Klei’s Shank was an entertaining tango through a hot, sweaty abattoir of violence. Now, less than 18 months later, the sequel has arrived. Is it simply more of the same or has Shank learned any new tricks while he’s been away?
Shank 2’s visual style could be construed as slightly misleading. If you look at a screenshot and expect a Saturday morning action hero, you’re in for a surprise. Shank is an antihero, a vicious, violent fighter with a delight for delivering pain. The man — and the game — are relentless, thuggish and unforgiving.[drop]Perhaps the situation is best summed up by his attitude early in the game, immediately following the opening level when Shank slices through dozens of enemies. He retakes his seat on a bus and a fellow traveller asks excitedly if he’s fighting in the rebellion. A perfect chance to give Shank some heroic poise. His reply? “What rebellion?”
Shank’s raison d’être lies not in some noble cause but simply in furthering his own quest for revenge against the militia that has taken his loved ones hostage.
Combat is beefed up, with a new counter ability added to the frenetic hack-and-slash brawling. Shank can still pounce, jump, roll, attack with light or heavy weapons, ranged weapons and explosives but now he can also counter an enemy just as they begin to attack. And they will attack. Switching styles and chaining combos is something you’re encouraged to do thanks to the points system and online leader boards. Successfully beating a level isn’t necessarily the end of it, that place higher up the leader board is ever-tempting, especially if a friend’s score is in sight. Luckily, combat is fast, smooth and seamlessly chaotic — as it needs to be to cope with the onslaught.
The action is frenzied in Shank 2, perhaps even more so than in the chisel-jawed antihero’s first outing. The screen regularly fills with enemies of various sizes, abilities and ferocity. The gameplay, in basic terms, involves running right to an area which then locks off and has hordes of enemies attack you. You must clear the area in order to be able to move on. Navigate a full level — each one is around 10-20 minutes in length — and you will come up against a boss fight.
Boss fights are staged against a more formidable foe and end level battles feature some new and interesting mechanics, like avoiding an enemy that can teleport or using a crane to entrap a flood of enemies while wearing down the crane operator with gunfire. The boss fights are potentially the weakest area of the game though, often frustratingly difficult and completely unforgiving in a way which doesn’t feel particularly fair. Luckily, the frustrations are not abundant or unforgivable when measured against the sheer joy of fending off large crowds of militiamen with a shiv and a molotov cocktail.[drop2]Shank 2’s greatest achievement is in the presentation. From the artfully directed cutscenes that tell the story to the brief interstitial scenes that depict Shank’s latest act of violence against an unwitting foe, they are beautifully rendered in that glorious cartoon style. Shank 2 feels like a tequila-soaked Robert Rodriguez fever dream has been drawn by Frank Miller and coloured in by Hanna-Barbera.
The new Survival mode replaces the cooperative play from the first game and pits two players against swathes of enemies in a fight to protect supply points from would-be bombers. Players are fighting off waves of enemies but also competing between themselves, as well as on leader boards, for points. It is as busy with action as it sounds, so much so that it can sometimes be difficult to keep track of where your protagonist is on the screen.
- It looks gorgeous and oozes style.
- The combat is fast and allows for plenty of variation.
- Boss battles force you to mix up your play style.
- It can feel slightly repetitive.
- Sometimes it feels slightly cheap and frustrating.
- Keeping track of Shank on screen can be tricky amongst all the action.
Shank 2 does what a good hack n’ slash sequel should: it adapts a few things with the aim of improvement and it turns up the action. Some of the changes are welcome, the new counter system adds extra depth to the combat. Some changes might not be so welcome, like having to pause to switch weapons this time around. But on the whole, Shank 2 takes the best bits of the first game and builds on them. It might not last much longer than a few hours to run through but leader boards and the Survival mode should offer some replay potential and at a budget price, it’s well worth blasting through — if you can handle the action.