Bringing a chainsaw to a knife fight
The first Shank took me to a happy place. I’ve long lamented the disappearance of the 2D side-scrolling brawler, and the cartoony-yet-überviolent digital release took me back to favorites like Double Dragon and Streets of Rage. Shank 2 picks up where the original left off, with the same crisp art style, fast-paced action, and absurdly awesome combo system, while providing enough polish to keep fans of the original happy.
In this outing, the titular protagonist Shank takes on a dictatorial regime in what appears to be somewhere located in South America. Jumping in with his usual subtlety and panache, Shank jumps and rolls around the screen, stabbing his opposition in the face, chewing through their guts with a chainsaw, or exploding them with grenades. He doesn’t spend too much time trying to employ diplomatic solutions, as kicking a guy in the groin and feeding him his own baseball bat seems to work faster.
And fast is important, since Shank 2 throws baddies at you faster than a Kardashian throws away husbands. The enemies come in all shapes and sizes, including fat ones that pummel you if you get to close, little bastards that fling grenades from across the screen, and everything in between. Frequently, the flood of enemies engulfs you, leaving you little choice but to roll out of the way. Fortunately, the new dodge mechanic—mapped to the right stick—works exceptionally well, allowing you to spin out of the way, pop up, and continue dealing damage.
Shank’s loadouts are basic, but they offer enough variety to keep the action interesting. In addition to your knives, you’ll carry a heavy melee weapon, a ranged weapon, and one type of munition. It’s up to you if you choose to go with a chainsaw, pistols, and grenades or instead opt ofr a sledgehammer, throwing knives, and Molotov cocktails, but remember—some weapons do more damage against certain enemy types. At least you can change your loadout if you die.
Like the best fighting games, Shank 2’s all about dishing out damage in the most creative way possible—and big combos are always on the menu. Flipping a guy into the air, slashing him a few times, and finishing him off with your shotgun is great fun, as is stunning one enemy and so you can concentrate on taking another one down.
Additionally, when an enemy flashes an exclamation point over his head, you can squeeze the right trigger and perform a counter, which results in an instant kill. Mastering this move’s essential to surviving the game’s many particularly frantic moments, as it gets enemies out of the way quickly.
At its best, Shank 2 moves from one encounter to the next in a ballet of destruction, exactly how I’d imagine a John Woo cartoon. But all is not perfect. Some sequences will frustrate gamers with seemingly innocuous objectives made maddeningly difficult, thanks to an onslaught of enemies. One area in particular, involving a crane, made me want to shank my own TV—until I figured out the rhythm and blew through it without issue.
Still, areas like this that require you to take a step back and figure out patters disrupt the flow of the game and keep it from being as smooth an experience as it can be. It’s less of an issue with boss encounters, which one expects to be more difficult.
One thing I wish Shank 2 included, though, is a co-op mode. Multiplayer’s instead relegated to the Survival mode, which provides some amusement but isn’t nearly as enjoyable as the main campaign. These Horde-style modes are becoming a commonplace addition to action games—and, frankly, the novelty’s wearing thin. Developers either need to take it to the next level or come up with something completely different.
Overall, Shank 2 delivers a perfect example of how to keep old-school gameplay alive with a simple, digital release. It’s a perfect diversion for those wanting a break from the complex 3D gaming world in which we now live.
SUMMARY: Shank 2 takes the old-school, side-scrolling brawler and infuses it with a hefty dose of blood and gore. Crisp graphics, smooth controls, and ballet-like action will give action fans a reason to take a break from Modern Warfare 3 or Battlefield 3.
- THE GOOD: Polished controls make Shank control better than ever.
- THE BAD: Occasionally uneven pacing breaks the game’s rhythm.
- THE UGLY: Crushing half a dozen bad guys under a shipping container. SPLAT!
Shank 2 is available on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC at the time of this review. Primary version reviewed was on Xbox 360.