mikelemmer's Shank 2 (PC) review

Good, Responsive Brawler Once You Tweak Controls

Time to Finish Campaign: 3 hrs.

Deaths during Normal Campaign: 51

Modes Tested: Normal Campaign, First Levels of Survival

Modes Not Tested: Hard Campaign, Coop Survival

What I'd Pay: $12

Steam Price (2/8/12): $10

The side-scrolling brawler is another genre that has seemingly gone extinct, reduced to re-releases and the occasional Smash Bros. Brawl level. It didn't survive the decline of the arcade well. That's why I took note when the original Shank got decent reviews. I never got around to playing it, though, so the revelation it made enough dough to justify a sequel on Steam & the consoles was a pleasant surprise. Would a side-scrolling brawler work on the computer?

Yes, but it took quite a bit of customization. The default control scheme uses the WASD setup to move, jump, and dodge, while it uses the mouse for aiming, attacking, and firing. This quickly became frustrating when I realized the direction Shank attacked depends on where the cursor was related to him; if it was to his left, he attacked left, if it was to his right, he attacked right. If the cursor was behind him & you tried to attack while he was running, he would quickly look backwards and go through the first 3 frames of his "attack" before snapping back to running without actually making the attack. This was unfeasible; the 1-on-4 fights were already hectic enough without having to keep an eye on my cursor to make sure it was in front of me. As an added bonus, the mouse cursor was stuck as the loading ring, flying around this South American civil war like an abstract version of Navi.

I quit the game and began digging through the Options.

First, I got rid of the loading ring by turning Fullscreen off, then back on. Then I stripped every control off the mouse and reassigned them to the Numpad. When I reentered the game, I shoved the cursor into the corner, planted both hands on the keyboard, and immediately improved my performance. Once they were reassigned to the keyboard, the attacks always went in the direction you were facing, removing the need to watch your cursor as well. I only had to switch control back to the mouse when I needed precise aiming during 2 turret sequences; the rest of the time, WASD guided me & the Numpad slaughtered my enemies.

With that setup, I could actually enjoy the tight controls the game offers. You attack quickly, you can cancel into a dodge at almost any time, and the enemies flash right before they attack, giving you enough warning to cancel into your dodge even while you're battling 5 foes at once. I never felt like I died because the controls were unresponsive, and I really can't think of a better way to handle a computer brawler's controls (aside from fixing that issue with the mouse attacks). I died because the game was challenging, not because it was cheap.

The game casts you as a one-man wrecking crew against an entire banana republic's army, which consists of 9 different types of enemies, a variety of weapons & shields, and several traps to turn against them. In addition, you choose your loadout for each level from up to 3 heavy weapons, 3 ranged weapons, and 3 types of grenades. There's just enough variety here to mix things up for the length of the campaign & make you think about how to tackle a level if you're shooting for a high score. The bosses are tough, but not as deadly as the regular fights; most of them have simple patterns and high health bars. Fortunately, they didn't last long enough to be annoying. Combined with the tight controls and light strategy, this is the best side-scrolling brawler I've played (aside from Smash Bros.).

If I was a big fan, I could play through the campaign on Hard, or perhaps sink a few hours into Coop Survival mode. However, I'm just a casual fan of the genre, and my Internet connection (so spotty it's mistaken for speed hacking) makes online play frustrating at best. I tried Survival mode anyway, going solo to see what it's like. Survival mode asks you to survive 30 waves of enemies, including some saboteurs that are trying to blow up the 3 supply crates on the stage. If both players die, or all 3 supply crates are blown up, you lose.

The first thing I learned is you don't do Survival mode solo. Survival is geared towards coop, and it's too easy to die without a partner that can revive you. The second thing I learned is that they really don't explain how to use the shop well. (Enter to open shop, movement keys to highlight an item, jump key to buy it.) It feels like Survival mode would be a good way to nab a few more hours out of the game with a friend if you really want some brawler action, but I can't say for sure.

What I do know is that the main campaign is well-made & long enough to earn the $10 you'll pay for Shank 2. Factor in the tight controls & sharp graphics, tack on another $2 worth for the Survival mode, and I'd call it a good deal if you like the genre. If they had fixed the mouse controls, or provided a coop campaign, or even let you use the secondary character for more than 1 mission in the campaign, I might've given it 5 stars. As is, it's a solid entry worth the price. Just make sure to customize the controls before you start it up.

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