Shank 2 Review
Game: Shank 2
Developer: Klei Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Available on: Xbox LIVE Arcade, PlayStation Network, Steam, Origin (Reviewed via Xbox LIVE Arcade)
I loved watching action cartoons as a kid. You know the sort, cartoons that were pretty much half an hour of watching muscular men, or women with enormous breasts, beating the living crap out of each other. The characters in those cartoons often had super powers, and often emitted all manner of colourful wizardry while they were pulverising each other. Shank 2 heads down a similar design path to those cartoons of the 80’s and 90’s, except that it replaces the super powers with machetes (or guns, or chainsaws, etc), and does away with the dazzling light shows in favour of blood; buckets, and buckets, of blood. Shank 2 is the cartoon you always wanted to watch, but even better, you get be the muscular bad-ass. Shank 2 is an example of 2D artwork and animation dragged kicking and screaming into the HD era, but how does a genre that’s so obviously from the 80’s hold up nowadays, in the second decade of the 21st century.
Shank 2, believe it or not, is the 2nd game in the Shank series of games, brought to us by Canadian developer Klei entertainment. Shank 2 seeks to improve on its predecessor by implementing a more responsive control system, and improve on the visuals of an already outstanding looking title.
In Shank 2, you play as Shank, a man who has returned to his homeland to take on the tyrannical government who are making life pretty miserable for Shank’s buddies. Shank must battle through wave after wave of mercenaries to free hostages and eventually free his people. So it’s a pretty standard action hero style story and, to be fair, telling an engaging story isn’t what Shank 2 is about, what it is about, is combat, and does it get that right? Oh yes.
Klei Entertainment states on its website that it wants to “redefine what an old school beat-em-up is”, and that passion for the genre is evident from the off in Shank 2. From the moment you kill your first bad guy, you know you are in for one hell of a ride. Fighting in Shank 2 can be effortless, challenging and immensely satisfying all at the same time. The controls took me only minutes to master thanks to the helpful on screen hints at the start of the game, and once I had, Shank was flying around my TV screen in a blaze of knives, bullets and mayhem. The game allows you to assign light, medium and heavy weapons to three of the controllers face buttons, and leaves the remaining button free for Shanks jump ability. This control setup makes for exciting fighting all the way through the game, as you experiment with the bevy of ways to use each weapon, or combination of weapons, to slay your foe. After you are done with your enemy, many of them will drop whatever it was that they were trying to batter you with, and Shank is happy to pick it up for them and use it against the next wave of enemies. I especially liked battering crazed cannibals with an oversized walking stick.
As you progress through the game’s main campaign, you will encounter a number of areas in which you can use the environment against your enemy. Getting your enemy into place, ready to flick the switch, or unleash a trap, might be difficult at times, but when the plan comes together it is immensely satisfying. You will use, amongst other things, spinning blades, wrecking balls and falling cars to add a bit of variety to your killing session. These set pieces are expertly implemented and together with some awesome boss battles keep the game feeling fresh and exciting all the way through.
The thing that made people stand up and take notice of the original Shank was the game’s outstanding visuals. In Shank 2 that trend continues, as it shows off 2D animation of unmatched quality throughout. Every jump, kick, punch and walk cycle wouldn’t look out of place in one of the aforementioned 90’s action cartoons, with Shank’s motion always smooth and never jerking or snapping into place. The games environments live up to the high standard set by its animation, with every scene being a beautifully crafted arena of death, coloured in a way that keeps emphasis on the important job of kicking ass. Shank visits a variety of environments in the campaign mode, including military barracks, muggy swamp land, a disused port and many more besides. All of the environments are fairly dark foreboding affairs, but the variation keeps things moving nicely. In fact, bar the odd dramatic frame rate drop (often in particle effect heavy moments in the game) I have to say that Shank 2 is one of the better polished downloadable games I have seen this generation.
The game’s visuals are backed up by a soundtrack that does the job of conveying the mood of the game very well, accompanied by a cracking library of sound effects. Punching someone in the face needs to sound good right? Well it definitely does here.
I died a lot during my play through of Shank 2. And most of those deaths came at the hands of one of the games many boss battles. Boss battles are cool, aren’t they? Especially when they are this challenging. When you know that you are in for a real fight, and you are anxious before the battle even starts. That is why I love boss battles. The bosses here require you to adopt a different tactic for each of them if you want to progress, if you change your load out to suit the situation, and keep your concentration, you will be fine. If you don’t? Well, you may be here for a while…
As you progress through the game’s story mode, you unlock new weapons to play with as you go, you can see what you are going to unlock from the start of the game, which is fine. So I always knew I was going to get a shotgun at some point. Up until the point where I did unlock the shotgun, I rarely used the firearms button, because it was far more fun, and effective, slashing people to bits with pointy things. But when I did unlock it, it became far more convenient to blast everything that moved with buckshot. Yes it was nice turning wave after wave of enemy into human milkshake, but I did feel like the game had turned into the “Shank with a Shotgun Show”, which was disappointing. You see, the shotgun in Shank 2 is a little too powerful, and detracts from the awesomeness of the fighting system somewhat.
Shank 2 serves up a multiplayer option this time around, too, coming in the form of Survival Mode. Here you can team up with another player online and take on wave after wave of enemies, all the while stopping them from arming bombs and blowing the pair of you to pieces. While you are working with your compatriot towards a common goal, you are also competing for points, for both bragging reasons and to spend on items during the game to assist your fight against the mercenaries. I had great fun and managed to burn away a couple of hours without even realising it while playing online. The whole thing is structured in a similar way to Gears of War 3’s horde mode.
It won’t take you a massive amount of time to get through Shank 2’s campaign mode, it took me about 5 hours on the games normal difficulty, but the addition of a great multiplayer mode, and bags of stuff to unlock (weapons, game art, characters for multiplayer, etc) mean that Shank 2 will last a lot longer than just a single play through; I for one will definitely be going back to beat the campaign on hard difficulty, a superb challenge if ever I saw one.
VERDICT: Side scrolling beat-em-ups are hardly the game genre of choice today like they were in Streets of Rage’s day, but when I look at Shank 2 I wonder why that is. Relatively short campaign mode aside, Shank 2 offers a package that is superb both in terms of value for money, and as a benchmark for the genre. Highly recommended.