Shank 2 is a game with no surprises. From the very title, one expects an over-the-top gore-fest of a game, possibly featuring an assortment of sharp implements of destruction and mayhem. And, in fact, that's exactly what we get. Filled with cartoony violence, forgettable plot, and a (briefly) entertaining campaign, Shank 2 gives players a few hours of fun, all for about the same price (and time commitment) as popcorn and a matinee.
Shank 2 opens up in some generic tropical American watering hole, and within seconds our freakishly-muscled protagonist is slicing and dicing his way through hordes of caricatured villains. There's some plot about a kidnapping, an evil dictator, and (for some reason) a tribe of ninja-priestess-assassins, but little makes any sense. Really, it's all about the carnage, with the "story" simply trying to drag us along from one disjointed location to the next. Still, as long as players turn off their higher-order thinking for a bit, Shank 2 ends up being sort of fun.
It all boils down to the game play and presentation, which manages to hold everything together for the short time spent. The cartoonish look works well, making the absurd levels of violence and gore palatable and darkly humorous. Shank himself moves quite smoothly, and players can soon be chaining together long strings of attack combos, using a wide variety of weapons and victims. Shank begins each level choosing his arsenal--one ranged attack, a heavy weapon of some sort, and some sort of explosive. Combined with his ever-present...um...shanks, players can quickly and easily change between attack types, setting up painful-looking strings of attacks that inevitably end in gratuitous sprays of cartoon blood. Shank is also able to pick up a decent selection of weaponry from his fallen enemies, everything from harpoons to cleavers to dead fish. These bonus weapons only have a limited number of uses, but they tend to dish out even more carnage than the trusty chainsaw and shotgun.
The enemies themselves aren't as varied as I would have liked. After about two levels, most of the enemy types have been discovered, and the rest of the game is spent with variations on the same theme. It doesn't take long to learn the attack patterns of each enemy type, and when fighting just a few Shank feels unstoppable. But occasionally, swarms of enemies turn the otherwise-too-simple game into a controller-throwingly difficult affair. These swings of difficulty can be quite frustrating at times, especially when considering that the game only saves progress at the level endpoints. Sure, there are decently-placed checkpoints in each level, but if players hit a rough patch and want to take a breather for a bit, they'll have to replay entire levels once the game has been rebooted.
The bosses are a bit more varied than the rest of the villains, but they, too, fall into quickly-learned patterns. Most boss fights require the old-school "learn the pattern" technique, which works for about half the fight. After a quick cutscene, the bosses change up a little, boost their speed, and fight to the bitter and gory end.
The single-player campaign only runs a few short hours, and I really don't see too many players heading back in to grab all the hidden collectables. There is a leader board set up for points, so the more competitive players can try for bragging rights on each of the levels--since a death results in player score resetting to zero, it can be quite a challenge to try to finish a level unscathed. Once players tire of the campaign, they can also join up with a friend for a co-op base-defense game. Here, each player tries to defeat wave after wave of attackers and defend a few key locations. Not really to my liking, but the co-op can probably provide a few extra hours of fun for those so inclined.
Earlier I mentioned the controls being simple to pick up, and that's only half-true. The keyboard-and-mouse control scheme for PC is almost completely unplayable, at least to me. The finger-twisting dance required to pull off even the simplest of combinations left me frustrated and annoyed within minutes. What should have been simple, early-level fights were grueling, and I couldn't begin to imagine playing through the rest of the game this way. I did eventually hook up a controller, after which everything ran much more smoothly. But for a game designed for the PC, even as a port, I expect it to play well with the native control layout of keyboard and/or mouse. To expect players to fork over $20+ to buy a peripheral to play a $10 game is just ridiculous.
Grumbling aside, Shank 2 is a decent little game and worth a look for fans of the 2D brawler. There is a certain fun to be had in the over-the-top style, and the brevity of the game insures we don't tire of its antics before it's over. I'm sure I won't remember much about this title in a few months, but the short time I spent here wasn't wasted.