A year and a half ago, Shank delivered a largely well-made, if repetitive side-scrolling action game. It gave players a solid mix of gunplay with some short-range knife attacks that were fun to mix up as well. The game also featured a beautiful 2D Flash animation style throughout both the game and its cinematics, culminating in a handful of silhouette-based stages that took your breath away when you first saw them. Before, Shank was motivated to get revenge for his pregnant girlfriend being killed. Now, he’s back to kill more dudes because…he wants to kill more dudes and save his new love interest; but mainly to kill dudes. The core game is largely the same, but with some notable changes.
The bulk of the game is the same as it was before, but with some improvements and alterations. You still go around stages slicing or shooting enemies to bits while engaging in some platforming every now and then. The big difference here, somewhat ironically, comes from small things. The controls are more responsive now than they were before. This results in platforming sections being much easier and less frustrating than before. The cumbersome two-button dodge from the original is gone, replaced by a dodging mechanic with the right stick that works perfectly - as long as you’re mindful of where you are and don’t just go flicking the stick wildly. If you do that, you’ll probably wind up avoiding one attack and then falling right in the path of another.
One new feature that adds a lot to things is being able to one-hit kill with an RT/R2 button press when an exclamation point appears above an enemy. Sure, many enemies can be dispatched after only a few hits, but when the screen is crowded, killing one nearly instantly helps a lot and gives you one less moving target to try and strike. You can also now send foes flying into the air with great ease for combos, and grab items using a sole shoulder button quickly, greatly speeding up the overall pace of the game.
Unfortunately, while the core game is better, glitches are more of an issue here than in the past. In the middle of the second level, there’s an area with a branching path that fades in and out depending on where you are, but sometimes it won’t fade out when it should and you’re left staring at a screen unable to see through the environment or see where Shank is to move forward - mandating a restart at the checkpoint. Thankfully, it doesn’t require you to start the whole game over but it’s quite annoying. There’s also quite a bit of slowdown on-screen when things get really hectic, including some crippling slowdown during an extended moving turret sequence late in the game.
There also isn’t a lot of variety here, with at least 90% of the game being spent just stabbing from left to right, with some breaks for turret-shooting and platform jumping. Outside of the main campaign, there’s also a survival mode where you try to prevent a series of bombs from being activated while fighting off waves of enemies. It mixes up things a bit by adding the time limit if a bomb is triggered, but doesn’t really change things up much and like the main game, gets old due to a lack of variety. This issue isn’t really too bad if you only play a couple of levels at a time, but given that the game only takes a few hours tops to get through thanks to frequent checkpoints, there isn’t much of a need for extended playthroughs.
Visually, Shank 2 looks about as good as the first one. There aren’t many improvements, but animations are a bit smoother. The soundtrack is very good and features of the kind of Mexican western-style music of the first game, but I don’t like the soundtrack quite as much as before. The voice acting is still pretty good, and strikes a balance between being goofy to fit the stereotypes of the characters while also occasionally playing things really straight so you care about the characters - this actually works out really well and the acting as a whole is better than one might expect from a game that appears on the surface to just be a mindless hack and slasher/shooter.
Shank 2 features tighter gameplay than the first, but also more glitches and slowdown, and graphics that have pretty much stayed the same with a soundtrack that isn’t as good as the first. At $10, it isn’t a terrible use of money and does offer a few hours of fun, but my gut tells me it’s best to wait for a price drop - there will probably be one for both the PS3 and 360 versions at some point, and there will definitely be one for the PC/Steam version. If you didn’t really love the first game, you can skip this one, but if you did, definitely give it a shot when it drops in price.
This review is based on the Xbox Live Arcade version of Shank 2 provided by Klei Entertainment.