It’s strange the things that a cartoon art style lets you get away with. Normally, stuffing a machete through somebody would be considered a tad horrific but, if applied with just the right dose of heavy black outlines and hyperstylized musculature on a 64-bit pallet, it’s harmless cartoon fun.
Shank 2 is a lot like that, except for the part where he does much more with that machete than such simply brutal kills. The game oozes with the kind of style you’d find on Adult Swim or MTV’s short-lived adult cartoon series. Thick black lines and heavily solid colors help keep the silky animations and colorful violence from ever getting tedious.
This also applies to the cutscenes, which seem to be heavily influenced by that Star Wars cartoon that aired a few years ago with 5 minute episodes. Fast-paced, campy and a lot of fun. The original game’s story was surprisingly deep, in the same way that you didn’t expect your entire foot to fit in that puddle, pastiche to Kill Bill and various Robert Rodriguez movies. Shank 2 unfortunately seems to eschew it for a far more basic main story with some nicely detailed character bios thrown in for good measure.
The game takes places over a variety of different locations from rebel camps to cannibal jungles to fisheries and docks. The environments are all gorgeous and have their own unique style. There doesn’t seem to be any actual flow to the levels, but that just seems to be how beat ‘em ups go.
The biggest difference between Shank 2 and its predecessor is the vastly improved gameplay, though it took just a few small changes to make this happen. The biggest is an all new control scheme which is definitely a marked improvement. Unlike the first game’s controls, which seemed to encourage failure with some questionable action mapping, Shank 2 elects to separate the Use and Light Attack button and do away with the rather useless Block move in favor of a more appropriate Roll.
Shank can now pick up enemy weapons, like spears, axes, baseball bats, fish, and torches, and use them to flesh out his arsenal. The ability to switch out guns and heavy weapons on the fly has been removed in favor of loadouts you have to stick with for the entire level, for better or worse.
The levels are much longer than before, too. Whereas one could blaze through certain levels within a minute or two in the original game, all of Shank 2’s take approximately ten to fifteen minutes. It’s a longer game than the first, but not exactly what one would consider a long game regardless.
Unfortunately, boss battles are still the weak point of the game. While it’s not nearly as luck-based in certain areas as before thanks to the lack of quick movement and impossibly small telegraphing windows, there’s still a modicum of prediction involved in them. One that comes to mind involved a character who would attack as soon as you saw her make the slightest movement. I essentially had to guess when she would attack in order to dodge her. Regardless, the boss fights are much more visually interesting and varied than the first.
The multiplayer campaign from the first game has been replaced by a survival mode of sorts, where two people fight off waves of enemies while defending supply drops and buying items and weapons to keep the fight fair. While it does nothing to offset the lack of story in this sequel, it does add quite a bit more to the replay value of the game as a whole.
Also helping the replay value are a whole cast of playable characters, all with different weapons, abilities and gameplay styles, and are playable in both campaign and multiplayer. It reminds me a lot like the old PlayStation and N64 era games when you had to unlock characters by doing special things in the game and using secret characters to unlock other secret characters. Do you remember when games were that cool? Because this game is that cool about it.
The game’s PC controls seem finicky in comparison to the console controls. Shank 2 finally makes use of the mouse, which helps with the overall combat, but the game incorporates the location of the cursor for which direction to attack, for some strange reason. There’s absolutely no reason for the game to do this and all it serves to do is make the game harder to play. There were times when I would be trying to attack an enemy on the right only to hit air on the left because the cursor happened to be on the left side of the screen. It becomes very frustrating for a game where the direction you’re facing can make or break your runthrough. On the plus side, it’s much easier to aim your ranged weapons with the mouse than it is with a controller. So PC fanboys can rejoice in that. Maybe make a T-shirt out of it.
Shank 2 is definitely one of the best beat ‘em ups to come out in a long while. Old school Metal Slug style gameplay with gorgeously slick modern visuals and oozing with Robert Rodriguez-brand style. The game is a definite must for beat ‘em up fans who are looking for a sizable game with good replay value and a heady challenge. For the rest, it’s a fun and gorgeous little game that I doubt anyone would be underwhelmed to have in their collection.
Shank 2 was released on February 7th, 2012 for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Review is based on the PC version.