Title: Shank 2

Platform: 360, PS3, PC


Publisher: Electronic Arts

Developer: Klei Entertainment

Rating: ★★★★☆

Review By: Eric Stuckart

Klei Entertainment’s Shank was one of the my favorite downloadable titles of 2010, not necessarily because it was one of the best games out on the market, but because it managed to do so many things right. It was stylish, looked great, played great, and despite having more than a couple of unfair difficulty spikes that came out of left field, was very, very fun.

When I heard about Shank 2’s imminent release, I was curious as to how they would improve on the formula. The sequel is a bit of a bittersweet success, because while many of the changes made were done to make the gameplay even smoother than it was last time around, it feels like it ends up coming short in other ways. It’s not enough to throw the whole game off, but there’s still a few coulda, woulda, shoulda moments that popped up in my head while playing it.

Following the story of Shank, a former mob hit man, not as much thought is really given to the storyline as last time around, but it could be easily be summed up in a couple of sentences. After the events of the first sidescrolling beat ‘em up, Shank returns home to find that his village has been ravaged by military goons who have since replaced the cartels he’s been trying to eliminate, taking a loved one hostage. So, it’s time for Shank to head out again and make the bad guys pay.

While the first game didn’t have the greatest story by any means, Shank 2’s storyline feels like it has sequelitis written all over it, with crazed wolves, cannibalistic tribals, evil doctors, and one particular flamthrower-wielding boss that bears more than a passing resemblance to Hellboy. It just felt like where the first game looked like a moving graphic novel featured a Robert Rodriguez-inspired storyline, this one had much less thought given to it besides the obvious “here’s some knives, some guns, and a machete…go get ‘em!!!” cues to the game.

Fortunately, Shank 2 isn’t exactly the type of game that really suffers from a lesser story, and Klei Entertainment really did a great job of tightening everything up that was great about the last game, making for a much smoother and less frustrating experience. Some of the button mapping was altered a little, making the fight much more fun. One of the first game’s most erroneous design flaws was making the button to pick up health items the same as one of the attack buttons. In a game such as this, which relies from time to time on waves upon waves of enemies flooding the screen, the last thing a player should have to worry about is wasting precious health pickups while in the middle of a battle. This was wisely changed to one of the shoulder buttons, and its effects are immediately noticeable within the first few levels of the game. Shank can now also evade/roll out of the way of danger as well, which gives him a bit more flexibility and allows the player to maintain a much more defensive stance when necessary.

Back from the first game is the three main sets of weapons — light, medium and hard attacks, accordingly — along with some sort of explosive device. In terms of what Shank can do, not a whole lot has changed, but the gameplay mechanics are generally more refined. Fighting large groups of enemies doesn’t feel as clunky, and while the difficulty does spike up a bit from time to time, it doesn’t have the same oppressive feel that it did in the first game.

In lieu of the cooperative two player campaign that the first game had, Shank 2 offers up a fun, albeit one dimensional Survival Mode for cooperative play. A glorified horde mode in the beat ‘em up setting, players can choose to play as either Shank or female sidekick Corina, or whatever character skins that the player has unlocked through gameplay. There are 16 skins total, and all of the variant skins offer slightly altered stats, such as a higher effect with a certain weapon class in exchange for a reduced health amount, and so on and so forth.

As players progress through the waves of enemies, in-game currency is earned, to buy additional power-ups or other perks, such as a wild boar that runs around the screen wiping out enemies, turrets, or a one-use item that kills all the enemies onscreen. The three maps offer a healthy amount of action for two players, and while it’s a fun diversion from the main course, it didn’t really feel as fun as the co-op campaign did last time around. This is mainly due to the fact that while both gameplay modes require teamwork, the campaign made it feel more like there was something to work towards. Also, unlike in Survival Mode, Shank 1‘s co-op campaign featured some enemies that could only be taken on  tag-team style, a feature I absolutely loved.

Fans of Shank looking for more action should find plenty to love about Shank 2. With refined gameplay that makes the first time around feel more like a test run, everything is prettier, smoother and even more fun than the last time around. However, with a story that’s even less plausible than the last time around and a short runtime without the extra padding of a co-op campaign, some players might feel slightly cheated. However, given how much fun the single player campaign is, the game more than begs to be replayed multiple times, especially with the large amount of in-game challenges/achievements, collectibles, and leaderboard functionality.

For more info, ea.com/shank2

Pads & Panels received a download code for the game courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.