It’s difficult to be sure of what the most interesting aspect of Shank 2 is. It could be the unapologetic ultraviolent nature of the title: a side-scrolling beat-em-up designed around utilizing the customizable load-out of light, heavy, and ranged weapons to brutally massacre everything on screen while simultaneously timing the use of the new evade roll to dodge almost every attack the various sizes of enemies have at their disposal.
It could be the art style, both in the actual game and the cutscenes that serve to push the story forward and reinforce the ultraviolent nature that has become a hallmark of the series, punctuated every time an enemy explodes in a shower of blood and viscera.
It could even be the actual combat, which, while not incredibly different from what was present in the previous game, is still a step forward. Juggling enemies is solid, and the new dodge roll that has replaced the old block makes sure the action never hits an unfortunate standstill.
It’s easy enough to be sure of what the most frustrating aspect is, though. Practically every boss battle comes down to a battle of attrition the first time through. Where the rest of the level leading toward any of the bosses is filled with cannon fodder and their slightly tougher, larger counterparts, the bosses all seem to be resistant to the awesome combinations of weapon attacks every other enemy is susceptible to. Instead, boss battles become a fight of attrition where knocking away enough health from bosses exhausts them, causing the ‘grab’ button to appear above them. Landing the grab immediately starts a quick cutscene showing Shank laying a serious beat down, knocking out a chunk of the boss’s health before dumping you back into the fight.
If that were the extent of any boss fight, then frustrating might be a harsh world. But each boss has their own gimmick to deal with, and while some can easily be dealt with by liberal use of the dodge roll, others are simply overwhelming. One boss with a flamethrower routinely lights the whole room on fire and causes exploding canisters attached to the roof to explode and rain down additional fire.
Still, boss fights are not the end-all of a video game. Deux Ex: Human Revolution had some of the worst boss fights in a recent video game and still managed to be a fun game, and it is much the same for Shank 2. The enemies themselves, while starting out as standard militia men, quickly morph into a cadre of oddities, including ninja women, nurses, wolves, cultists, and grenade-throwing dwarves (to name a few), and often these new enemies present slightly altered methods of attack necessitating an ability for on-the-fly adaptation.
Shank 2, being a game created during this current generation of games, also offers an online spin on Horde Mode for consideration. While completing each level of the campaign ends with an accumulated score, which gets wiped after every death, the multiplayer Survival Mode comes to an abrupt end if all the objectives are failed or all the players are killed. It’s purely a climbing exercise, and the online leaderboards are the mountain. It’s novel, but ultimately not a huge part of the game.
With a great combo system, a decent number of weapons for variation, hidden collectibles, and a number of unlockable characters for use in both game modes, Shank 2 is a fine choice. Just be aware that the potential for irritation lies within. Irritation that can be sated by demolishing hundreds of villains with a chainsaw.