If you ever decide to look up the definition of ‘cool as fuck’, you’ll obviously find this writer’s suave and elegant face starting back at you. But soon, I’m going to have competition for that particular position – and if it comes down to a fight for the right, I will most likely run in the opposite direction, screaming for my life.
Shank is that competition, and his story of revenge oozes charm, looks fantastic and is a blast to play. It’s a little rough in areas, but you’ll be enjoying yourself so much that you probably won’t notice.
Shank plays out in the form of a side-scrolling fight/shoot-em-up. Armed with a variety of lethal weapons including dual pistols, a chainsaw and his trusty shank, our hero lays into anyone who gets in his way, inflicting pain and leaving no-one standing in his wake.
Initially the sheer amount of different attacks which Shank can pull off is quite overwhelming, and I found myself hammering every button in the hope of stringing together some kind of combo. Eventually, however, it suddenly all snaps into place, and you just ‘get it’ – and this is when it all gets rather fantastic.
The fighting is an utter joy to behold, with Shank capable of slicing enemies up in front of him, then quickly changing to pistols and blasting the guys approaching from behind, before finally leaping into the air, pinning that last enemy to the ground and grinding his face with the chainsaw. It all flows perfectly together, and allows you to feel completely in control at all times. Soon you’ll be seeing how large a combo you can achieve before getting hit.
As you’ve probably gathered by now, this is a very gory game. Shank is one vicious dude, and doesn’t think twice about splattering blood and human insides about the place. There’s also plenty of swearing and sexual references, and while we’ve got no problem with a bit of uncivilized banter in our games, some of it feels quite awkward and forced. The dialogue may have read better if it was toned down a little.
Where Shank really shines is in its gameplay variety. You’re not simply killing everything on the screen, moving on, repeat until fin – there are some lovely set pieces that come into play, including acrobatic sections which see you climbing walls, leaping over pits and sliding down poles. It’s always exciting to see what the game has in store for you next.
While Shank is fantastic fun, it also comes with frustrating elements. Loading times between levels are terrible, usually taking around 20 seconds. Checkpoints can be very harsh, sending you back quite far when you die. Sometimes the game will throw far too many enemies at you, and even with the best dodging and shooting skills you’ll be completely overwhelmed. These are just some of the game’s issues that bring the experience down a little.
My biggest gripe, however, is admittedly rather trivial, and yet frustrated me the most. You press X to pick items up off the floor – yet this is also the slash button. Hence, if you’re trying to purposely leave an item on the floor for later – usually health – you may accidently pick it up while swiping at the enemy. I really cannot fathom why the same button would be used for both these actions.
Shank also comes with a local co-op mode for two-player carnage. Amazingly, this mode features a whole set of levels completely different to the single player, following the backstory that comes before the events of the main campaign. Playing Shank with a friend can be a little bit too hectic – with enemies pouring onto the screen, it’s sometimes difficult to find yourself in the mess. Still, it’s a great diversion if you’ve got a friend over.
You’ve seen the screenshots and the trailer, so you know exactly what I’m going to say here – Shank is an absolute stunner. The comic-book panels style and cel-shaded characters, mixed with some incredibly stylish special effects, are like nothing we’ve ever seen, especially from an Xbox Live Arcade title.
It’s not just gorgeous, either, as plenty of extra touches make it feel even more brilliant to play. Shoot fast enough, and dead enemies will continue to hover in the air, kept afloat by your barrage of bullets. And don’t even get me started on the glorious slow-mo effects. Probably not a game to play with other people around, in case they spot you drooling.
The cutscenes look amazing too, although they feel a little disjointed now and again, usually when switching between scenes. It’s all good, though, as the voice-acting is top notch and will keep your solidly reeled in.
The main campaign follows the story of Shank, a skilled warrior who is made to watch his girlfriend die, and then left to rot. Seven years later, he is back to exact his revenge. One by one, he hunts down each perpetrator Kill Bill style. The co-op is like a prequel to the main story, showing the follow-up to the murder of his girlfriend and why it all happened.
While it’s quite a shallow story with not really that much to it, you can’t help but feel something for Shank, and you’ll want to take revenge on his enemies as much as he does. As mentioned above, the voice-acting does a grand job of pulling you into the story.
Shank looks and feels fantastic, and is a real gem of an Arcade title. The main story will take you around three hours to complete, which is possibly a little on the short side – but if you factor in another three hours for playing it through on hard mode, and then two hours for the co-op, you’ve got yourself plenty of gaming time.
You should definitely pick this game up. I’m telling you this for your own safety – I mean, you don’t want to make Shank angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.