Shank 2 makes incremental improvements over its predecessor that adds up to one of the best 2D brawlers of recent memory. The original shank had issues with its control mechanics that made it a very difficult experience, particularly during some boss battles. Klei Entertainment has done a great job of improving upon the flawed control mechanics of the original without eliminating the fun combat and ferocious violence.
Shank now moves faster and can pounce much further than he could in the original. The most notable improvement to Shank 2’s combat comes in the ability to quickly switch between weapons, even in the middle of a combo, without having to worry about the second of delay that could have meant death in the first game. The annoyance of having attack and heal mapped to the same button has also been removed.
Instead of using a combination of the trigger and stick to perform a dodge, Shank 2 allows you to roll out of the way of enemy attacks with a simple tap of the right stick. The simplicity of being able to dodge becomes a crucial combat element as you encounter varied enemy types throughout the game.
Shank 2 does a great job of introducing you to a new enemy type just long enough for you to figure out a tactic to beat them. Once the tactic is figured out tons of different enemies are thrown at you creating some fast paced, chaotic encounters. While some of the enemies are simply reskinned version of others, Shank 2 puts the player through encounters with many different kinds of enemies at once. Instead of just fighting off enemies with machetes, Shank will have to deal with female ninja assassins diving at him, big goons running at him, fat men belly flopping, grenades being thrown at him, midgets jumping on him and thugs with pistols or machine guns shooting at him, all at once.
These encounters would prove impossible in the original shank but thanks to the tweaked controls, the player now has the ability to evade and dispatch enemies with only moderate difficulty. Each encounter is still demanding, requiring split second decision making and precise attacks.
To help Shank perform these precision attacks are nine different weapons ranging from chainsaws to shotguns. Weapon load outs can no longer be changed on the fly, instead the player must choose which weapons to use at the beginning of each of the nine levels. There are tons of weapons enemies drop during each level that Shank can then use for a limited amount of time. In addition to standard weapons Shank can also make use of instant kill switches that prove to be deadly to both enemies and Shank. These instant kill switches include dropping a shipping container onto an enemy, sparking a fire pit or triggering a metallic grinder. Each proves to be quite a satisfying way to dispose of the countless enemies that Shank must face.
Once Shank has an enemy weakened, a red exclamation mark will appear over their head for a split second, as they attack. Pressing the right trigger before the exclamation mark disappears will trigger a counter kill that leads into a slow motion violent execution. Pulling off these counter kills in the middle of a combo with tons of enemies around is a badass experience.
Each level of Shank 2’s campaign features cinematic cut scenes that match the unique art style of the game. They also match the profane violence that often straddles the line of ridiculous and hilarious. The narrative thread in Shank 2 is more coherent than the original, with a country under the tyranny of a fascist dictator and martial law. While the story is more grounded than its predecessor, it is underdeveloped and seems to only exist as a way to pull the player through a series of levels, some of which do not relate to the story at all.
While the entire campaign is on the shorter side and can be beaten under the three hour mark, Shank 2 also features an addictive survival mode. Survival mode boasts three different maps that pit the player and a partner against 30 waves of enemies. During each wave the duo must protect three supply creates against bombers who are trying to blow them up. Three maps may seem shallow but getting to wave thirty on each is no easy feat. The combat from the campaign transfers over to survival mode seamlessly and is a lot of fun playing with either a local or online partner. Survival mode ends when you beat wave thirty, lose all three supply crates or both players die.
Survival mode becomes particularly hectic when one player dies and the other must revive them. There are often bombs about to blow up and dozens of enemies on screen, making reviving a fallen teammate a very risky proposition. Killing enemies nets each player cash to purchase items from a store to help them survive the impending waves. The items in the store vary from health to miniguns and flame turrets.
Unlocking the various achievements in Shank 2 will also unlock in game characters that can be used in both campaign and survival mode. In survival mode these characters have different bonuses such as, damage modifiers and decrease in item cost, which can change the dynamic of a partnership.
Shank 2 is a ferocious 2D brawler with over the top violence and fluid combat. Klei Entertainment has improved upon each of the original’s weaknesses to create one of the best 2D brawlers of recent memory. The addition of survival mode adds a new addictive element to a short campaign that increases the amount of time you can spend with this title. When trying to describe Shank 2 the three words that always come to mind are “badass violent fun”, which is the best description for this game. As someone who spent their youth playing 2D brawlers on the NES it is exciting to see a 2D brawler that is mature enough to appeal to my adult side but still brings out the kid in me.
This review is based on a downloadable copy of the 360 version of Shank 2.