Review: Shank 2 (Microsoft Xbox Live Arcade)

Shank 2
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Klei Entertainment
Genre: Action
Release Date: 02/08/2012

When I decided to pick up the original Shank for the very first time, I had envisioned it to be a much bloodier take on the Contra run-and-gun type action. What I got instead was more akin to the more beat-’em-up style games, like Double Dragon or Streets of Rage, except with a lot more gore. While the core game was short, it was challenging and full of insanity. It wasn’t exactly begging for a sequel, but as long as Klei Entertainment decided to make one anyway, I felt it necessary to see what the old Shankster was up to these days.

As it turns out, Shank 2 is less of a sequel and more of a re-imagining in so far as the story and setting goes. The gameplay, in all its ridiculous glory, has made the transition fully intact as well as a new multiplayer mode. I bet you’re just dying to know how it stacks up to the original. Time to find out if Shank is a franchise worth having a round two.

Let’s Review

If you need any clue as to how ridiculous the plot is, you only need to look as far as the opening scene. The entire conflict in the plot starts off because a soldier smacks a drink out of Shank’s hand, who in turn sees fit to slice his hand off. From there, Shank gets embroiled in a local revolution in order to thwart the dictator in charge there. It honestly doesn’t matter, as Shank 2 doesn’t take itself as seriously as the original did. It doesn’t even make reference to the events in the previous game, so as a newcomer, the only thing you will know about the character is that you shouldn’t spill his drink.

There are a couple of female characters new to the game that become integral to the plot, though try as I might, I couldn’t figure out Shank’s relationship to either of them. Corina in particular is a playable character for part of the campaign, who brings to the table her own play style and set of skills (more on that later). The best way to look at the cutscenes and the plot in general is that they are just set pieces put in place merely to encourage the one-versus-an-army type situations that Shank finds himself involved in. Regardless, it’s all quite humorous and far more befitting the character than the revenge plotline that he was involved in before.

While the campaign only comes in a single player variety this time around, there is a survival mode that allows for two player co-op, both local and online. Much like Gears of War 3, you and a buddy have to not only last through a 30 wave onslaught of foes, but you also have to protect sets of supplies from being blown up by bombers. As you kill enemies and collect the items they drop, you will earn currency that can be put towards such things as health power-ups or NPC’s that can help you fight. There are also traps littered around that you can spring to torch enemies or crush them in a grinder. While it can be played solo, Survival is quite difficult to do alone without the added buffer of having someone be able to resuscitate you should you fall.

Story/Modes Rating: Good

The original Shank was a good looking title in its own right, and Shank 2 continues this trend by bringing back the same visual style with some subtle improvements. There are short cutscenes peppered in during the various stages and not even a hint of slowdown when transitioning from one to the other, even if I decide to skip them. This is a nice alternative to the otherwise standard “you can either watch this scene, or watch the loading screen” type of setup. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that some of these animated scenes will show up as actual attack moves when you’re fighting bosses, triggered by a prompt when you have them stunned.

The character designs remind me very much of the Venture Brothers series, which would be very fitting since Shank is basically a video game caricature of Brock Samson. The characters themselves animate well, and have varied responses depending on how you choose to dispose of them. There’s also a variety of locales that you journey to that make good use of parallax in the backgrounds as well as visual tricks like screen blurs when you do specific attacks. Some areas will even obstruct details from you, showing nothing but black shadows as you put away enemies. Much of it is borrowed from its predecessor, but it still impresses all the same.

Graphics Rating: Great

You likely won’t hear the music all that well over all of the stabbing and screaming that will be going on, but it’s just as well. None of it is all that memorable. On the other hand, it’s filled to the brim with upbeat action movie brand tunes, which is absolutely perfect for this type of game. The dialogue is cheesy, full of the types of one-liners that you would expect to hear in a game this over the top. Even the enemies that you encounter will have full on conversations about the events that are taking place in the story if you stay away from them long enough to remain unnoticed.

