In a nameless, war-torn Latin American country, a group of brutal state militia pull over a bus and start waving guns and knives at the frightened people aboard. One approaches a solitary, hulking figure in back who has failed to evacuate the vehicle. The soldier draws a bead with his gun, and promptly loses his hand at the wrist.
This is the opening of the first level of Shank 2. By the end of it, Shank, the main playable character, will have gutted a hundred or more anonymous soldiers, using only a pair of machetes, an endless supply of throwing knives, and a pair of smaller, shiv-like blades. In the glow of the burning enemy base, the bus driver returns, and asks the blood-covered figure if he is part of the rebellion. “What rebellion?”
Yep. Don’t look for deep story here, though the melodrama in this 2-D brawler does have a way of sucking you in. This is a melee version of Metal Slug or Contra, with the violence ratcheted up a couple notches, and the battle system a bit deeper and more challenging. This is the game for the adolescent boy in all of us, and it fills him with glee.
The gameplay includes three main attack buttons, a quick blade attack good for starting off combos, a heavy attack (which varies between selected weapons: machetes, chainsaws, or a sword, for example), and a ranged attack (throwing knives; pistols). Besides this, Shank can grab and throw, pounce, take hostages, juggle enemies in the air.
Boss fights hold to the same core gameplay style but are sufficiently unique to keep things interesting. On the second or third level, I felt briefly overwhelmed by the number of different moves (a rolling attack I thought was oddly placed on the R3 analog stick). Every single button has an assigned function, and more than once I’ve thrown a grenade (R1) when I meant to pounce (R2).
Keeping track of so many unique moves and still managing to perform combos takes a bit of practice. I wouldn’t mind seeing the options slimmed down just a little bit, but I appreciate the potential for better and more advanced techniques for anyone who wants to put the time in.
I also appreciate the near-seamless integration of cut-scenes with gameplay. Each boss fight will allow for one super-attack (with a custom cut-scene) when you do enough damage. But it still feels like part of the fight; the damage bar still stays on-screen.
It’s mindless, gory, over-the-top fun. Way more to it and way more fun than I expected for a 10 dollar download title. If you’re into this sort of thing, I’d say it’s worth a look.
Article first published as PlayStation Network Review: Shank 2 on Blogcritics.