After many months of waiting I was finally able to get my hands on Shank and play it through. My first encounter with Shank was at PAX East, and from the small demo I played I knew this game was going to be awesome. But did the full version live up to the demo? Let’s find out.
First off, Shank has one of the best visual presentations I have ever seen in a video game. The game feels like it was taken right off the pages of a comic book or was drawn for a cartoon. The artwork is amazing. All of the character animations are smooth. The effects of swiping shanks, blood splatter, smoke from weapons and grenades all look like they were hand drawn on your screen. One big problem I have with XBLA games is that most of them don’t look good in HD. Shank looks excellent in HD which makes the artwork look even better. If anything, this game should get an award just for the visual presentation.
I also thought the sound was excellent. The soundtrack gives the game a very cinematic feel. It sounds like it belongs in a Robert Rodriguez movie. The soundtrack really sets the mood for the game. The voice over work is great. All of the characters voices felt very natural. It also helped that the dialog was short and sweet. No big monologues to listen to. A few short words to progress the story, then you get back to killing. The weapon sounds are very well done. From the sound of the shanks slashing, guns blasting, to the chain saw chopping up enemies, the sounds aren’t cheap and sound pretty authentic.
From a distance, Shank appears to be a button mashing beat ’em up. This is not true. I’m not going to tell you the game play is really deep, but there is more to it than stringing combinations of attacks together. You need to use your weapons wisely, manage your enemies, and usually prioritize who you’re attacking to make sure you keep your health up. Failure to keep aware of your surroundings and enemies will cost your life.
You can do three types of attacks; shank attacks, heavy weapon attacks, and gun attacks. Each of these has aerial attacks as well. You can string together these attacks almost seamlessly. In one combo you can easily go from shanks, switch to guns, then maybe to heavy weapons, then back to shanks with no effort. This is very important in keeping combo attacks stringed so you can get achievements and unlock items. Also combo attacks are probably your best bet for taking out groups of enemies. Part of the fun of Shank isn’t just dicing up enemies, its letting the environment do it too. Knocking enemies into spike pits, grinders, under trains, etc. can be just as fun as shanking them to death.
Another effective way to take out enemies is to pounce on them. When you do this, you can use any of your equipped weapons to turn them into a puddle of blood. You can pounce from just about anywhere, including from climbing, or while hanging (you can also shoot while climbing or hanging). You can only melee attack the enemy that is pounced, but you can use your guns to manage other enemies that are still standing. You cannot pounce large enemies; they will just throw you off of them.
Shank has eight weapons to choose from, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. The shanks will probably be your most used weapon. They are fast, but don’t cause that much damage as opposed to the other weapons. The chainsaw is your default heavy weapon. It is very powerful, but you will find it to be slow, and sometimes you don’t have time for your heavy weapon to be slow. This is where the machetes come in. The machetes are pretty much larger shanks. They move fast, but can handle groups or enemies at a time. They are my favorite heavy weapon. The fist chains also do a great deal of damage to enemies, but are slower than the machetes. With the fist chains equipped, you can grab enemies and strangle them. I thought the katana was cool, but rarely used it because I didn’t find it as effective as the other weapons. Cool thing about the katana is that when you go to grab enemies, you will disembowel them. The attack looks cool, but it doesn’t carry the weight I think it should. Also, when you pounce you land on your enemy with the katana.
Your default gun will be the dual pistols. The dual pistols are a great way to deal with ranged enemies, especially while pounced. You can just shoot, knock enemies in the air and juggle them, or shoot in both directions with the dual pistols. The dual pistols are cool, but when it comes to the larger enemies, most of the time the dual pistols won’t even move them. That’s where the shotgun comes in. I have two names for the shotgun. I like to call it “The Space Maker” or “The Crowd Mover”. The reasons should be obvious but I’ll explain anyway. The shotgun is a great way to get yourself out of a corner, or just distance enemies away from you. Also, if you want to move all of your enemies in the same direction, you can pretty much herd them with the shotgun. The shotgun will move anyone, even large enemies. The only time the shotgun will not move a large enemies is if they are charging (meaning running full speed at you). Only disadvantage to the shotgun is that it has a short range.
You also have access to an UZI, which to be honest, I didn’t use that much. It has a faster firing rate than the pistols, and longer range than the shotgun but that’s about it. I didn’t notice any extra damage and usually I used the Shanks if I needed high speed dicing. You have grenades that you can use to blow up multiple enemies at a time. My favorite thing to do with the grenades is feed them to enemies. When you feed an enemy a grenade the explosion will hurt all the surrounding enemies. If you wanted to you can also count the enemies as weapons because you can throw them at each other. Besides that there are a few weapons you can pick up after killing enemies. There is the chaingun, flamethrower, and grenade launcher. You cannot jump while you have these weapons; as soon as you do you will drop the weapon.
Each environment has different types of enemies. Some are similar to previous enemies, but some have brand new abilities. You come across all types of enemies. Some have guns, night sticks, shanks, shotguns, battering rams… Some have a combination of those. There are also dogs, that to be quite frank, can be a bit annoying. If there is anything that proves Shank isn’t a button masher, it’s the bosses.
Some bosses you just have to avoid until the opportunity arises for you to do a special attack. Others you may have to complete an action that causes the boss to do something that opens him up. For example, when you fight the butcher you have to shoot the slabs of meat to make them fall. At that point when he tries to use his hook to get you he hits the meat instead and you have your chance to attack. Other bosses though have very active fights; the fights with Cassandra and Caesar specifically. I would like to see someone mash their way through those fights. Just as you block, dodge, and attack, they do the same. If you lose your first battle with a boss, when you come back the game provides a tip for fighting that boss.
Shank is almost two games in one. I say this because of the multiplayer. Not only does the multiplayer bring you new attacks and enemies, but it brings you a brand new story. The multiplayer story will provide you with some back story of the main game. As for moves, you will be able to boost your teammate in the air, double grapple opponents for some nice damage, and also toss opponents to your ally to add some style. There’s definitely more enemies to fight in multiplayer. We found it easier to unlock items in multiplayer, but the only thing that sucks is that it doesn’t translate back into single player. In Shank you can unlock additional costumes to put on as you play. You unlock these items by getting certain achievements. For example, we managed to get a 200 hit combo going and unlocked the red and white ninja outfits.
For everything I loved about the game, there were a few things I disliked. Hit detection is not spot on. I made a few hits that didn’t register on enemies as well as some hits that didn’t register on me. I had an enemy grenade blow in my face and I didn’t get hurt. Sometimes it feels like there is a slight delay when pressing buttons. I noticed this most when I fought Angelo. Unless you’re careful you will find yourself falling off ledges while attacking because most of your attacks move you forward. Lastly, and probably the most annoying are the long loading times for XBLA. This is a known bug and the Shank team is working on it, but it’s annoying none the less.
Overall, none of those bugs kept me from absolutely loving this game. The game is short, and can be beaten in one sitting. However, I feel it has tons of replay value; especially if you are an achievement whore, like getting unlocks, or just like violence. In my opinion this game is a must buy. I really can’t see anyone not enjoying themselves while playing this game.
*Images provided by Klei Entertainment