Nothing beats a good old-fashioned tale of bloody revenge and Shank’s story is the quintessential tale of one man on a mission to hunt down the people who wronged him. Granted it’s not the most original of concepts, but it doesn’t need to be. Here it acts as a tent-pole framework for the distinct ultra-violence which forms the core of the games approach. Make no bones about it; Shank’s cartoony veneer is just a cover for the catalogue of rather brutal stabbings, shootings, decapitations and all-round Grindhouse gore which the game sets out to emulate.
Taking control of the titular Shank, this side scrolling shooter / slasher requires you to dispatch everyone in your way, using both melee weapons and firearms. Attacks are split into light and heavy, the latter of which involves flinging around a gratuitous chainsaw (which is presumably rather blunt because it doesn’t actually dismember enemies). Both gun and melee attacks work well given that the game is restricted to the 2D plane, allowing the player to mix up their playing style, and there are also various combos that can be used to smack opponents around, juggling them into the air for further punishment and keeping chains going longer.
Aside from a block button and a Pounce attack which allows you to leap on smaller enemies and pin them to the ground, in essence that’s all there is to the gameplay element. Shank clearly doesn’t want to over complicate things, allowing you to concentrate on the action and soak up the gorgeous styling.
From the moment it starts, it’s very clear that Shank has been put together by people who are incredibly talented in animation techniques and detailed character design. Both the settings and characters exude a confidence and style with excellent production values. The animation of the cutscenes is so good it will make your eyes water and the in-game presentation matches this. Helped by lots of little incidental touches, there are plenty of dramatic moments like silhouetting characters against the blazing sun, fighting atop of fast moving vehicles (complete with impressive motion blur), or comic book style panels which appear on screen during the gameplay (tastefully implemented so as not to distract you during the action). Right now Shank is probably as close as you’ll get to playing a very gory version of a modern Saturday morning cartoon.
While it’s impossible to argue against the game being visually accomplished, with special mention going to the soundtrack which is superbly put together and accompanies the action perfectly, Shank is let down by some other aspects which feel rather…lacking.
It all feels a bit `floaty` with no real weight behind the action. Even when performing impressive death-defying feats by pouncing on enemies or Gun-Fu take downs by simultaneously shooting in-front and behind you, there’s the potentially game breaking feeling that you’re not actually connecting with your enemies. This isn’t helped by being able to walk through enemies, which adds to the feeling of disembodiment, even though it was probably a necessary evil given the 2D play space. It’s impossible to put your finger on precisely what causes this feeling of detachment, but it certainly seems to be a combination of things.
Although the game features a separate co-op mode, and in a nice twist this isn’t just a rehash of the single player mode but rather a unique prequel, this is let down somewhat by the fact that it’s local play only. It’s also rather brief, although if you’re able to get a friend around to play it, then it does go some way to boost the value you’ll get out of the title. That’s because, aside from some unlockable costumes and increased difficulty, there isn’t much to keep you coming back to Shank once you’ve played through it in a few hours. So it’s debatable whether the current asking price is perhaps a little too high.
Shank is a title which definitely feels like a case of style over substance. That doesn’t necessarily make it‘s a bad game; far from it, as there are undoubtedly far worse abominations out there which you could waste your cash on. But it’s difficult to shake the feeling that while being visually accomplished, it needed more technically proficiency put into the actual gameplay elements, rather than just being an artistic showcase.
That said, with the demo version being freely available, it’s certainly worth trying before you buy. Those that aren’t put off by the feeling of flatness to the action and those who love a bit of stylised gore, will certainly find enough to entertain them.