The core of the audio will most certainly consist of the carnage that you wreak upon your foes. Shotgun blasts, chainsaw revs, and lots and lots of stabbing are all par for the course, joined in harmony by the death cries of your unfortunate victims. If you always wanted to know what inflicting terror upon your enemies sounded like, you’ll be in for a treat.

Sound Rating: Good

Despite what looks to be an otherwise simplistic 2D brawler, Shank 2‘s controls can be a bit daunting at first as they make use of every button on the controller. When you begin a stage you get to pick from an arsenal of heavy melee weapons, long range attacks, and some kind of molotov/explosive. You’re limited to a few base items at the beginning of the game, but more unlock as you progress. A and X are going to be your jump and basic knife attack buttons respectively, with B in control of your projectiles such as throwing knives or guns. The Y button is your strong attack and can be anything from a machete to a chainsaw as well as any item you pick up off the ground. Grenades and other explosive items are launched with the left bumper and come in a limited supply. Rather than using one of the attack buttons to pick up health or other objects if you need it, you can use the right bumper now which is nice. If you want to surprise an enemy, left trigger will execute a leap attack that will put you in a grapple position and allow you to “shank” or throw your opponent. Right trigger can also grab enemies as well as counter any attacks that might come your way should you see an exclamation mark appear over their head. If you time it just right, you’ll unleash an instant kill move that will vary depending on what the enemy is using as a weapon. For example, if he has a gun you’ll wrestle it away and shoot him in the chin with it. Likewise, a baseball bat allows you to kick it into their mouth and kill them instantly. The possibilities are endless.

While the buttons are the same for Corina, she has access to a different set of items than Shank does. The scythe in particular allows you to keep your distance from enemies and makes it easier to juggle them, I found. She also has access to an Uzi for a ranged weapon which as you might expect, fires off rounds much quicker than any of the other guns offered.

The controls were all around very responsive, and using the right thumbstick for evasion wasn’t as awkward as I was expecting. The only problem I ran into was having counters mapped to the same button as grapple, as I found myself accidentally grappling enemies that I wanted to do a counter move on. This normally wouldn’t be a huge deal except for the fact that enemies didn’t seem to damage me when I was doing a counter kill and they do when I have one of their buddies in a grapple.

While the majority of your experience will be in combat, with the occasional platformer bit, Shank 2 tries to mix it up for you throughout the various stages. There will be segments where you will have access to a mounted gun and will have to fend off waves of enemies and sometimes missile launchers while taking care not to overheat the gun. If this happens, Shank is left vulnerable momentarily and can be knocked off the turret, which can be devastating if there are a ton of enemies left onscreen. There are also a ton of traps strewn about each stage that can be used to weaken or outright kill foes such as grinders or giant fish that can be swung into them. These traps are really imaginative and add some diversity to the otherwise straightforward combat.

Control/Gameplay Rating: Great

I was disappointed to see the absence of the co-op campaign this time around, as the original Shank had a completely different set of stages for two people to traverse. Especially since the addition of Corina opens up the possibility of simply having a second player tag along for the single player story. Granted, this would have made the game much easier than it already is, but as a couch co-op enthusiast, it would’ve made a world of difference for me.

In its place we get the new Survival mode which arguably has more replay value. Each of the stages has 30 waves each, as well as a multitude of challenges you can unlock in order to get new costumes for your characters. Not to mention the majority of the achievements are earned from this mode. The ability to play this online as opposed to having your buddy right next to you at all times only sweetens the deal.

Replayability Rating: Good

The campaign in the original Shank was quite difficult and in some cases, frustratingly so. Despite the uphill climb, I got through it as well as the co-op mode. Compared to that game, Shank 2 is a cake walk on the normal setting. Checkpoints are very generous, often dropping you right before whatever area it is you met an unfortunate end and the only penalty is the loss of points upon completion of the stage (which will only matter to you if you’re trying to get on the leaderboards). That isn’t to say that this game is without its challenging moments. Some of the later boss battles can be really tricky, but they’re also well done. The bosses all follow patterns, but some of their attacks are difficult to avoid, even when you know they’re coming. Especially when they bring some of their minions in the mix (which can be destroyed by the bosses themselves, amusingly enough). Still, you never feel cheated and once you get the feel for each battle, you eventually get through it.

