Around 18 months ago when the original Shank hit it helped spearhead a resurgence in arcade titles. Often discounted or ignored the high quality titles at the time - including DeathSpank and Deadliest Warrior to name but a few - started pushing the envelope offering uniquely favoured 3-4 hour snippets of awesomeness at a bargain basement price. This lead the way for more robust entries - seen recently with the likes of Bastion, the underrated Renegade Ops and the obligatory Shank sequel and topic of this review, Shank 2.
After Shank avenged the death of his one true love in the super-stylish, bandito blasting, gimp wasting, Cesar backstabbing, south of the border, blood-soaked, booze smashing rollercoaster ride of revenge it would be a safe bet to wonder where his journey would take him next. Deep into a beer bottle, Nick Nolte style apparently, waiting to go all Chris Brown on something, anything.
While the plot of the first outing for South Americaís most deadliest weapon may not have exactly blown your mind-hole as Shank gutted everything in his path as he worked his way to kingpin Cesar and enacted brutal retribution, its simplicity made perfect sense. He slowly sliced his way up the food chain, axed and strangled goons and henchmen by the hundred, decapitated and eviscerated Cesarís lieutenants before taking on the big cheese for the final showdown. Easy to understand and it donít tax the noodle that much.
The plot for Shank 2, alternately, more closely resembles an episode of Family GuyÖ not a compliment. Itís almost like the developers took a bunch of cool ideas (and let me be straight, individually they are wicked) and just mashed them all together and loosely strung the plot around it. Shank kits up and slice ní dices his way through a South American clichť montage.
He squares off against an evil dictator, joins ze revolution (bueno!), delivers a smorgasbord of pain to a tribe of flesh crazy cannibals, busts out an (Az)Tek-9 in the face of a maniacal Mayan priestesses and launches a surgical strike on an enterprising organ-removing doctor on his road to rescuing the woman who raised him at the local orphanage. Que? I almost wish the developers took a bite of out Asuraís Wrath and just set each scenario up as a bite-sized self-contained episode with no ties to the formal or latter.
Luckily the plot is not essential to negotiating your way through the roughly four hours of Shank 2. All you need is a pair of trusty shivs, a ranged and heavy weapon and a burning desire to turn every bad guy you meet into a quivering bowl of salsa as youíre lovingly serenaded by Hispanic guitar, a Lethal Weapon-esque twang and soaked in grindhouse themes. Thatís what Shank 2 is all about and it does it well.
Shank comes armed with enough implements of death to make even Neo go ďwhoa!Ē. Besides the ever present shivs used to loosen up the hordes and make them more combo pliable Shank packs a choice selection of throwing knives, twin pistoleros or the boss shotgun as well as a heavier weapon set made up of a machete, chainsaw or sledgehammer. The machete is perfecto for crowd control, the chainsaw gives extra bad-ass grindy damage and the sister sledge smashes shields and just about everything else with a devastating pile-driver attack if you use it mid-flight.
You can also pick up and use or throw the multitude of cleavers, axes, shovels (a personal favourite) and wrenches that downed bad guys leave behind. If that wasnít enough to send every single scumbag to dead place youíve also got mines, grenades and molotovs as a last resort.
Youíve still got your grabs and throws, the leaping pounce and a commando roll for evasion and new to the party is a one-button counter when an exclamation mark appears over an enemyís head. This usually leads to a coup de graces where you use the foolís weapon against them in brutal fashion.
Everyone has their favourites but the sledgehammer, shotgun and shank combo with mines was my choice as the ultimate in extreme group pacification. The sledge is devastating up close, mines are great for laying sneaky traps with huge collateral damage and the shotgun is pure poetry. Anything gets too close and booyakasha, theyíre nothing more than raspberry jam coating the walls and a spray of claret on the ground. Bee-you-ti-ful!
Boss battles are strictly old school and more about finding the attack pattern and bringing the pain quickly before a quick cut scene showcasing some super-cool move that takes off a chunk of their health bar or finishes them off for good. Though the end of level bosses arenít nearly as tough (or as downright prickish) as the ones in Shank itís still in your best interests to take them down hard and fast.
Once youíve smashed out single player thereís still a little more on the menu in the form of two-player survival mode. Here you get to pick from a slew of unlockable characters and work with a buddy to guard three supply dumps from increasingly difficult waves of bombers complete with cannon-fodder lackeys by the score and bosses. There are even zombie inspired rounds complete with 70s grindhouse cinema vision, shaky cams, spotty footage and dirty negatives!
Though there are only three maps on offer each has a unique trap or turrets that can be used against the increasing hordes and the gameplay is highly addictive. The capper is the pop-culture friendly character skins each with their own pros and cons. Usually they give you some sort of specific weapon damage at the expense of another or health, so itís always a trade-off though thereís sure to be several characters to fit your style.
Some skins that have to be mentioned are Cesar - the antagonist from the prequel, Boogie - bearing an uncanny resemblance to an afro-sporting Sam Jackson and Sunshine - a tribute to The Bride from Kill Bill. Defendor gets a look in, as does an Indiana Jones wannabe, a luchador and a guy who could be Jason Voorhees brother but itís the simple Hobo with a Shotgun that takes the top spot in my book.
Itís difficult to score Shank 2. While it improves on several elements others fall by the wayside. The combat is deeper and more layered and the bone-crushing difficulty spikes of the original have been hammered out to a more gradual incline. The soundtrack is still completely infectious, the pop-culture heavy, the unlockable character skins are spot-on and the introduction of a survival mode at the expense of co-op is a great trade off. But itís not all senoritas and margaritas.
Visually it doesnít look quite as sharp with many of the backgrounds giving off an unfinished air and lacking the overall polish and flair seen in its predecessor. Load times (particularly on PS3) are quite long - in the vicinity of Dead Rising 2 - and this can definitely sap your momentum. Certain areas feel incredibly cheap with the AI going to town on you after youíve pretty much made everything your ***** for the majority of the level, which can lead to many f-bomb or c-nuke laden moments of frustration.
None of these are deal breakers, but I canít help thinking that another month of tinkering under the hood could have made a substantial difference. The single-player alone doesnít make Shank 2 a must buy, but if you enjoy horde modes with a spicy Mexican twist then Shank 2 is an unbelievably fun addition to your party game collection.