I love reviewing downloadable games. It seems developers and publishers get more of an opportunity to take chances on titles. EA has been on a role now with the recently released DeathSpank and now Klei Entertainment’s action side-scroller Shank. What makes Shank so special is not its inventive game design, but more the style it conveys. Seemingly ripped straight out of the pages of a graphic novel, the art style of Shank really stands out in a sea of traditional brown and gray action games. It also helps that it plays like something straight out of an 80s arcade, complete with everything guys love: blood, booze and guns.
As with most action games starring a hulking protagonist; Shank is a story of revenge. Your goal from the beginning is to find the man who took advantage of your woman and left you beaten and bruised. Along the way you will rip apart anyone who stands in your way. Sure it isn’t going to win any awards for uniqueness, but what it lacks there it makes up for in presentation. The cut scenes are presented in a delicious art style with sound voice acting. The story is certainly not going to change narrative in games, but it will keep you from hitting the start button to skip cut scenes like most generic action games.
If you have ever played a side-scrolling action game, Shank will feel comfortable from the get-go. You move left to right performing attack combos with your weapons of choice. The one area Shank really gets things right is the combat. You have three weapons at your disposal, and you can combine their attacks for some truly flashy combos. You have two melee weapons, at the beginning a shank and a chainsaw, as well as a firearm. Throughout the game you can acquire more weapons and switch them in and out on the fly. Combining attacks is simple, but the further you get, the more the game requires you to master their handling.
Not only is Shank’s combat entertaining, it is also the backbone of the experience. This is not a walk in the park type of experience. The enemies grow tougher with each step, and you will die constantly if you don’t learn the finer points of combat. Thankfully it is just as satisfying as you would imagine it would be when you land a 20-hit combo that ends with your chainsaw slicing through an enemy. Shank walks the fine line of balancing between challenging, rewarding and just plain frustrating.
As with any game of this type what stands out in the single-player game are the boss fights. Each one is unique and challenging, even if some of them are not as impressive as others. I particularly enjoyed the train battle as well as the Cassandra fight, even if they boil down to learning robotic patterns and exploiting them.
One of the first issues you will likely come across though are the controls. Unlike other games Shank uses the analog stick for movement. Now I have heard people complaining about this, but in all honesty after a small amount of time with the game it really isn’t an issue. What is an issue though is the animation for Shank sometimes makes combat more complicated than it should be. Turning back and forth to attack enemies on each side of you can prove cumbersome thanks to the animations. There were times that I took hits simply because Shank wasn’t finished turning around before I started my attack animation. Also the dodge move is almost useless as it leaves you open to attacks more often than actually dodging them.
Combat issues aside there is plenty of enjoyment to be had in Shank’s campaign. The three hour quest has you slicing and dicing through hordes of enemies with sadistic satisfaction. Granted if you are not into monotonous action games, this isn’t going to change your tune. In addition to the campaign mode there is also a co-op endeavor that is actually a separate storyline from the main game. You can team up with a friend locally and slice your way through a prologue of sorts to the core game. Now I know this is quickly becoming a trend, but nixing online co-op is certainly not on my wish list lately. First Scott Pilgrim and Lara Croft (I know it is being added later) ship without it, and now Shank. Gaming has evolved quite a ways, and leaving out these features just boggles my mind.
Shank is one of those games that will either be loved or hated by the masses. I for one think it is a steal at fifteen bucks, and if you enjoy classic action titles like Contra or Ninja Gaiden (NES style) then you should not hesitate picking it up. I do have to note that during our review we did experience the known bug that bogs down the intro movie and increases load time, but the devs have assured us a patch is on the way (this only affects 360 owners). Even with the problems Shank is a wonderful experience wrapped in a gorgeous package that is enjoyable the entire time it lasts.
Review copy provided by publisher.