Developer: Klei Entertainment / Publisher: EA / ESRB: Mature [Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes] / Played on: PS3 / Price: $9.99
Scrotum-crushing difficulty in games is fun if your failures are undeniably the result of your own incompetence. In the original Shank, that wasn’t always the case, but the sequel, gladly, fixes that.
It’ll still try its best to cut your man bits off and feed them to your corpse, but improved controls and smoother, more responsive animation gives you the means necessary to fight back in the most brutal 2D action game out there.
If you never played the first game, Shank is basically Mortal Kombat meets Double Dragon. It’s a side-scrolling brawler with a taste for extreme gore and yummy grotesque violence. It’s the game that says: “Kids, when a guy knocks a drink out of his hand, don’t ask why he did it. Slice his fucking arm off.”
Shank is a no-mercy killer. He sprints through crowds of guys, swinging knives around, splashing blood everywhere to the sound of slicing flesh. He launches himself through the air, pouncing on his helpless prey before severing their heads with two massive machetes. He jams baseball bats into the mouths of fearful foes and uses his giant boot to stomp the bat down their throats. And if his enemies are too large or too numerous to take on physically, he enlists the help of good old explosives, and even the environment, dropping cars or shipping containers onto guys.
You’ll be doing all of this fairly effortlessly in Shank 2, thanks to far more intuitive controls. Dodging attacks now requires just a flick of the right stick. Health and other pickups no longer awkwardly share a button with your main attack.
It’s not just the buttons Klei Entertainment has sorted out – the animations are much improved too. The first game was more style over substance, with long animations leading to delayed and clunky controls. Now, while the sequel undoubtedly looks much better, its slick animations also accommodate sudden changes of direction, weapon use or attack, making for a far more responsive game.
And that’s handy since you’ll need some quick thinking and even quicker fingers to get through its campaign. The difficulty curve ramps up fast – level-one grunts barely trouble you but by the end of the first stage their numbers – along with their improved, more varied AI – will put you to the test and force you two combine light and heavy attacks with ranged shots and well-timed dodging. As the levels get harder, so does Shank, who goes from machetes to chainsaws and from throwing knives to pistols and shotguns, unlocking new treats along the way. And each level lets you choose your load out from the start, which is cool.
Boss encounters are proper old-school affairs – typically oversized hunks that make King Kong look like an Ewok with a bad attitude. You struggle at first trying to figure out their attack patterns and vulnerabilities, then gradually get into a rhythm before stamping their skulls into the ground. Beating a tough boss is, as always, immensely satisfying.
It’s a shame, then, that the fun is over so quickly – two hours, three if you suck at games. There’s a hard mode, which adds a little replay value, but the co-op option is no longer available in the main campaign. Not cool, Klei. Not cool.
Co-op is instead served up in a separate survival mode that slaps you and one other into an arena and tasks you with protecting weapon stashes from swarms of enemies that’ll do their best to destroy them. Foes will plant bombs on the stashes, giving you seconds to disarm them in the calamity of growing enemy swarms. It’s online enabled, which is decent, but it really should have been four-player and doesn’t compensate for the loss of campaign co-op. It’s like taking away someone’s bacon, replacing it with a dry biscuit and expecting them to be happy about it (and if you would be, you’re just weird).
Shank 2 is basically Klei’s answer to criticisms of its first attempt. It held its hands and said, “Alright, alright, we’ll fix all that stuff, jeez.” It doesn’t try to reinvent itself, and sticks largely to the core principles of its predecessor. Nevertheless, Shank 2 is a massive improvement over the original – it’s the game the first one should have been.
Its vibrant and original art is slick and well animated, its excessive gore and cliche-action-movie-style cutscenes are funny and satisfying in equal measures, and its fast, challenging gameplay is suitably visceral and deeply satisfying. But it’s way too short, and the lack of campaign co-op is an epic disappointment, especially considering its presence in the first game.
Forget Shank 1. Buy Shank 2 and chuckle deviously as you mess some fools’ shit up. Just don’t expect it to last very long.
8 / 10