Game Review

Shank 2 Review

Sequels are a funny thing. When a game is good-but-not-quite-great, we see the smallest solutions to itty bitty flaws, a few things that could have been spectacular given just a little more spit-shined development time. Yet those few tiny tweaks typically aren't enough to regenerate interest, never mind entertain for hours on end, when a sequel turns up. It' almost as if that game had its chance, and now we expect more, more, more. <br/><br/>Shank 2 doesn't reinvent itself in the slightest, which is why, more than most sequels, it's difficult not to compare it to the original. Developer Klei used past criticisms to patch its pants and glue its building blocks together. It shuffles its pieces around, finds better places for them to fit, and defies the idea that overhauling a flawed experience is absolutely necessary. <br/><br/>The result is, of course, a better 2D brawler, the kind most wished it would have been the first time around -- and it'll absolutely turn your Shank crank again.<br/><br/><center> <object id="vid_4e82660b8e88c55d610004ea" class="ign-videoplayer" width="468" height="263" data="http://media.ign.com/ev/prod/embed.swf" type="application/x-shockwave-flash"><param name="movie" value="http://media.ign.com/ev/prod/embed.swf"/><param name="" value="true"/><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"/><param name="bgcolor" value="#000000"/><param name="flashvars" value="url=http://www.ign.com/videos/2011/09/28/shank-2-the-brutal-story-begins"/><param name="wmode" value="opaque"/></object> <div style="width:480px"><a target="_blank" href="http://www.ign.com/videos/2011/09/28/shank-2-the-brutal-story-begins">More Shank 2 Videos</a></div></center><br/><br/>Shank 2 addresses flaws Klei is acutely aware of, so it practically shouts about how much better it is now than it used to be. Main character Shank dodges with an effortless flick of the right stick, which is a massive step up from the clunky trigger/stick combo from the first game. <br/><br/>Attacking and healing aren't tied to the same button as they were previously. Where the animation system used to inhibit Shank, it now enables him: He moves faster, pounces farther and higher, and can switch between weapons mid-combo without a split-second delay signing his death certificate. In addition, exclamation marks above enemies' heads act as an instant-death counter-kill indicator, which is massively helpful for plucking particularly troublesome guys from a group. Also, disarming and executing dudes is quick enough not to break your rhythm, but slow enough to glorify the grossness of kicking a baseball bat down someone's throat. Uninterrupted murder is a beautiful blend of graceful fluidity and harsh ferocity, and few melee-centric action games achieve this kind of big-combo bliss. <br/><br/>The combat is improved for more than basic input reasons, too. Enemies attack in different ways from various places -- dudes chuck grenades from across the screen, careful shooters take precise pistol aim from above, and maniacal machine-gunners fire bursts in your general direction. Instant-kill pits make short work of bad guys (and you) too, and throwing switches to crush five guys beneath a shipping container is sickening fun. Each encounter is an unpredictable puzzle where evasion, aggression, and an impressive array of acrobatics earn you a personal accomplishment greater than any leaderboard high score. <br/><br/>Juggling and switching from your quick-attack shanks to a heavy sledgehammer to the shotgun aren't just cool-looking tactics -- they're completely necessary to surviving. By comparison, the first game is slow, unsatisfying, and cumbersome. (Really, you can never go back.) Shank 2 is demanding, and in a 2D action game so reliant on player precision, these simple tweaks make your life a hell of a lot easier. <br/><br/>Even the most difficult problems in Shank 2 have easy solutions. More importantly, its harshest conditions can't come close to the maddening challenge of its predecessor. This is perhaps the best step forward -- the first Shank had some ridiculously difficult spots. In Shank 2, you'll only bash your head against the occasional brick wall as long as you let it stand. When shotgun blasts or the scythe aren't doing enough damage to certain characters, swapping to the revolver or chainsaw is usually enough to take 'em down. Main character Shank no longer switches weapons on the fly during a level, though, and must instead trade gear between deaths. It's small inconvenience, but knowing weapon properties -- bonus damage against fat enemies or a knock-back effect, for instance -- and changing your strategy accordingly is the key to powering through tougher sections. Boss battles are a particularly great example of these and the rest of Shank's greatest design elements coming together. As bosses are meant to be, they're the final exam for everything you've learned along the way -- if you didn't pick up on and make use of something new and important, you're going to have a tough time with their interesting patterns and brutal attacks.<br/><br/><img src="http://xboxlivemedia.ign.com/xboxlive/image/article/119/1196917/shank-2-20110927054158636-000.jpg" /><br/>Shank 2 Screenshots<br/><br/><br/><br/>Co-op would have made the campaign a cakewalk, which is perhaps the reason it's single-player only this time around. Shank 2 trades the first title's local cooperative campaign for wave-based online multiplayer. It's both a trade-up and a trade-down. Clobbering coordinated bombers before they blow up supply caches for 30 waves involves all the single-player's best Shank-isms -- two players use the terrific combat, mount weapons, and set off traps to eviscerate and burn bad guys -- and requires serious skill. Dying doubles your ally's duties, plus they're responsible for reviving you, so bring a coordinated comrade or suffer the consequences.<br/><br/>Earning cash for kills to buy mini-guns, turrets, decoys, and, uh, a wild boar gives you a reason to seek out incoming enemies as well, rather than just let your buddy take care of the worst situations. There's an alluring draw to replaying the three maps with new characters, too -- each has his or her own statistics, like health bonuses, item discounts, or damage modifiers, and each match plays out differently based on how you experiment with various pairs. Survival Mode feels thrown in out of obligation rather than inspiration, yet it still brings enough new to the table that it'll melt away an hour in an instant. <br/><br/>Survival Mode is probably where most will spend the majority of their time -- Shank 2 is only a couple hours long, and there's little incentive to replay the campaign. Granted, the single-player is flashy, gorgeous, and where the coolest stuff happens, like escaping giant boulders and buzz-saws, fighting through a burning village, or exploring a massive boat with a bunch of diverging paths. Survival Mode is missing distinctive qualities to call its own, so it exists if you feel shortchanged but is inessential if you'd rather move onto the next great game in your library.<br/><br/>If there's one major change in Shank 2, it's the tone. Thematically, Shank was absurd. The game was dark and violent, which didn't quite fit in with the Luchadores, strippers, guys in gimp masks occupying each arena. Shank 2 is about martial law, facist oppression, and endangered family. It doesn't do anything to capitalize on this stuff, which is a shame -- the cinematics are still goofy, profane, and senseless, and some of the bosses are a bit out of left field, visually. The grim approach a nice touch to the gameplay, anyway, and fits into the grand scheme of making Shank 2 feel much more in line with itself. <br/><br/>&#169;2012-02-06, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved
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