Monday, 23 January 2012


Developer: Klei Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts (EA)
Released: August 2010 (XBLA/PSN), October 2010 (PC)

Shank is a very violent cartoon-styled sidescrolling beat 'em up. The player controls Shank, out for revenge for the murder of his girlfriend. Shank stabs, shoots, and chainsaws his way through hostile territory in his search for vengeance.

Shank received mixed, but mostly positive, reviews, averaging out in the mid-seventies. Everyone loved the game's art direction, especially how fluid everything is at all times. Reviewers were also impressed that the co-op campaign was a completely different story, complete with cutscenes, and enjoyed the co-op gameplay. In terms of controls, some critics found them impressively responsive, while others had trouble making the game do what they wanted.

In terms of post-launch support, I don't see much -- there's a single minor bug fix update listed in the Steam news.
I have to agree with the critics on Shank's art and graphics. The game looks like a Flash cartoon, which is to say that the animation is very fast and fluid. The backgrounds offer a lot of detail and plenty of warm colours, but they don't distract from the much flashier and hard-lined characters. You occasionally get a small cutscene box in the upper right of the screen during gameplay, so you do still get some story elements during gameplay, which is good.
The weapon and combo systems are a lot of fun. You start out with a pair of knives, a pair of pistols, and a chainsaw, which you can combine into various ridiculous combos. You also get a couple of special moves -- a pounce and a grapple -- which can begin or extend a combo. Once I unlocked them, my preferred strong weapon was the dual machetes, for the wider area of effect that can hit many enemies over a longer distance, with a decent attack speed to boot. The shotgun is fun, but the dual pistols are probably better, since they don't have a range limit. I switched to the uzi when I picked it up, but it's better balanced with the pistols than the shotgun. There's a relatively minor balance issue where you can hold off a group of enemies forever with the pistols or uzi, but it won't work on big enemies, so it doesn't actually come up often enough to ruin the game or anything.
The game's plot isn't exactly complex, but it's classic pulp: you start only knowing that Shank is out for revenge, and through flashbacks running parallel to the main plot, you gradually find out exactly what happened, who was involved, and why it happened. There are a couple of minor twists, but nothing too surprising. Like I said, it's a pretty simple plot, but it works, and the presentation is great.
One weird thing about the boss fights: if you try once and die, you get a hint as to how to proceed. However, the last two fights aren't too challenging to beat by straight-up combat, so I don't even know if there are any special tricks or animations for the last two, because I didn't die.
I do have a criticism of the PC controls, but it's not in terms of responsiveness. Actions take place as soon as I hit a key, so that's fine. The issue I do have is with the absolutely atrocious default keymapping on the keyboard, such that I'd have to constantly be moving at least one hand during gameplay, which you really don't want to be doing in such a fast-paced game. The game does tell you that it's best played with a gamepad, but still. I remapped almost everything -- attack options to WASD, and movement and blocks to Ctrl/Alt/Shift -- to match where I usually sit my left hand when playing video games. Now, this isn't actually a huge problem, since it lets you remap your controls. Remap to something you're more comfortable with, and you'll be OK.
The only real criticism I have of the game overall is that the levels start to feel long and repetitive after a while, which is weird, because the campaign is only 3 hours long (at least that's how long it took me). It's not a problem with the game's combat system, which actually has some surprising depth in the moves and combos you can pull off; it's more that nothing really new is ever introduced. You occasionally get new weapons, but they're more statistical tweaks than anything else -- different attack speeds and damage, rather than new abilities.
Unfortunately I didn't get to try the co-op campaign, which apparently expands the backstory to the single player campaign. Although apparently there's a way to set up your PC to play both characters with a single input, so you could play by yourself. I didn't want to mess with all that, but the option is there.
Shank is $15 in the Steam store. It's short, and it's a little lacking in variety, but it looks great, runs great, and it's fun. What more do you want?

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