Violence is great, but in the real world we can’t get away with shoving a baseball bat down someone’s throat or taking a machete to their arm, that’s why the weak civilized nerds have taken to gaming. Games are at their base level about escapism and doing the stuff we’ve always wanted to do but physically or legally can’t. I feel the need to point out that at no stage have I ever dreamed of feeding someone a baseball bat or giving them a crash diet by cutting out some intestines but at the same time I’ve never dreamed of going to space, yet I like Halo.
All this leads me to the hyper-violent and beautifully designed sequel to Shank, Shank 2. Made by Klei Entertainment this platforming shooter sees you take control of the titular character Shank. He is a man of few words and between the tequila health packs and cut scenes it would seem also a raging alcoholic with a first for booze and blood.
You as Shank have to run and gun your way across 8 levels each with different locations and enemies all with the aim of saving some woman. You start the game on a bus travelling through a South American country on a bus when the local military see you as a walking bullseye, once you have killed a hundred soldiers under the guise of “self defence” you come to find a female friend of yours being taken away by the evil dictatorship.
You travel through boatyards, industrial areas, villages and at one point a detour to an Amazonian woman and cannibal temple deep in the jungle. The explanations for some of the levels seem to just be along the lines of “these guys have weapons, lets go kill”. This kind of cavalier attitude to the story is a real let down as in between the levels, and during the boss fights, you get beautifully animated cut-scenes. These cut-scenes falter in the way many do, they show you amazing stuff happening, but actions or stunts which you wish you actually played some part in as opposed to just watched. These cut-scenes really do make you sit up however, they are designed to such a high degree you could happily watch a TV series or film at this quality.
The art in the game is it’s real selling point. All of the characters are designed and animated in such a way that everything just fits. The change of locations and local inhabitants for you to kill all give you a real sense of where you are and the sound design does nothing but compliment this. Once or twice you’ll see some design that just picks you up out of your seat and beats you up the side of the head with a club. The most notable art design comes on the obscure and unnecessary Amazon stripper level, whilst stood on top of a rope bridge a lightning storms and fog creates a silhouette battle for you to play through.
The hyper-violence I mentioned earlier in this review is very apparent from the get go. Though a lot of the really brutal stuff is saved for cut-scenes, you as Shank do get to enjoy countering enemy attacks and using their own weapons against them. Bats and put through heads, meat cleavers used to remove limbs and machine guns get planted firmly in the enemies chest before being unloaded. Counters and every other button in this game has been mapped to be easy to use and smooth in the heat of the inevitable cluster-love fights.
Heavy attack, light attack and gun buttons all flow into each other in both animation and in combo linking. At the start of each level you can choose your load out, at the start this is the most basic of basic; machete and throwing knives, as you progess though you can unlock chainsaws and guns. Something I learnt pretty quick is that once you have the shotgun unlocked about three quarters of the way through the game you essentially have a win button. This might sound like a downside but when you hear the games biggest flaw you will realise you need every bit of help you can get.
The main reason this isn’t a perfect game is it’s difficulty. Normally I appreciate a difficult game, they draw out the games life but also give you a true sense of achievement, in Shank 2 however a lot of your deaths will feel cheap and unfair. Boss fights are a true retro experience, lose a lot of health in the process of working out their pattern and then just dodge attack then retaliate, repeat until corpse is lying in front of you. Now quite often these bosses are simply jobs, but unfortunately late in the game the bosses just become hard as adamantium nails. This is exacerbated by on the penultimate level being given a brand new character who hasn’t been given hardcore weapons and then expected to take out a boss who doesn’t fulfil a pattern but can take down half your health with a punch.
You will often feel like launching your controller at the very well drawn screen but thankfully checkpoints are frequent and the restart screen is quick to load. There’s something that was eradicated from games in the 90’s that very few people were not happy to see the back of, that is Damage Bounce. Damage Bounce is where you get hurt by an enemy and you jump back, good games gave you invulnerability for a few seconds so you can regain your composure, bad games, like Shank 2, give the enemies the option of essentially juggling your rag doll arse in the air like they’re auditioning for the Russian State Circus. Cheap deaths from this will break a lot of players, but I would encourage them to carry on, if nothing else but to experience a mildly sexist level set on a beach resort.
This game has a multiplayer mode, this is normally a reason to rejoice but I have to say that I have never played a multiplayer mode that has felt so tacked on. The first game was blessed with co-op campaign mode, for some reason Klei Entertainment decided that co-op is old hat, and what gamers really want is a really original Horde Mode. Survival mode as Klei Entertainment has masterfully named it is simply put a mode where you must survive for as long as possible. I have always had an issue with Survival modes in games, they never feel right and there’s only so much “back to the wall” gameplay you can take. It works I can not deny that, but it’s only fun if you really enjoy stress.
Overall I do rate this game, it’s artistic style is original and highly entertaining. Controls and action are well crafted and work well to compliment the style that Klei Entertainment were going for. The game falls down in it’s quite shallow gameplay and sometimes brutal gear changes in difficulty. For fans of classic platformers of old this is worth picking up to see a modern take on the games of your youth. The violence is so over the top and caricatured that it’s hard to be offended but some of the cut-scenes have the potential to make you wince. Nothing is more satisfying in this game than seeing a particularly tough boss get their comeuppance in a post level cartoon; Cyclops getting hung by a hook through his empty eye socket from the top of a crane will be the image to send me to happy dreams for weeks to come.
Rinse and Repeat Bosses