Less than two years from the debut of the first title, EA and Klei Games are bringing Shank back to PSN and XBLA. The violent side scroller failed to make much of an impact around these parts when it was released, being a case of far too much style over substance. Clearly the developers have a lot of faith in the franchise, enough to churn out another one so soon, but has Shank 2 been given enough attention where it matters?
There’s no need to waste time extolling the virtues of how this game looks. The original was a standout title in the graphics department and there was no doubt that this release was going to be just as stunning to look at. In fact it now seems to have had even more polish applied, with some nice little visual effects and a few more animations which make everything flow together much more smoothly. That said, there are some visual glitches in the cinematic scenes which make everything appear blocky, and the cutscenes have a bit of inconsistency in how they look – one in particular around three quarters of the way through is especially notable in this regards because Shank suddenly doesn’t look like Shank at all. But overall there’s no denying that this is a 2D delight for your eyes.
The original Shank suffered from problems with its combat, and the floaty feeling that haunted it has thankfully been addressed here. Shank now has a bit more weight to him, and while his lolloping (almost prancing) gait might feel a bit too loose, by and large it’s been corrected by preventing the player from being able to run through enemies and giving a sense of more resistance to jumps. The over the top pounce move is still there, but the levels feel better designed to make use of it and there are lots of toys for Shank to juggle enemies into the air, counter-attack with, or generally just cause carnage.
No, this time around Shank 2 has other problems to contend with instead of an unsatisfying control scheme. Namely it being an unsatisfying game.
While it would be silly to pretend the first title had a story that would even win a children’s story writing competition, at least it was held together by its Grindhouse style and the locations it visited to fit in with this theme. With Shank 2 this seems to have gone by the by, in a plotline which is probably best summarised as `Shank’s Gory South American Holiday`. It’ll ultimately leave you wondering what just happened or indeed why you should have cared about any of it to start with.
While unarguably good looking, the locations aren’t that varied or interesting this time around either, consisting of jungles and indoor warehouses. So by the time you’re half way through you get the dreadful feeling that the whole concept has long since run out of steam. In fact you’ll probably be left wishing that they’d just updated the control scheme to the original and got you to replay through that, because it feels like a lot more effort went in to putting it together. Even the over the top gore and cut scenes seem to have lost some of the heart found in the original, almost like it’s already going through the motions. Even if you only had a passing experience of the original, some of the character ideas and even the deaths in the cut scenes will look far too familiar here.
In terms of multiplayer, once again it doesn’t allow co-op play in the main campaign (although given the length of the title and its standard difficulty setting, it’s easy to see why this wasn’t included at the expense of making it a pushover). There’s not even a separate co-op storyline this time around. Instead mutliplayer is confined to a two player survival mode where players have to survive waves of enemies and purchase upgrades to unlock power ups.
Thankfully the mode is online enabled now and it’s a nice concept, especially when you have to split your time between slaying enemies and defusing the bombs they plant on key objectives in a bid to try and prematurely end your game. However this isn’t free of gripes either because the zoomed out viewpoint found in this mode means it was, to this reviewer at least, difficult to track the on-screen action. Instead it was all too easy for the player characters to get lost amongst the enemies and backgrounds, especially when it got too busy.
Overall it’s something of a strange feeling that Shank 2, despite being a step up from the original in some respects, ends up feeling like more of the same and undeserving of a higher score. The fact that it nails the controls this time around is to Klei’s credit and means it should be a must play experience… but the other issues with the game now mean it’s smothered by a feeling of being pedestrian. Ultimately it’s this which is perhaps more unforgivable than any of the issues found in the original.