As harsh as it is to say, Shank 2 feels like a game with a misplaced soul. Klei Entertainment’s follow-up still has all the great art design, smooth animations and fluid gameplay that made the original stand out, but something was lost along the way between 2010 and now. There doesn't seem to be a singular, cohesive driving force behind this new experience; instead, Shank 2 feels like an excuse to stitch together a load of wacky bosses battles and slap a "2" on the promo art, nothing more.
While the plot of the original Shank was nothing to write home about, essentially boiling down to a reverse Kill Bill, it still gave drive to the player to see the mission through to completion. You wanted to tear through the game's levels, brutally maiming the dastardly folks who wronged you and your girlfriend. Shank 2 never gives you that same sense of purpose. Like I mentioned previously, Shank 2's story boils down to an excuse for some ridiculous boss fights. While the original game wasn't Shakespeare, it did a better job motivating you to action than its follow-up. The only part of Shank 2 that really had me cheering was during a cutscene where Shank rips the jaws clean out of a giant white shark's mouth. Why that's in there, I have no idea, but it was pretty awesome.
It's a shame the story doesn't really enhance the gameplay, because the gameplay has seen a few upgrades that change the flow of combat for the better. For starters, you can now dodge attacks with the flick of the right analog stick, a la God of War. When in the heat of combat, this subtle addition comes in handy. In addition, Shank can now counter enemy attacks when he sees a "!" above an attacker's head, rewarding the player with an instant kill if they manage to hit the shoulder button in short time frame allotted, bringing up comparisons to Rocksteady's Batman franchise. These minor additions aren't anything new to the gaming world at large, but they work well within the context of Shank's frantic action and combat.
One thing I did notice almost instantly with Shank 2 is that the game is brutally difficult, whether you're playing on normal or, God help you, hard. While the first Shank had its challenging moments, it never reached the levels of frustration this sequel puts you through. While playing on normal, I had to replay the first level's boss at least eight times. Putting it mildly, it wasn't the best start to my experience. Klei just didn't do such a great job scaling the difficulty as you progress further into the campaign. Instead, the game fluctuates on a whim from boringly easy to painfully hard from encounter to encounter.
Outside the game's 8-level campaign, Shank 2 offers up a "Survival" cooperative mode. While I'm sad to see the co-op prequel campaign from the original Shank missing in action, the game's Survival mode (think "Horde" mode from Gears of War) does make for a nice, fun addition. There are plenty of characters to choose from, each with their own unique weapons and abilities, and the mode's upgrading system — allowing you to purchase health packs, new weapons, etc. in between rounds — makes the experience different every time you play it. I'll admit, I think Survival mode is the best part of Shank 2.
I had high expectations for Shank 2. But outside a few new additions to make gameplay even smoother and a relatively fun cooperative mode, the overall experience isn't as memorable as the original Shank. Maybe it's because the novelty of the IP has worn off over the last two years, requiring not only new tweaks to the gameplay, but also an actual campaign that feels bigger and more epic than the original. Sadly, that isn't delivered here.
Full Disclosure: CraveOnline received one advanced copy of Shank 2 for the PlayStation 3 from EA Games. Before starting our review, we completed the game's campaign on normal difficulty, and played a handful of hours in the game's Survival mode.