Shank Review: Shank Me Later

Having the love of your life taken away from you to be slaughtered as you lay a helpless, bloody mess would surely drive any man to the brink of insanity. So it’s understandable why Shank has seen fit to strap a chainsaw to his back and embark on a murderous rampage. Motivated by his lust for revenge Shank will journey through a handful of beautifully drawn 2D environments, spilling litres of blood from his enemies as he gruesomely puts an end to their existence.

Released for the Playstation Network and Xbox Live Arcade, Shank is side scrolling-shooter/platformer which features a robust combat system akin to titles like Devil May Cry.  In this downloadable title you play as a lone Rambo-esque warrior (also named Shank) who keeps a multitude of different weapons types on him at all times. Each weapon type is mapped to a different button on your controller and all of your attacks can be chained together for some huge combo opportunities. These weapons  include a knife (or “shank” rather) used for quick attacks, grenades which explode on impact, a chainsaw for heavy attacks and twin pistols to keep enemies at bay or to pick them off from a distance.  As you progress through the game Shank will get his hands on more artillery ranging from Shotguns to Choke Chains. The sheer amount of ways you can viciously dispose of your enemies is one of the best things about the game and the over the top gore will make you feel like a total badass while doing so. Whether you’re leaping 50 feet in to the air and crashing down on an enemy with a chainsaw or fisting a live grenade in to their mouth and watching as they explode you’ll always look and feel like a professional killing machine.

The most striking thing about Shank is its stunning visuals, the gorgeous backdrops reign supreme through-out this 5 hour adventure. The hand drawn locales initially portray a Desperado vibe (last seen in Red Steel 2) but eventually you’ll venture in to new locations each beautiful in its own unique way. At several points in the game you’ll be taken back by the awesome lighting effect which silhouettes everything in the foreground with the only light source coming from the dimly lit backdrop and the sparks of your gun barrel, It looks incredible! The characters themselves seem as if they were ripped from Genndy Tartakovsky’s (the artist behind Samurai Jack) scrap book, beefed up with steroids and then hastily thrown in to the game. Don’t get me wrong, the character design is still excellent; they just feel slightly under-developed especially when compared to the phenomenal background imagery. While we’re on the subject of “under-developed” as a main protagonist Shank rarely comes across as anything more than a mindless, blood thirsty brute. While this is perfectly understandable when considering his plight it doesn’t exactly allow for much engaging story telling. The animated cutscenes do compensate for this though and they are a joy to behold. They also do an excellent job amplifying the violence seen in the main game, Its clear from the outset why the ESRB have awarded Shank a Mature rating but the cutscenes alone almost push things in to Adult Only territory.

The gameplay in Shank is naturally suited for multiplayer co-op but such a feature would likely detract from the story. So rather than shoehorning multiplayer in for the hell of it the developers at Klei Entertainment have created a separate multiplayer campaign which takes place before Shank’s life changing ordeal. The local-only co-op mode retains everything that’s great about the main game but introduces co-op moves with are joyfully easy to pull off. With a fellow experienced player by your side chugging through Shank’s multiplayer offering may be a little on the easy side but it’s still a fun aside nevertheless. The absence of online multiplayer will surely anger some but aspect such as lag (and annoying banter from a 13 year old across the country) would be inevitable in such a fast-paced game.

I would love to end this review here and get on with my day but Shank suffers from a few control issues which hurt the flow of the game and can sometimes cost you your life. The most prevalent of which is the mapping of the action button, used to pick up health items and enemy dropped weapons or to revive your partner in co-op. The action button and your knife attacks are both mapped to the square button (or “X” on a 360 controller) which means you’ll accidently pick up health items when they’re not needed over and over again. It really is frustrating to unwillingly collect the only health item on-screen when your life bar is full, only to be in dire need of health a few seconds later but shit-out-of-luck. Likewise having to hold down block (L1/LB) then push the left analog stick to evade feels unintuitive, I would have much rather use the right stick to conduct all my evasive manoeuvres. My final gripe with the game comes courtesy of its intrusive hint system which sucks the life out of most boss encounters. Figuring out a bosses weakness and exploiting it is a fundamental rule that most game abide by, however in Shank once you die during a boss battle the hint system will tell you exactly what you need to do to ensure that you emerge victorious the second time around. It sucks the fun out of what should be the best part of the game and I found myself manually reloading checkpoints whenever I die just to avoid it.

Overall Shank is a short but ultimately fun title that is worth of its $15 asking price. The graphics are beautiful, the combat is insanely gratifying and you’ll never get tired of hearing your enemies bellow in pain as a shotgun blast to the stomach sends them hurling in to a meat grinder.  However control issues hurt the overall experience and local-only co-op means the multiplayer mode will be inaccessible to a large number of people who purchase the game. If you can overcome these issues and make a pact with yourself to not simply spam the quick attack button there is hours of fun to be had here.

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