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PlayStation Network Review: Shank

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Both when Shank was announced and preview screenshots were released for it, it generated a lot of buzz. The stylized graphics, the promise of slick 2D brawler gameplay, and over-the-top violence were a tempting package for many gamers itching to beat something up. Now that the game has been release on the PlayStation Network, is it all it’s cracked up to be?

Shank is a rather straightforward title — players jump into the role of the lead character, Shank, and carve their way from one end of the stage to the next. The story loosely ties the action together and gives it purpose. Basically, Shank is on a path of revenge, looking for those who did him wrong, took out his girl, and left him for dead. It’s a simplistic story that’s been done numerous times before, but at least here it’s told with entertaining cutscenes and moments of gratuitous cartoon violence.

As far as the gameplay is concerned, players move Shank side to side in a 2D environment similar to Strider or early Ninja Gaiden titles. Standing in Shank’s way is a variety of enemies ranging from regular guys with blades, guys with guns, dogs, and big guys. They’re all given names like in Final Fight, but to be fair none of them are as recognizable or memorable as foes in that classic beat’em up.

Though the game does throw a lot at players, it also arms them to the teeth. Shank begins the game with a basic set of weapons which includes a knife, chainsaw, and a pair of pistols. As players make their way through the game, they’ll upgrade from chainsaw to machete, handgun to shotgun, and so on and so forth. The variety isn’t anything new or special, but the diverse combo system really gives players something to sink their teeth into.

Shank utilizes a free-range kind of fighting system. Core gameplay boils down to weak, heavy, and ranged attacks, but players are free to come up with virtually any combination within those confines. As long as the animation allows it, it’s totally possible to slice a guy three to four times, launch him in the air, and then juggle him with shotgun blows. The possibilities are basically endless and the game can be quite fun as you find new ways to disembowel people.

When you aren’t slaughtering people with machetes, Shank is platform heavy. Wall-climbing, jumping over pits, shimmying along pipes, and running across sections of the background are quite necessary to get to the end. Some of these moments offer a nice change of pace, but there are points where a great deal of frustration sets in. Don’t be surprised if you’re hit by a random explosion or shot from a pipe/knocked off a ledge repeatedly. Some of the stage designs should have been taken back to the drawing board, especially later in the game.

Boss fights are another area of the game that’s hit or miss. They are extremely formulaic with each boss operating on a pattern of attacks and timed button actions. Players will find themselves just trying to stay alive while waiting for the game to prompt them to press “R1” in order to inflict real damage on the boss.

All of this can be experienced solo or with a buddy in co-op. The multiplayer angle sounds great at first, but considering that the game throws more enemies at you and both you and you’re friend look like, it can be more of a pain than it’s worth. Boss fights are especially annoying in multiplayer, though it’s worth going through the game with someone else for a slightly different experience from the main quest.

Ultimately, the gameplay in Shank boils down to some wild action mixed with some sluggish controls. For instance, the combat is a hoot, but dodging, jumping, and running don’t feel as smooth as they should. Not bad, mind you, but not smooth. The issues are not enough to ruin Shank by any means. In fact, I’d totally recommend the game for anyone looking for a few hours to kill (and yes, the game can be beaten in a couple of sittings). The gameplay has old school charm with elements from modern brawlers, and that’s a win-win in my book.

Graphically, Shank is very easy on the eyes. Large, fluidly animated characters take up the screen and designs are varied enough to keep the game from becoming too stale. Environments are full of detail as well, though some backgrounds and trappings are utilized again and again. The thing that sets Shank apart from other games (download title or not) is the style that it exudes. For instance, as the sun sets behind characters details fade away and their silhouettes are all you can see… unless an explosion sheds some light on them. Blood sprays from every wound and explosions are big and satisfying.

The sound in Shank is a little less impressive. Spotty voiceovers litter this game and the dialogue ranges from good to bad to ridiculous. It does have a certain campy charm, however, so things are kept lighthearted enough. The music, while not my personal favorite, also helped set the Midwest tone.

At a download cost of $14.99, Shank is a tempting end of summer treat. It’s a short burst of insane action that cranks up the adrenaline and hardly lets up until the credits roll. A fun combat system takes the spotlight while sluggish movement and some frustrating designs keep the experience grounded. Stylish graphics and a mood setting soundtrack help seal the deal. Shank is definitely worth the download, but don’t expect it to be the brawler the hype-machine has been made it out to be.

Shank is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, and Violence. This game can also be found on: Xbox 360 and PC.

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About Todd Douglass