We're delighted that Shank has been green-lit for a sequel. Even though Klei Entertainment's original brawler was a self-contained narrative, most subsequent violent downloadable slaughterfests (such as Rocketbirds and BloodRayne: Betrayal) haven't managed to capture its fluid combat mechanics, attractive visual flair and OTT sense of fun. Shank 2 is set to build on its predecessor's strengths while delivering a comprehensive multiplayer mode, and I was recently able to sit down with the latest build to find out exactly what Klei are shooting for this time around.
As it turns out, we're in for more of the same: brutal, gratuitous and technical brawling with a penchant for heinous acts of bodily harm.
The singleplayer campaign portion is about as pulpy and exploitative as you'd imagine. After settling into some semblance of a normal life, Shank is brought out of retirement when a flamethrower-toting goon and paramilitary forces abduct his family, sparking yet another rip-roaring blood-soaked trail of revenge as the mental mercenary tracks down those responsible. You'd think they'd just leave him alone, to be honest. The 2D levels are packed with goons and minibosses wielding a range of weapons that require you to dart in and out of combat; identifying priority targets, debilitating others and surgically picking off the stragglers. Or just whacking them all with a shovel. Or shredding them with a minigun. The choice, as they say, is yours.
Shank's abilities remain largely unchanged from the first game. Light blade attacks are used to weaken enemies and throw them off rhythm, whilst heavy chainsaw merkage is on hand to deal out serious melee damage. Shank can grab smaller enemies and pummel them against the ground (always a fan-favourite), or throw them to afford players some much needed breathing space. Blocks and the dodge roll allow him to defend and evade incoming damage, adding a strategic element of balancing furious offence with the need to constantly relocate to avoid being overwhelmed. Naturally, a quick jab of the left bumper triggers Shank's trademark pounce attack that sends him leaping across the stage, Wolverine-style, to pin enemies to the ground and remove their organs in as horrific a manner as possible. It's business as usual, but Klei has put a huge amount of work into making sure that the action is much more fluid than before.
Chaining combos, throws and pounces together is instantly responsive and incredibly intuitive, which lets you switch up your tactics to deal with any threat or combination of enemies. The combat is unimpeachably slick and incredibly fast, and a new selection of weapons can be picked up on-the-fly, used to their fullest extent and discarded with millisecond precision. Shank 2 will spoil us with combat options, and it's up to us to decide how to use them best on a split-second basis. I haven't experienced brawling this brilliant since The Dishwasher 2: Vampire Smile.
The counter system has been significantly upgraded and adds an intense new edge to the combat. Enemies briefly display an exclamation mark icon when they're vulnerable, and hitting the right trigger initiates a truly nasty takedown. Most of the bosses are also fair game for these attacks (from the meaty mid-bosses to the titanic end-stage antagonists), and exploiting enemy weakness is a key part of the action. Klei also plans to make sure that the bosses aren't quite as aggravating as some of their previous fare.
A lack of post-completion replayability was one of the key criticisms levelled at the original Shank, so the sequel plans to up the ante by introducing a hectic survival multiplayer mode. After you've butchered your way through the singleplayer, you and a few friends can throw down on increasingly powerful and numerous hordes of foes. In the level I played, we were tasked with defending a few key points from mad bombers who would occasionally spawn in with the regular waves and attempt to blow up our ammo caches, and each stage will offer a unique objective atop the freeform murder. As well as deployable hazards such as flame pits and explosives to immolate unwary adversaries. Major bosses will also occasionally enter the fray, challenging players to work together and concentrate on toppling the major threats.
Haring around the levels, dishing out the pain and scurrying to neutralise the bombers felt like a uniquely fleshed-out and substantial multiplayer challenge for a downloadable title, and Shank 2 has more up its sleeves. Slaughtering enemies rewards you with gold to spend on deployable weapons, turrets, explosives, health and even air strikes, which delivers yet another dimension of forward-planning and strategy that can turn the tide of a seemingly impossible wave. Netting achievements will unlock new multiplayer characters with different strengths and weaknesses, providing yet another addictive draw.
Shank 2 is set for a winter release (probably early 2012), and EA will be doing their best to find their partner a slot that doesn't have too much in the way of competition. We can't wait.