Building a better game in Shank 2

For insight on how to develop a successful game, you need only look to Klei Entertainment CEO Jamie Cheng's approach to Shank 2. Aware that the main knock against the first game was its repetition, Cheng and the rest of the development team decided to rethink their approach to the design.

"When we started work on Shank, we had never built a brawler or fighting game before," Cheng told me. "We tried to provide the best scenario possible, but when we looked at the game as a whole, we realized that a lot of the scenarios tended to repeat themselves."

As a result, Cheng said, the team decided to take a more holistic approach to the design of Shank 2. Enemies have been designed in such a way that they can't be defeated using the same tactics, and the mechanics have been tweaked. Blocking, meanwhile, has been removed entirely, which makes the combat flow even better and helps emphasize dodge rolls and the new counters.

It's the counters that I like best. Especially in the early going, the red exclamation marks that denote a counter opportunity are easy to spot, and the resulting execution is extremely satisfying. And there are quite a few more temporary weapons to pick up, further adding to Shank 2's emphasis on variety.

In the new survival mode, the large roster of characters helps to switch things up. Cheng is a fighting game fan, so I guess it's not surprising that I felt like I was picking a character in Street Fighter IV. There are bruisers and technicians, of course, but some also get major discounts on turrets, while others can revive their partner more quickly. I finally settled on the raven-haired Corina, one of the technicians of the bunch, who makes up for her lack of power with her excellent speed.

"When we were playing, we thought, 'Why just pick from skins?'" Cheng told me. "We wanted to encourage different gameplay styles. That way, if you're having trouble surviving, you can switch things up and try out a character with more power, or a character who can revive more quickly."

The emphasis on differing gameplay styles is taken another step in the actual combat. The ability to knock back a foe and stun them is obviously a great asset, but it's not a great way to make money. Combos are what bring out the gold, which can in turn be used to purchase items such as turrets, health, and wild boars. Boars take up an entire platform while knocking enemies to their doom, something that Corina and her scythe also excelled at.

Working together, Cheng and I were able to clear out several waves with the judicious use of items and a trap door, which sent enemies into the grinding doom of a set of gears. We could have kept going for a while, but soon enough it was time to go. Most of the time I detest Horde Mode for its repetition and ultimate pointlessness, so it's a mark of how entertaining Shank 2 can be that I really wanted to keep playing past the proverbial bell.

It's obvious that Klei Entertainment has put a great deal of thought into how they can improve an already solid game, and the proof is in the large and varied multiplayer roster as well as the reimagined mechanics. All this for a downloadable game, which I guess proves how far downloadable games have come in the past few years. We're once again in an era where a tiny development team like Klei Entertainment can work magic, just by rethinking its approach.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.