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A Shank in the Dark

Shank 2 quietly may its way to PC, PSN, and Xbox Live Arcade last week. The original side-scrolling beat-em up was also released amidst little fanfare and turned out to be a nice surprise. It didn't hurt that it was released around the same time as the Robert Rodriquez film Machete, so those looking for more brutal action featuring strong lead characters named after blades, well, let's just say they were taken care of. A few years later, Shank has returned with more weapons, better controls, and even more enemies to frustrate the living hell out of you.

Any gamer can tell you that videogame difficulty, as a whole, has rapidly declined over the years. Games have drastically evolved as an art form and because of this the experience has taken precedence over the challenge. This isn't bad or good; it's just the way things are. With this shift in the paradigm, coupled with the fact that gaming has become much more mainstream and family-friendly, it's not difficult to see why games are getting easier and more accessible. Back in the day of the NES, there were games that were so difficult, they'd cause you to go blind. Certain developers are valiantly trying to retain that aspect of gaming, Klei Entertainment being one of them.

The Truth Hurts - And So Does This Difficulty

Full disclosure: I didn't beat Shank 2. I couldn't. I believe I'm on the last stage. Here was a game that, having heard it was short, I had planned on breezing through over the weekend. I don't think I ever managed a solid 45 minutes of gameplay without shutting it off in anger. Granted, my responsibilities brought me back to the game before too long, but the cycle would repeat.

Now I'm no stranger to getting frustrated with games, but when I finally beat a difficult section in Mega Man or Ninja Gaiden, my anger is immediately gone, washed away by a sense of pride and satisfaction. That pride and satisfaction didn't come to me in Shank 2. When I beat a difficult part, all I felt was relief that it was over, as if I had just gone through a terrible experience. After you've shanked the 30th enemy in a row in the same section of jungle, every bit of fun is long gone. I'm willing to admit that I'm far from great at the game, but battling wave upon wave of enemies is tedious.

Coincidentally, Shank 2 has a Survival Mode, in which you battle wave upon wave of enemies. Shockingly, I wasn't crazy about this mode either, but the addition of co-op is a plus. And calling it tedious wouldn't really be a complaint as that's the very nature of modes like these. If you're sadistic enough to find the combat enjoyable, survival will hopefully satiate your appetite for more, but with a limited number of maps, it'll get old quickly.

MEGATechie Cut Above or MEGATechie Slice Below

Shank is well-made. The visuals and design are beautiful, the voice acting is good enough, and the violence is very satisfying on a visceral level. It's just too damn hard for its own good.

There's nothing wrong with making a difficult game, but the difficulty should never be a top priority, as it feels like it was with Shank 2. When you go into development with the intention of making a game super hard above all else, you get a game where the challenge constantly exceeds the actual enjoyment. There is fun to be had in Shank 2, no doubt, but it's far outweighed by the amount of times I wanted to slam the controller down in frustration. This is a grueling experience for all but the most hardcore gamer. And I don't mean hardcore gamer like most people mean hardcore gamer; I mean a crazy person.