There’s nothing mysterious about Shank, the newest downloadable title from EA and Klei. In fact, it’s a game that’s about as straight-forward as they come. From an outsiders perspective it’s merely a 2D-brawler where you hack and slash enemies until it’s time to move on and repeat the cycle. But, that’s the real beauty about Shank — it knows what it’s out to do and does it well. Shank’s a game that’s found its voice, and if you’re willing to listen, it’ll resonate with you for a very long time.
Shank is the brainchild of developers Jeff Agala and Jamie Cheng, two individuals with a background in television animation programming and it shows. Shank is one of the most gorgeous, downloadable titles available. Running at a constant 60 FPS, Shank’s comic book-style visuals are wholly and completely fluid. The entire game oozes with fantastic visuals and you’ll have a difficult time not feeling like you’re controlling a take-no-prisoners, comic book badass.
Visuals aside, Shank himself is anything but beautiful. He’s a gritty, hardened, ex–thug who’s on a mission for absolute revenge. Working under a crime lord known only as Caesar, Shank’s loyalty comes into question in the opening cinematic, where he’s given the ugliest of ultimatums, — kill his girlfriend and remain loyal to the gang or choose to spare her life and be hunted like a dog. Shank chooses the latter and immediately is attacked by Caesar’s best assassins. Beaten and bloodied, lying on the floor, Shank has no energy left to save his girlfriend from being taken away, never to be seen again (sequel, anyone?). And that’s pretty much the gist of Shank. Throughout the game you’ll go level to level, individually dispensing all of Caesar’s old–time assassins until you reach the final showdown with the man himself. It’s very reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill flicks and assuredly just as violent.
In fact, Shank may be one of the bloodiest titles of the year. Throughout the game you’ll chest-stab people with shanks (of course), split heads with a chainsaw, choke out lackeys with chains, and deliver the occasional shotgun blast to the face. The gameplay for Shank is as exciting as it is fast, and you’ll never get bored seeing what new, brutal combos Shank is capable of. Despite its being a 2D fighter, Shank has a good amount of strategy for those looking to do more then just mash buttons. You have access to two attacks, a light and heavy. Your light attacks will always be you shank/shivs, and your heavy attacks will alter depending on which weapon you’re currently using (chainsaws, katanas, etc…). Shank also has access to multiple firearms such as shotguns, Uzis, and handguns. Each weapon has different effects on the villains and when bogged down by a group of enemies, it’s best to know which weapons will best clear out the room. Shank also has a limited number or grenades at his disposal for when times get really desperate. While it may be possible to button-mash through to the end, those looking to take advantage of Shank’s full repertoire of moves can surgically dissect mass groups and acquire combos into the hundreds.
Shank’s ass-kickery is far from perfect however, with some flaws are too noticeable to ignore. For instance, health comes in the form of beer bottles lying on the ground. In order for Shank to pick one up, simply tap square when standing directly above it, but since square also serves as the light attack button, you’ll often be attacking enemies and picking up health, even when you’re not even damaged. While there’s plenty of health to go around in the game, the issue definitely becomes a noticeable flaw in later levels. Additionally, you’ll come to be thankful that the game has unlimited lives because you will be dying many cheap deaths. While Shank has no problem disposing a crowd of baddies, his platforming skills are nowhere near as good. Controls often feel a little too lose, allowing Shank to fall to his death more times then necessary. There’s also a level later in the game where rockets are fired down on Shank, but it’s anybody’s guess where they’ll land, making it a real pain when trying to platform up to the boss. However, these platforming sections are far from horrible — and they’re few and far between — so it’s a minor gripe at best.
Small flaws aside, Shank is a 2D action game that gets all the important parts right. It looks and sounds amazing, has intuitive, addictive gameplay, and is a hell of a lot of fun to play. Plus, once you’re finished with the four to seven hour single-player experience, grab a friend and chainsaw heads together in a co-op mode featuring an all new story. While cheap deaths coupled with a good degree of difficulty may scare some people away, they’ll be missing out. Shank is on a rampaging, unforgiving quest for revenge, and he needs your help to finish the job. For $15 bucks, you’d be foolish not to lend a hand.
Shank is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Content Descriptors. This game can also be found on XBLA and Windows PC.
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