The other major failing of this game is its length, I’m certainly willing to cut a game a lot of slack when it’s as high quality as this and is only ten bucks but even then this game seems a little on the short side. The single player campaign is only eight chapters and takes about 3 hours or so to complete depending on your individual skill level, it’s not an awful length but certainly on the short side. The other major component of the game is a two player survival mode where you have to defend a set of ammo caches from waves of enemies. This mode is an absolute ton of fun but there is very little variety to it. There are three maps, all of which you’ll see quickly, and while there are a lot of characters to unlock (many of them having neat passive bonuses) they all play with one of the two available combat styles. There is a male and female combat style; the male one has 3 heavy weapons and 3 ranged weapons (which are the same ones from the single player) and plays the same as regular Shank. The female set only has 2 heavy weapons and 2 ranged weapons but plays slightly differently from the main gameplay (though there is a level in the campaign where this style is used). With only three maps and a total of 10 weapons to muck about with (not including the titular shanks which are everyone’s standard attack) you’ll get tired if it very quickly; you’ll have a lot of fun doing so but you’ll still get bored in less time than you’d like.
While this is certainly a better game than the first one (though a very similar experience to the first one), it’s not perfect and it’s flaws do tend to stick out. That said this game is a joy to play and any fan of fast-paced brawler action should grab it but keeping in mind it’s not going to last them very long. That combined with what I felt was a lackluster story leaves us with a super fun but ultimately not very memorable game. So for some damn good times but maybe not as many of them as I would like, Shank 2 gets a 3.5 out of 5 stars. I think Klei Entertainment has done some amazing things with this series and I genuinely enjoyed my time with this game however I think it might be time they put Shank out to pasture and do something new.