Platforms: PC | PS3 | XBLA (reviewed)
Developer: Klei Entertainment
Publisher: EA Partners
Shank is back in a story ripped straight out of the finest pulp Mexican flicks. With the vicious killer incentivised into yet another revenge-fuelled carnage spree by a sadistic militia who lay waste to his home town (never a good idea when Shank's involved), it's time for players to pick up their knives, rev up their chainsaws and paint the town red. Klei Entertainment's plot and premise may be delightfully hackneyed, but the action is fresh and revitalised; feeling like a brand new game rather than a quick and lazy upgrade.
Chances are that you're already familiar with the general premise. Shank 2 is a 2D brawler like its psychopathic predecessor, pulling players through linear corridors teeming with goons to kill, hazards to avoid and hulking bosses to brutalise with extreme prejudice. Your foes are quick, deadly and numerous; eager to press every advantage and reduce your health bar to zero in a in a few quick cuts, but luckily Shank has the skills, abilities and tools to survive.
In the right hands, even a raw trout can reduce a team of hired goons into greasy chunks of meat.
On a basic level, Shank can use three different attacks mapped to the face buttons. The titular shank swipes deal out light damage, but can throw enemies off rhythm and juggle them into the air. Heavy attacks, such as a chainsaw or machete, dish out staggering amounts of pain but leave you wide open for payback. Infinite ammo ranged weapons (pistols, shotguns and throwing knives) can be used to soften up targets, detonate explosive scenery objects or mixed into combos. On top of these three fundamental weapons, you can also grapple enemies, throw them around, block, lob grenades, deploy mines and dodge roll with the right stick. There's a huge amount of choice on offer, and you'll need to quickly work out which combinations to use on certain enemies.
And, naturally, Shank's signature pounce allows him to automatically leap across the screen, pin foes to the ground and do frankly disgusting things to them with your weapon of choice.
Shank 2 adds a few new features into the mix. Some enemies are now temporarily vulnerable to counterattacks, and can be instantly (horrifically) relieved of their internal organs with a well-timed jab of the right trigger. A vastly increased selection of fragile yet devastating secondary weapons are also available for use, such as harpoons, turrets, shovels and gun turrets. Some satisfying interactive scenery elements add an interesting new dimension to certain encounters, including forklift trucks, fishing nets and a shipping crate to drop directly onto oncoming marauders. There's a lot more variety to be found here and a canvas for glorious, horrible, visceral murder.
All of this delicious depth would mean nothing without responsive controls to back it up, and Klei have clearly poured a huge amount of effort into ensuring that the combat is much more fluid and dynamic this time around. You can instantly mix and match each ability into ruinous combos, varying light attacks with grabs, converting juggles into pounces and dodging out of range just before an enormous musclebound brute stabs a harpoon into your lungs. Every weapon has its place in the symphony of carnage, and each has its own unique set of smooth - and vomit-inducingly disgusting - animations.
Klei have also tried to make sure that there's a greater variety to enemy encounters and set pieces. As well as the interactive scenery elements mentioned above, a much wider roster of foes with different attacks and vulnerabilities make on-the-fly decision making just as important as twitchy reflexes. Set pieces and bosses bring yet more raucous and punishing variation to the party, requiring a fair few attempts to form some winning strategies.
Sadly, though the combat is utterly fantastic, a couple of annoying niggles sometimes hold it back. The stylish yet drab cartoon backgrounds, coupled with Shank's incredibly dull costume, means that you'll often lose sight of what's going on - and your position relative to the hordes of marauding banditos. Lots of busy foreground elements and occasional use of silhouettes compound the problem further, and can easily result in frequent aggravating cheap deaths. Picking up objects can become incredibly confusing when they're dropped next to each other, which can make the difference between life and death when one of them is a life-restoring tequila and the other is a fish.
And even if you've got eagle eyes, chances are that you'll die plenty of times just because of a staggeringly punitive base level of difficulty. It's harsh but fair... but it's so damn harsh at times.
If you like a challenge, Shank 2 will suit you down to the ground. And thankfully, I love a challenge. I won't mark it down, but an easy mode might not have gone amiss for more casual players.
Instead of a traditional cooperative campaign, Shank 2 features a selection of two-player survival arenas that can be played online or in split screen. Each of these levels is pleasingly vertical in design and offers plenty of scope for manoeuvrability or flanking - and in-game cash can be spent on new weapons, upgrades or even air strikes to even the odds. It's a brilliantly implemented multiplayer mode, and one that should provide a decent amount of longevity after the eight lengthy singleplayer missions fall before your mighty chainsaw.
Graphically, Shank 2 favours a stylish and gritty comic book aesthetic. It looks fantastic in-game, though cutscenes admittedly lack detail and arguably should have been presented as a traditional static graphic novel. The voice acting is middling to poor, especially Shank himself who has a lot more to say this time around and lacks the emotion or competence necessary to work as anything other than a silent protagonist.
But if you're looking for relateable characters, deep storylines and meaningful themes, you've come to the wrong place, hombre.
- Fluid, dynamic and deep combat
- Meaty singleplayer campaign and cooperative survival mode
- Brutally stylish, stylishly brutal
- Combat can be messy and confusing at times
- Weak voice acting and hackneyed, limp storyline
- Very difficult (but fair)
The Short Version: Shank 2 is a gloriously violent, brilliantly responsive and surprisingly versatile brawler that offers the best console melee combat since The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile. If you're not afraid of a stern challenge, this is one fiesta you won't want to miss.