Shank 2: Teaching a Class in Advanced Sequel Making
I never got around to reviewing the original Shank. It came out to somewhat mixed reviews, and that coupled with a price point on the high end of the downloadable game scale kept me away. I eventually bought it on sale, however, and immediately regretted my decision to wait. Somehow Shank‘s developers, Klei, had distilled everything I loved into one glorious revenge-fueled brawler. It was like Metal Slug with a much more elaborate combat system, fused with an amazing unmade Robert Rodriguez film. With my backlog, playing through a game twice is pretty rare these days, and I have completely lost track of the times I replayed Shank, whether front to back or just an individual level here and there. The game never seemed to inspire much talk around the Internet though, so when a sequel sprang up seemingly out of nowhere I was more than pleasantly surprised. As a bonus, Shank 2 released at a lower price point than the original, at $10 or 800 Microsoft Space Bucks (the price of the original has also been lowered to match, go buy it!). I jumped on it day one but a series of computer issues prevented me from doing a review. Well, no longer! How does the sequel hold up against the original? Read on and find out!
Simply put, Shank 2 is a sequel done right. The dedicated team at Klei completely stripped down the original game, got rid of what didn’t work, improved what did, and reassembled it into one of the most incredible and streamlined brawlers I’ve ever played. Brutal counterattacks and a lifesaving dodge move conveniently mapped to the right thumbstick elevate the combat, at its best moments, to the level of a 2D Arkham City. That is, if Batman ended his combo strings by eviscerating a thug with his own machine gun. Did I mention that the counterattacks are brutal? The controls have been subtly remapped since the original, and the button choices are perfect and intuitive. Once you get them down about halfway through the first level, Shank becomes an absolute whirlwind of blades and bullets. The only thing I miss is the ability to cycle through weapons on the fly-you now have to pause the game to make any changes. I feel like that’s a fair trade for a smoother combat experience, and with four different weapons equipped at a time anyway, it’s unlikely you’ll ever feel a serious need to visit the loadout screen mid-fight.
The narrative in Shank 2 is sparse even by the standards of the original (revennnnge!), but I never hit a point in the game where that felt like it mattered. The cutscenes are entertaining, the characters colorful, and the story at least holds its own with “Wrestler Mayor’s Daughter Abducted” or “President Kidnapped By Ninjas”. And that, my friends, is all a good brawler needs in that department. Game length is also pretty substantial for genre standards, clocking in at around 4-5 hours depending on difficulty settings and skill level. The meta-game here is also pretty decent, with a few collectibles to hunt down and a wide variety of goals to earn both achievements and extra costumes or characters. Many of these will require a few playthroughs to get, but with goals like “Stomp X number of baseball bats down throats”, it’s more of a pleasure cruise than a grind.
Shank featured a co-op campaign with a unique story that took place before the single player, which I always felt was a pretty cool idea, even though it lacked an online option. The good news is that the co-op in Shank 2 features both local and online play. The bad news is that ever since Gears of War 2 the “Horde Mode = Great Success” mentality has been on the rise, and it’s becoming the go-to multiplayer option for genres across the board. Don’t get me wrong, horde mode is alright in most games. And it’s well-implemented here, with a wide variety of playable characters each featuring a unique skillset. I just wish it were an extra feature instead of a flat-out replacement for the campaign-based multiplayer, and that so many publishers cough EA cough weren’t mandating it for every title.
In my (correct) opinion, the Shank series is a paragon of its genre. If there’s another single-player focused brawler out there with more satisfying combat and aesthetics, I haven’t found it. If plowing through endless enemies with a flurry of chainsaws, machetes, and shotgun shells is at all appealing to you, you should absolutely play both of these games. If you haven’t already played the original though, by all means play it before Shank 2. I don’t want to say the first Shank isn’t worth playing, because it is, but the sequel is so much better that it’s hard to go back. For taking a game I loved and improving on it in ways that only the most dedicated developers can, I declare Shank 2 one of my favorite downloadable titles of all time, and add that Klei, if you guys aren’t, you know, doing anything later, maybe you’d like to go get some coffee or something?
Availability: Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, Steam
Price: $10 (800 spacebucks on the Xbox)
Co-Op: Online and Local Horde Mode
Awesomeness Level: Totally Awesome