Note: The Playstation 3 version was played for review. Shank 2 is also available on Xbox Live Marketplace and on PC.
Developer Klei Entertainment knows that a difficult game should be fine tuned to a point where players can survive by skill and wit alone. 2010’s downloadable game, Shank, got this right; high level play would have you juggling multiple enemies with huge combos – all a whirl of shanks, chainsaw, and bullets – while dodging enemy attacks and lunging through the air with all the savage splendor of a Rambo movie. Shank 2 unfortunately can’t live up to the well tuned combat of its predecessor, despite a handful of clever new ideas.
So much of that shortcoming is because of very strange design choices. While the first Shank let you switch your secondary weapons on the fly, Shank 2 confusingly buries this option in a menu, which really breaks the quick pacing that the game maintains so well; it also makes it a lot harder to have any great feeling of familiarity with the weapons by the time the single player story ends after a handful of fast paced hours.
Much of Shank 2’s combat is about managing crowds of different enemy types with a mixture of weapons and grappling moves. Unfortunately, there’s a persistent oddity where not every enemy within range of your strikes gets hit; they’re supposed to, but they don’t. After taking out several crowds of enemies and wondering why I was taking damage from foes that were supposed to be stuck in stun animations, I ended up defaulting to hit and run tactics throughout the whole game to avoid taking damage.
It’s a shame that the only foolproof way to ace Shank 2’s combat is to skirt around it, especially when it’s obvious that Klei Entertainment wanted to make a lot of changes to the combat that, combined with its great art style, is what has given the series its name. The counter system has been revamped; rather than being a parry move performed after a block, grabbing an enemy when you see the exclamation mark above his head creates a stylishly emphatic blur effect while Shank turns the enemy’s own weapon against them. Sometimes a counter will be a simple break of an enemy’s arm, but most of the time Shank, the character, will brutalize the enemy into a bloody pulp – one counter has Shank taking the baseball bat out of an enemy’s hands, jamming it in their mouth, and then kicking it into the back of their skull with his boot. It’s incredibly satisfying, and this system and all of the minor tweaks continue into the new multiplayer cooperative mode.
Survival, playable with one to two players online or offline, lets you pick from over a dozen unlockable characters, all with unique stats, in order to survive waves of enemies. Money earned from kills can be used to buy weapons and obstacles that, added with the traps found within each level, are absolutely necessary to defend the “supply points” in every stage. The waves become incredibly hard and working together with a friend to activate traps and split up the hordes of enemies is essential. Unfortunately, the inconsistent hit detection with group combat becomes a big problem when every bit of health counts, and this was especially true when I encountered a bug where I couldn’t revive my partner.
The bosses and the narrative in the single player campaign aren’t as interesting as the combat, platforming scenarios, and surprise gameplay twists. Because of this, co-op ends up being the more memorable part of the overall package and shares many of the mutual frustrations and satisfying moments of the single player combat.
The hand drawn art style, animations, and cutscenes all paint the action of the game in a beautiful and uncluttered style, which is key in a difficult game that demands so much of its players. However, I did encounter one glitch during a chase scene where, despite reloading the checkpoint five times, the front half off the screen wouldn’t load in any textures. This led to an odd sequence where I was running away from a giant boulder into a completely black part of the screen, left to puzzle out traps and spikes through trial and error until I got through it.
Judged on its own merits or against those of its fantastic predecessor, Shank 2 is oddly hard to recommend in the face of all of its problems. That’s a real shame when so much of what Klei Entertainment has done with the visuals and combat is a creative step from the previous Shank game. If the problems are fixed with a downloadable patch, this game will be easy to recommend. Until then, it’s a try-before-you-buy at best.
- Outstanding art style
- Great visual effects
- Co-op can be a ton of fun
- Graphical and technical glitches can break the co-op and single player experiences
- Inconsistent hit detection during group combat and dodging
- In-game selection of secondary weapons is hidden in the start menu
- Bland story and uninteresting bosses