Shank is a lot of things. From a gameplay perspective it’s a traditional 2D side scrolling action game that is clearly influenced by the likes of 1980’s coin-op beat ‘em up Double Dragon. From a visual viewpoint, Shank sports an expressive art-style similar to a Spider Man or X-Men comic, but layers it with animation not dissimilar to an episode of Samurai Jack. The violence on the other hand is much more Kill Bill than Samurai Jack, with human enemies that gush with cartoon blood taking precedence over machines and oil. As an overall package then, Shank offers something quite unique and exciting.
On the other hand, Shank delivers a predictably weak storyline of love and revenge that revolves around the murder of your girlfriend. Inevitably, the game's main protagonist doesn't take too kindly to the death of his loved one and seeks to deliver justice to those involved. This is the perfect excuse for you to hack, slash and gun your way to finding the killers in a hyper-violent and aggressive journey jam-packed to the rafters with brutal slayings and the occasional bout of platform play. The brutal tale is told in an appealing art-style, but without the character building and big personalities it's hard to care about the main character, or form any opinion on the villains that he encounters. Nevertheless, like most games in the beat 'em up genre, Shank is primarily all about the gameplay.
Starting off with a pair of knives and dual pistols in hand, Shank, who also comes equipped with rippling muscles and Rambo-style red bandana, is controlled via a simple three button combat system that combines heavy and light attacks. There’s an old school simplicity to the set-up and as the game progresses you get access to bigger and better weapons, including the chainsaw and skin-slashing katana. The move set also increases, giving you access to two grapple moves that give you more freedom to rack up combos and creatively cause carnage and blood shed.
Combat works very well, battles flow nicely and blood is shed in bucketloads. And, throughout the three to four hour main campaign, you'll have had a good time causing carnage...that much is guaranteed. You can switch intuitively between weapons and you'll find yourself having to weigh up their strengths and weakness against the various characters that you face, depending on the weapons that they also brandish and how they fight. As a result, combat is stylish, frenetic and challenging.
Though you can play through some of the game by just mashing your buttons, there is some depth to the combat, as you chain together light and heavy blows in combination with grapple moves. The challenge of beating enemies really comes in two varieties. Sometimes you'll be overwhelmed with numbers and have to pull off quick moves to get yourself out of a situation and other times it will be the change of enemy type that catches you off guard. Ranged enemies that stand back and pick you off complement those who get in close to take a chunk out of you. As you progress enemies will block and dodge more effectively and really make you work for the kill. The pace of the game is superbly measured and rarely drops in pace culminating in some manic battles and enjoyable boss fights.
Due to the restrictions of using a 2D plane, Shank does inevitably suffer from bouts of repetitive gameplay that you'd associate with the beat 'em up genre. You're always attacked from either from your left or right, and although characters can also jump and grapple, you'll see the same animations repeat. When you take into account the overall package, however, repetition is rarely a huge issue. Levels are detailed and varied enough to keep things looking interesting, and the impressive art direction helps create a backdrop that sustains interest. Meanwhile, the Tarantino-esque soundtrack pounds away as you slash through the hordes, providing a hypnotic beat that fits nicely alongside the action.
Away from the main campaign, Shank delivers replay value through local co-op gameplay. This is a short campaign designed specifically for two players with levels and bosses specifically designed for co-op play. Though online co-op would have been very welcome, it's good to see a feature that hasn't just been tacked-on, but offers a prologue to the main campaign and gives you the opportunity to stand back to back to face enemies, pull of team attacks and work together to take on some tough battles.
Shank certainly attempts to gain some fans by being a little over the top in terms of violence and language, but it's done in such a funny way that it's hard to take seriously. While the gameplay doesn’t quite match the quality of the art direction, combat is addictive and, just like a beat 'em up should do, it has instant pick up and play appeal and an old school simplicity that's hard to resist. There's certainly an argument for style over substance here, but it's hard to see any fans of the genre being disappointed with Shank's enticing gameplay.
|Shank Review by Steven Williamson|
-The Final Word-
While there is certainly an argument for style over substance here, it is hard to see any fans of the genre being disappointed with Shank's enticing gameplay.