|System: PC, PS3, Xbox 360*|
|Dev: Klei Entertainment|
|Pub: Electronic Arts|
|Release: February 7, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes|
by Angelo M. D'Argenio
Shank was an awesome 2D action game that made a splash on the downloadable market last year. Made by Klei Entertainment, it paid homage to old grindhouse exploitation movies that sold themselves on action and violence before plot. Shank 2 is pretty much more of the same. It's still ultra-violent, it's still a 2D action game, and it's still awesome for reasons totally unrelated to the plot. The guys at Kiei didn't re-invent the wheel here, and that's appreciated. Overall, Shank 2 doesn't come off as a sequel as much as it comes off as a refined version of Shank 1. And you know what? We are okay with that.
The first thing you'll notice when booting up Shank 2, is that the game plays far smoother than the original. Not only are the animations more fluid, but the controls are more responsive as well. You can now switch between weapons instantly, stringing together deadly combos with knives, shotguns, chainsaws, and much more. Your mobility has been vastly improved, allowing you to follow enemies while you knock them around the screen. The game now informs you when you can insta-kill your foes, and since you move around the screen so much faster, you can essentially leap from enemy to enemy, disemboweling them at the press of a button. Getting hit doesn't cause as much stun as it used to, and as a result, it doesn't break up the flow of battle as much. All in all, Shank 2 allows you to murder at high speed without interruption, and it feels good. The power trip you get from being much stronger and better-armed than your opponents meshes well with the game's grindhouse set pieces.
Regardless of how good it feels theme-wise, this new higher speed, higher damage, murdertastic gameplay actually makes the game feel better from a strategic standpoint as well. Since you can move more quickly around the screen and identify which enemies you can kill in one shot, you can more rapidly thin the enemy numbers, which reduces your chances of getting stabbed or shot in the back when you aren't looking. Dodging is now mapped to a simple flick of the right analog stick and is virtually impenetrable. If you find yourself getting mobbed, simply going to town on the right stick will keep you safe for a while. Your dodge also has very little cooldown time, allowing you to get right back into the murder once you feel you are safe. It's a massive improvement over the awkward blocking of the original, which was more often than not ignored in lieu of more murder.
The original Shank was hard—really hard. Thankfully, Shank 2 isn't so much. Sure, the game still has its difficult spots, but the overall difficulty has been toned down. The game doesn't feel as "cheap" as it used to, and you don't find yourself backed into a corner taking unavoidable bullets to the skull as often. However, to keep the game from becoming boring, Klei has given enemies many new ways to attack instead. Some enemies now chuck grenades at weird angles. Ranged enemies attempt to kite you from far away while meaty tank-like enemies stand between them and you. Boss battles have also been retooled. Instead of plugging away at a weak point and hoping the boss doesn't get a lucky hit at you, Shank 2's boss battles are more about memorizing patterns and attacking when you see an opening. It's almost Mega Man-like in its smooth simplicity. You have to be smart in how you confront your enemies in Shank 2, not just mindlessly aggressive. This is a big difference from the original, which mostly involved hammering on attack buttons and hoping an enemy didn't get a lucky shot in.
Unfortunately, co-op has been taken out of this game, but that's okay. The main characters have become so much more powerful in this sequel that co-op would probably make the game too easy.
Instead, a new multiplayer Survival Mode was added that feels like a 2D version of Gears of War's Horde Mode. Before each Survival game, you pick a character and a weapon loadout, then you hope to not die when waves of enemies spawn and try to slit your throat. Killing enemies earns you cash, which you can then spend on special defenses like turrets and decoys. This rewards players for spreading out the kills, as multiple characters with even money tend to be more useful than a single character with a lot of money. If you die, only your ally can resurrect you, and without you doing your fair share of the killing, this is actually rather hard to pull off. Enemies tend to swarm you when an ally drops, so you can't just run away from your partner and play Rambo. Strategic coordination is rewarded in this mode, which oddly enough compliments the game's ultra-violent feel. You kill enemies far quicker when working with your opponent than by button mashing on your own, so if you really want to see the blood flow you need to think first.