The first Shank was oodles of over-the-top challenging fun. It had a few mechanical issues that could result in countless maddening deaths, but it remained a decent accomplishment. The sequel sees developer Klei Entertainment making a few appreciated changes and upgrades, while mysteriously ditching the co-op feature that made the original title more entertaining. Overall, though, it’s a slash ‘n bash blast. …try saying that three times fast.
The graphics are once again a high point, as they exude sharpness and a fantastic sense of style. There’s only one strange difference: the first title never once took itself seriously, so the goofy, bloody, even obscene presentation fit. This time, however, Shank is dealing with more serious subjects, like oppression and the threat of martial law. Therefore, the visuals seems almost too silly. But they’re technically sound and one has to appreciate the talent involved in those animations.
The sound features a narrator that isn’t bad, a good soundtrack, and a set of effects that will make your stomach churn. Extended use of the chainsaw really sounds…ugly. And of course, that’s the point. Every slash of your knife is clean and sends shivers down your spine; you can actually sense the sharpness of each blade Shank wields. The music continues to enhance the experience throughout, although it can get a little repetitive during tougher levels ('cuz you have to keep retrying).
If you played the first game, you probably remember the ceaseless action and a few little quirks that could, after enough play time, get on your nerves. But we've got a better setup now. For instance, the first thing I noticed was that the attacking and healing button is no longer the same (you pick up healing drinks with a separate button now), and Shank is simply faster the whole way ‘round. Switching between weapons takes almost no time at all and even the grisly animations that go along with nasty executions don’t necessarily put him in immediate danger.
Furthermore, dodging is just a matter of flicking the right analog stick, which is another upgrade. If you simply view Shank 2 from a combat standpoint, you’ll see a more refined mechanic that is tighter and more fluid. You get the benefit of knowing when enemies are primed for a grab; a red exclamation point appears over their head, and you can then execute an awesome counter grapple. The combos are big-time crowd pleasers and the sprays of blood and crazy level of cartoon-y violence will leave you giggling with sadistic glee.
There’s more diversity and variety as well. Most enemies in the original title were kinda mindless and would simply rush at you from everywhere. This time, some will sit back with laser-scoped weapons, while others are in a position for you to utilize the environment to your advantage. You can pounce on unsuspecting foes from above, and leaping behind a big guy’s back is usually a wise move. There’s also one final change that could prove to be the deciding element: lesser difficulty.
Or maybe it just feels easier because the combat mechanic and overall gameplay is better. Yeah, that could be it…then again, I’m pretty sure there’s a bit more leniency this time around, which in my eyes isn’t a bad thing. After all, 2D side-scrolling beat-‘em-ups were always supposed to be tough; they were never a walk in the park, and fans of the genre don’t expect to breeze through any given level. There are a few downsides that offset the positive alterations, though, and it starts with the multiplayer change, which I'm not a fan of.
Instead of local co-op for the campaign, we’ve got online multiplayer that focuses on fending off wave after wave of enemies. You need to team up to keep the baddies from overrunning your position, and that requires a lot of teamwork and quick reactions. Personally, I found it rather generic and bland, and I never like the idea of removing a perfectly fine cooperative feature. I don’t really mind that this new adventure is single-player only, but why even bother with a multiplayer function that doesn’t seem to build upon the base experience?
At any rate, Shank 2 is a slightly better game than its predecessor, primarily because the gameplay has been solidified. It feels faster and more reliable; by direct comparison, the first was just a little more irritating and not quite as sound. The technical elements remain great and the lower difficulty makes the game more accessible. Therefore, if you’re looking for one of the most brutal, entertaining side-scrollers available on the PSN, be sure to check out this rousing follow-up effort.
The Good: Nice, detailed visual package. Sound effects are appropriately gut-wrenching. Refined combat and gameplay. More variety in terms of level design and enemy types. Lower difficulty makes it more appealing.
The Bad: Soundtrack can be repetitive. Control still a tad loose. Replacing co-op with bland online multiplayer = bah.
The Ugly: “Just make your first chainsaw execution…”