Shank ReviewJoe Shaffer
During one confrontation in the beat 'em up Shank, a burly henchman charged at me while I stood next to the edge of a building. By this point, I had become pretty acquainted with the game's mechanics, so I knew how to handle this situation. I darted intrepidly toward my opponent, used the right thumb stick to blur right past him, and screeched to a halt. The goon stopped a few feet later and stood near the same concrete precipice where I was positioned a moment ago. Never one to turn down cheesy one-liners, I said, "How about a better view?" I turned, crouched, and rolled a grenade towards him, and watched as the explosion propelled him over the city streets and downward to his demise.
A simple game should provide simple pleasures, and Shank delivers all of the unpretentious face-breaking, gunshots, and explosions you could want. Like the brawlers of yore, there isn't much more to the game than unloading combination attacks on scores of criminals whenever you see an opening. Unlike the Final Fight or Streets of Rage crews, though, our antihero Shank doesn't leave home unarmed. The game starts you off with a piddly knife for light slices, a roaring chainsaw for moderate damage, and pair of pistols for long range blasts. Which weapon you use depends on your mood and the situation before you. If you want to clean house in a hurry, you might consider the flesh-ripping fury of the chainsaw. However, if you're in a predicament and you need to move quickly, the knife and maybe the guns might be your gig.
As with any modern brawler, you aren't limited to your starting arsenal. Shank nabs a few weapons throughout the campaign, eventually gathering a shotgun for powerful booms, a katana for vicious slashes, and even some chains to wrap around his fists that allow you to beat or choke the opposition to death. Your foes, however, are not powerless, as some of them pad onto the scene with various firearms and melee weapons. Of course, some of them also bring miniguns and grenade launchers to the party, not realizing that: A) they can still be killed, and B) Shank isn't above grabbing a high-powered gun, even if he can't take it everywhere. Let me tell you, there's no greater bliss in Shank than securing a minigun and seeing scores of adversaries parade onto the screen. After a sinister giggle, I'd squeeze and hold the trigger and watch the bodies pile up.
What's most impressive, though, is that the game often crowds the screen with nemeses without the least bit of lag. I've stumbled into numerous situations where I punch a face and oodles more arrive. The game doesn't succumb to that awkward slowdown at all, allowing you to seamlessly pound everyone into the pavement unabated.
Typically, when I say a beat 'em up has "platforming scenes," I receive groans in return. Shank's platforming segments, though, break up stages appropriately, providing you with a bit of variety so you can get right back into slaughtering without feeling burnt out. Best of all, such scenes are as simple as the rest of the game. You won't find too many sections that require strict timing or a stringent string of smooth moves and quick thinking. Rather, Shank has you jumping swiftly from one object to another. It's pretty ordinary to swing from a hanging skull, latch onto and climb a large pole-like object, and jump onto and run across a wall (a la Prince of Persia) before rejoining the throng.
If there's one thing that's bothers me about many modern brawlers, it's that many of them are too repetitive (see also: Foul Play). Mostly, this stems from a lackluster rogues gallery, where you end up fighting maybe two or three different enemies. Shank offers a fairly diverse group of baddies, mostly by arming various villains with different weapons and changing their outfits. It's enough that you won't battle the same two individuals constantly, at least... Sadly, the game still could have used a few more types of punks to smack around. I say this because there are few scenes throughout the campaign that stand out. Yeah, the game is action-packed and exciting, but surprises are so few that all of the segments run together after a while. Yeah, I could tell you how one of the city stages caught the atmosphere of a seedy urban environment very well, but I'll be damned if I recall any of the altercations that took place there. I seem to recall a dominatrix, maybe? Jumping through a window? See, I can recollect basic details, but most of my memories of the city stages involve indistinct crowds and lots of stabbing.
One thing that might put off a lot of players is Shank's length. Let's just say that you could easily beat this game in one sitting, provided you have a spare afternoon or evening to do so. I personally finished the game in under three hours, and I was satisfied. Brawlers are best when they're short and sweet rather than drawn out and tedious. True, Shank doesn't provide the amount of content that many other action games do, but it's not intended to last long. The game realizes instead when it's about to overstay its welcome and gracefully steps off, allowing you to move onto to bigger and deadlier projects while satisfying your hunger for simple brawling.
That's what I like about Shank. It's a straightforward and intuitive title that isn't out to break any records or alter its genre. The game is only out to prove that the category still has some life left in it, as long as developers are willing to not try to craft a brilliant or ingenious product when an uncomplicated one will suffice.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.