Like the low-budget grindhouse movies that inspired it, Shank 2 is the type of action game you don't see very often. It's gritty, violent and full of cartoony villains you can't wait to explode into a million little pieces. There's no depth here, just a good, old-fashioned take-no-prisoner 2D action game that will have you on the edge of your seat from the first decapitation to the final kill.
Taking place after the Tarantino-inspired events of the first game
, Shank 2 starts with our hero (Shank, an ex-mob hitman) getting the much-needed rest and relaxation he deserves. Unfortunately his South American vacation is cut short when he hears about an oppressive dictatorship waging war. It turns out that a longtime friend has been kidnapped by this violent outfit. It looks like sun and surf will have to wait.
The result is a straightforward side-scrolling action game in which a murderous hero fights through jungles, ancient ruins, shanty towns, a boat dock and eventually the evil dictator's secret lair. This also gives you a chance to fight hordes of guerilla soldiers, giving this a much different feel from the original game. One thing that hasn't changed is the amazing art style. You can't help but fall in love with the hand drawn graphics, even when our hero is shoving a grenade into the chest of a bad guy in the bloodiest way possible.
Shank 2 keeps the variety high with the ability to hold several weapons at the same time. Our hero still has his default attack, a pair of incredibly fast moving knives. He also is able to hold a long range weapon, which includes a series of powerful guns. You also have a chance to swing a sledgehammer or, my personal favorite, run around with a chainsaw. Rounding out the arsenal are the grenades and landmines, which can really come in handy when fighting big crowds of baddies or bosses. Because each of these weapons is mapped to a different button, the game rewards you for chaining combos together.
There are even more weapons to choose from once you jump into one of the game's eight stages. You'll find that enemies will drop some unique loot, including bats, shovels, flaming torches, riot shields and more. At first it's fun to try out all of the new weapons, but before long you'll discover that it's essentially if you're going to beat the campaign. Unlike the first game, you are unable to change out weapons in the middle of a stage, making these pick-ups invaluable.
It's not just your selection of weapons that has improved since the first game, Shank 2 also allows players to roll out of the way using the way. Incidentally, this new roll makes the game feel even more like God of War, a game that came up several times in my 2010 Shank review. The improvements to the combat don't go unnoticed, it really sped the whole game up.
All these improvements to the combat come at a price. This time around Klei opted to get rid of most of the platforming challenges found in the first game, something that would have gone a long way to break up the repetitive action. Furthermore, I wish the writers would push this character even more. Although the setting and storyline are different, a lot of the narrative beats felt the same as the first game. The real change here is the style, which didn't grab me as much as the first game.
On the other hand, the game's presentation is a thing of beauty. The comic book art style, the introductions for each bad guy and the stylized cinemas are all done to perfection, making this one of the best looking Xbox Live Arcade games so far this year. The writing is also genuinely funny, which shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody that played the original Shank.
The game's action-packed pacing can only be sustained for so long, which may explain why the story mode is only a few hours long. Thankfully the developers have added a co-op survival mode, which sees players trying to protect a set of stockpiles from waves of enemies. There's actually a bit of depth to this mode, including characters with different stats and special weapons and items you can buy between waves.
If the first game was influenced by Quentin Tarantino, then this sequel is firmly embracing the Rambo franchise. The result is an ultra-violent mess of blood, guts and body parts strewn everywhere. It's a 1980s action game trying to find its place in the 21st century, not unlike the fourth Rambo movie. It's silly, it's shallow and it's a throwback to a different time. Shank 2 isn't for everybody, but I have a hunch that the target audience is going to eat this game up.