Shank 2 Review

By Jeffrey Matulef - Posted Feb 16, 2012

Shank 2 is a good-looking cathartic beat-'em-up with a complex combat system and devilish charm. Unfortunately its weapons are uneven and the action can get overly cluttered, but even if it's not quite the ultimate sequel one would hope for it's still a pleasant, albeit flawed entry in the genre.

The Pros
  • Deep combat system
  • Smooth animations
  • Well designed boss fights
  • Can beat people to death with fish
The Cons
  • Imbalanced weapons
  • Action can be hard to decipher
  • No co-op campaign

Shank 2 Review:

Shank 2 begins with the aptly named hero returning to his homeland to find it under siege by a vile militia. Just as Shank can't let go of the past, his second game looms in the shadow of its predecessor. Thankfully, Shank is able to work out these issues through a heck of a lot of stabbing. While this may not get to the root of the problem, it still provides a good time.



War has changed

When Shank debuted a couple years back it was fresh and exciting. A mesmerizing combination of complex Devil May Cry style hacking and slashing mixed with shooting and a whole lot of gore, Shank breathed new life into the 2D beat-'em-up genre generally known for its simplicity. Shank 2 improves upon its predecessor in some ways, but for every step forward it takes another one back.

But first off, the good: dodging is better than ever, as you can now evade on a whim, even if you're otherwise per-occupied with grabbing and stabbing. This single-handedly fixes one of the biggest flaws with the first Shank.

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The other major addition to Shank's maneuvers is the ability to counter enemy attacks. Taking a cue from Metal Gear Solid, exclamation points appear above enemies' heads prior to attacking. Hit the grab button when this happens and Shank will parry the attacker, often by splattering their brains out with their own weapon. It's very slick and exudes action hero cool when it works, though these context sensitive counters can be a bit finicky.

Aside from his expanded move set Shank's arsenal has increased as well. While the familiar shanks, chainsaws, pistols, and shotguns have returned, this time they're joined by newcomers like torches, molotov cocktails, and shovels. There's even new characters to play as with their own unique weapons. The possible different ways to mutilate your opposition gives the game a lot of depth, along with countless stylish, gruesome animations.

Shank 2

Or maybe war never changes...

This is all well and good, but weapons feel imbalanced. The shotgun remains overpowered, dealing not only heavy damage, but a strong knock-back as well. Shank is the type of man so feral and cunning that he can kill a man with something as harmless as a trout, yet I never felt that kind of ingenuity was required.

Combat is also messier than it needs to be because the screen frequently gets cluttered, making it difficult to comprehend what's happening when throngs of goons pile up. This is less of an issue during boss fights, which are a highlight. They're impressive looking, the action is easier to follow, and their deaths are always sadistically hilarious.

While the single-player campaign largely echoes the first game, co-op has been drastically altered. There's no longer a co-op campaign, but rather three survival maps where two players fend off waves of enemies while defending three piles of cargo from bomb planting hooligans. As players amass currency for their kills, they can buy items like healing booze, machine gun turrets, or decoys. It's a surprisingly robust mode with several playable characters -- each with their own stat boosts -- but it can feel too restrictive and chaotic. I would have preferred a more traditional co-op campaign, as that was one of the highlights of the first Shank (not to mention that the scant single-player campaign is only about two and a half hours).

Shank 2

With a name like Shank, you could be president.

For all its refinements in dodging, countering, and armament acquisition, Shank 2 is still plagued by hard to follow action and uneven weapons, and the lack of a co-op campaign feels like a distinct step backwards.

What was acceptable in 2010 is less excusable this time around because developer, Klei had a year and a half and plenty of feedback to work from. Plus we've had excellent entries in the genre since, like Dishwasher: Vampire Smile that have raised the bar further. Pouncing, amputating, and snapping limbs remain as fluid and empowering as ever, and the hand-drawn visuals have plenty of flair, but I was left feeling like a clumsy badass rather than the crafty, agile hunter we all know Shank could be.

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Editor's Note: Shank 2 was reviewed using a PlayStation 3 copy of the game; however, we also played the game on the Xbox 360, and found no differences. If further investigation reveals any differences between the PS3 edition and the 360 edition of the game, this review will be updated to reflect those differences.