If the normal difficulty is not satisfying enough, there’s a hard difficulty for the single player campaign. Also, the Survival mode is really tough to tackle for just one person. Not only will you lack having a buddy to revive you, but you have to make sure your enemies aren’t arming bombs while simultaneously trying to kill you. It gets very hectic, but it’s a lot of fun.

Balance Rating: Enjoyable

Shank 2 is very similar to its predecessor, so if you go into this looking for a drastic evolution in the gameplay, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Much of what makes it fun though is what it owes to games that came before it. The ability to throw down with a band of thugs while using every object that happens to be lying on the ground harkens back to the days of coin-op beat-’em-up titles. The variety of attacks at your disposal, and the ability to launch foes into the air and juggle them with bullets is a familiar, yet enjoyable nod to the Devil May Cry series. Shank 2 is a lot like Darksiders in that regard. It takes a little piece off of a number of games, and puts it all together nicely. Just don’t expect much in the way of innovation.

Originality Rating: Below Average

I’m of the pedigree that believes in a shorter game that’s well paced and contains thought out design as opposed to a lengthier game that’s unnecessarily padded out. Shank 2 falls into the camp of the former. There are eight stages with each one lasting approximately 15 to 20 minutes. However, there is rarely a dull moment, as locales change constantly and new obstacles are thrown at you at a fairly even pace. Including areas where you can hop on a mounted turret and just blast everything that moves.

It’s hard to say how long the appeal of Survival mode will last considering I didn’t get to experience it with a co-op partner. It has potential though, and is a good time waster for those that enjoy similar modes in games like Left 4 Dead or Gears of War.

Addictiveness Rating: Great

Appeal Factor
Given the overall content of the game, this is definitely one that kids and those with weak stomachs will want to stay away from. This is much gorier than the first time, containing scenes where you see intestines and people being eaten alive. Aside from that, games of this genre have been making a comeback on downloadable services such as Xbox Live Arcade, and Shank 2 ranks up there as one of the better offerings. I think people who give the demo a shot will dig it, so long as they haven’t tired of the original and aren’t of the mindset that every game needs to be lengthy to be worth a purchase.

Appeal Rating: Great

Shank 2 will run you 1200 Microsoft Points, which equates to about $15. I’ll be honest, I waited until it went on sale before I took a chance on the original. If you have any reservations at all, I would suggest you do the same. If you’ve got a buddy that you think will help you soak up some hours in Survival mode though, it is worth the full price tag.

It should also be worth noting that if achievement acquisition factors into your purchasing decisions at all, I will tell you that there are more than your average arcade game but with much less payout. In other words, most tasks are only going to award you with about five Gamer Score, and many of them take a great deal of time to do. I will say that the task of “find the kitchen sink and kill someone with it” is one of more humorous achievement descriptions I’ve ever read.

Miscellaneous Rating: Enjoyable

The Scores
Story/Modes: Good
Graphics: Great
Sounds: Good
Controls/Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Good
Balance: Enjoyable
Originality: Below Average
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Great
Miscellaneous: Enjoyable

Final Score: Good Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
Shank returns in the same kind of over the top beat-’em-up action you loved him from in the original. It’s a bit on the short side, and a co-op campaign is sadly absent. In its place is a Survival mode that can be played both locally or online and tasks you with fending off enemies for 30 waves per stage. The single player campaign is far less frustrating than it was in the original, but without short changing the entertainment value. Shank 2 is well presented, thoughtfully executed, and is just all around a lot of fun. If you were looking for a violence filled gore fest to download, then look no further.



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One response to “Review: Shank 2 (Microsoft Xbox Live Arcade)”

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