Shank (XBLA) Review
Genre: Beat ‘Em Up
Players: 1-2 with local co-op
Developer: Klei Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Rated M for Mature
Shank was a game I largely ignored up until very recently, when I happened to stumble upon a trailer for it a couple of weeks ago. What first caught my eye was the distinct art style that immediately draws you in. The other thing was the violence…oh the violence. Chainsaws, grenades, guns and a pair of knives – all at the same time? The animation looked great and, more importantly, the game looked fun. After going through the game, however, I leave a bit disappointed but satisfied all the same.
Shank, like the grindhouse films it seems to be based off of, features a simplistic story and tons of cursing. You’ve been wronged by some guy and the only way to solve the problem is by killing hundreds of people, and, somehow, this makes you the good guy. This is not a game that features intriguing dialogue or well-written scenes…instead it features suggested rape, the word “fuck” every three seconds, and lots of blood. This game isn’t here to stimulate your mind or entertain your children – it’s here to unleash hell and leave with little remorse.
Trying to describe what’s happening here would be a waste of our time. Just know Shank is about to bust some heads.
There’s actually a bit of a backstory here that can only be uncovered by playing co-op mode. Unfortunately, Shank does not feature online co-op, so you’re going to have to find a friend to murder people with. While it doesn’t last too long, co-op is definitely a highlight as there are double team moves at your disposal as well as some opportunities for “did you see that!?” moments. The mode is not without its problems, however. Both characters look almost identical and the action becomes so frantic it becomes difficult to tell who is who, and the boss battles are among some of the most frustrating in recent memory. It comes down to pattern recognition, but precise timing is required and if one member messes up, both members are doomed.
While the co-op mode tells the story leading up to the single player game (essentially what leads to your girl getting kidnapped), the main story is all about revenge and getting the girl back. Along the way, Shank will have three main weapons – a chainsaw, a pair of knives, and guns. Each of these are represented by the X, Y and B buttons, while A jumps. Shank can also lunge at his enemies and finish them off with a devastating chainsaw or knife attack. There are plenty of combos to learn and discover throughout the game, some of which have very satisfying results. One problem with the combos, however, is that they can take a bit too long to switch between them. Shank utilizes every button on the controller and requires twitch reflexes to perfectly master the combos, and if you don’t have that you’ll find Shank taking shots while he tries to get his chainsaw out after just gunning down some baddies. It usually doesn’t end up killing you, but it is frustrating all the same. Still, one you get the combos down the game gets really fun –my highest combo was around 150.
You know, Monrow seems like a badass. He’s getting shot point blank and all he can do is give a thumbs up.
Levels typically end with a huge monstrosity of a foe who deal maximum damage and have way more health than you do. More often than not, your typical weaponry (even your grenades) do very little, and you must instead wait for them to do something stupid like run into a wall. Once they’ve knocked themselves silly a button prompt appears and that’s when Shank goes to town on them…rinse, wash, repeat. While beating a boss is typically satisfying due to the amount of time it takes to figure out its exact pattern, it’s more shallow than anything as we’ve come to expect more than simple patterns with our video game bosses nowadays.
And that is Shank’s biggest problem: it becomes too redundant, even though the game only takes a couple of hours to beat. While the combo system is highly advanced and filled with possibilities, the enemies rarely give you a chance to employ some of the high level stuff. All of the bosses can be beaten by discovering their one fatal flaw, in a system that was outdated in the late nineties. Co-op, while extremely fun, is also shockingly short and you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who’s willing to sit through the mode’s difficult and frustrating boss battles (the first one alone is enough to break a controller). This wouldn’t be as much as a problem if the game supported online co-op, but it doesn’t.
-Unique graphical style that quickly captures your attention
-Impressive combo system
-Fun co-op mode
-Short story mode
-Even shorter co-op mode
-Game quickly becomes one of patterns rather than skill
Shank is one part beauty, one part gameplay, and two parts missed opportunity. You can’t fully utilize the game’s combo system, there’s no online co-op, and all of the violence and curse words blend together to where it doesn’t mean anything at the end. Still, the game is really fun to play in short bursts and features a beautifully gritty world that is worth experiencing at least once. Shank is not a game for everyone, but it does offer a unique experience unlike anything else on XBLA. While I have enjoyed my time with Shank, I have to definitely recommend downloading the demo before spending your $15.