Leaner and meaner, but not necessarily an improvement.
When Shank was released in 2010, gamers were treated to a short and gory affair, that featured some intense brawler action matched with a unique art style. It wasn't perfect, but it laid the groundwork for what could shape up to be an interesting series from Klei Entertainment. While the sequel does little to stray from the gore laden path of its predecessor, it manages to fix some of the issues that were present in the first title, and create a few bigger ones of its own.
What Shank 2 Got Right
Fast paced, gory combat - In the true spirit of 2D brawlers, Shank 2 is packed with fast paced, gory combat. Players are equipped with a light weapon, heavy weapon, projectile weapon and grenades along with a series of counter-attacks and the ability to grab and throw enemies. What starts out to be a button mashing experiment, soon turns into a carefully orchestrated, combo-driven combat experience that is an absolute delight to experience. Nothing is more satisfying than launching an enemy into the air with a chainsaw, firing off a few pistol rounds into the while they are in the air, rolling across the floor to perform a counter-attack on an enemy with a baseball bat. Did we mention the counter-attack involves ramming the bat through the enemies throat with your feet? Yeah, that's the kind of awesome that Shank 2 displays on command.
Unique visual style - The artists at Klei Entertainment are certainly a talented bunch, as Shank 2 looks absolutely stunning on the screen. Using a unique art-style that is one part graphic novel and one part anime epic, the animation truly shines as Shank runs throughout a series of environments that are meticulously detailed. If you're a fan of a comic art-style, you're going to love Shank 2.
Co-op survival mode - Ditching the co-op campaign feature that was included with the original, Shank 2 introduces a co-op survival mode that is tremendously competitive. Two players need to defend three stockpiles from waves of enemies and bombers, with power-ups and upgrades available for purchase between waves. Seeing your partner pounce on an enemy you have thrown across the screen is a delightful treat, and with a series of unlockable characters and active leaderboards, there are plenty of reasons to come back.
What Shank 2 Got Wrong
Stripped features - Shank 2 may have fixed niggling issues with controls and pacing, however it stripped back a number of features in the process. Unlike its predecessor, you cannot change your weapons while in-game. Players are forced to select a load out at the beginning of a level, and they can't switch it up until they die. This severely hampers the flow of creative combos; sometimes a certain aspect of the level requires my chainsaw, while other times I want to switch to my machete's for ultimate carnage.
Most of the levels are rather flat and unimaginative, which sees the parkour like combat of the first game lose its spark in this sequel. Match that along with the fact that there is no co-op features for the campaign this time round, and it seems Shank 2 has lost a lot more than it has gained.
Platforming scaled back - Shank featured some terrific platforming sections that saw Shank swing from grapple to grapple, slide down rooftops and jump through windows to slaughter some unsuspecting enemies. Those sections are still in this sequel, however they are so shallow and happen so infrequently, that it feels like a huge element of the game is missing. One of the best elements of the first game has seemingly gone M.I.A, and we're not sure why that decision was made.
Weak story - While being completely over-the-top, Shank featured a story of revenge in the style of a Tarantino flick. Shank 2 on the other hand features a weak and often disjointed tale set in South America, one that never comes to true fruition and lacks any firm reason for existing, other than it ties the game together. Shank is vacationing, and happens to turn up just in time for an uprising between an evil dictator and a band of rebels. An old acquaintance of his is kidnapped, and he sets out to rescue her and the rebels from the tyranny of the evil ruler. The story is there, it's never really explained well, it never really has a purpose, and quite frankly it's weaker than a Chai Tea.
The Final Verdict
Shank 2 is a competent brawler that has some truly action-packed moments, some of which will leave you staring in awe and asking yourself if that just really happened. While certain aspects have been improved upon since the 2010 original, in the process a number of features have been stripped back, and considering the weak story, that can become a problem for some. If you want to stare at some beautiful artwork and switch your brain off for a few hours, then this is the game for you. If you're expecting greatness, even at a $10 price-tag, you'll most likely be disappointed with this gory offering.
By Stephen Heller
Review based on PC version of the game.