Review: Shank

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With the outstanding Scott Pilgrim vs. The World out this week for XBLA, and Castle Crashers making its way over to PSN next week, it’s a fine time for great 2D beat ’em ups. But where does the long awaited, graphically slick and viscerally gory Shank fit into all this? Is it a clunker, or another fine addition to the recent beat ’em up resurgence?

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Shank follows the story of it’s titular character Shank, who has returned after a seven year absence to wreak bloody revenge on the kidnappers of his girlfriend. Over the course of the game Shank hunts down and deals gory vengeance to his enemies in a somewhat Clichéd manner, but on the whole the story is delivered well through a series of gloriously animated, comic-book styled cutscenes. The dialogue isn’t that great, and there are a few duff lines delivered by the fully voiced cast, but the story has enough hooks to keep you plowing through the hordes of grunts and bosses in your way.

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Where Shank’s main strengths lie are in its superbly slick gameplay. Shank can carry utilise 3 weapons at a time – his dual knives, a ranged gun and a ‘special’ melee weapon such as a Katana or Chainsaw, there are a variety of unlockable ranged and melee weapons throughout the game – and chain them together in combos. The combo system in itself is simple to learn and yet incredibly satisfying, as it takes no more than a few simple combinations and presses to stylistically shoot and carve your way through enemies. The animation is some of the best there has been in a game of this style – Shank switches between the 3 of his currently equipped weapons mid combo with a buttery smoothness that makes the combat look like a glorious dance of death. It may be a simple system, but Shank’s unrivalled animation makes the fighting a beautifully visceral pleasure to watch. Seeing really believing when it comes to how fluid everything feels.

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On par with the wonderfully stylish gameplay is Shank’s outstanding presentation. The game gives off a very comic book stylised vibe, with a dash of old westerns and a hint of Tarantino blended in to give an incredibly impressive visual package – blood, guts and all. The Penny Arcade-esque cartoon style to the characters looks brilliant, and when combined with the astonishingly slick animation, Shank is a fantastic sight to behold. It holds up surprisingly well on the soundtrack front as well, providing a suitable western-esque string of melodies that really sells the harmonious gore of the combat.

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Unfortunately there isn’t much else for you to do once you’ve played through the single player story – there is a co operative mode that acts as a prologue to the main story, but – in what appears to be a running theme with these games recently – it is a strictly local only affair. It’s fun enough, but nowhere near the length of the story mode. It would’ve been nice to have a co-operative version of the story or perhaps even a horde-eqsue survival mode with Online features. There’s not much replayability to Shank outside of unlockable outfits gained by getting a certain amount of kills with a particular weapon, but what is there is still worth the price of admission.

Shank is a viscerally wonderful side scroller that, although a little smaller than perhaps it should be, is still incredibly fun to both look at and play. If you’re looking to add some style to your downloadable collection, Shank is a fine addition.

Developer: Klei Entertainment

Genre: 2D beat-em-up

Time: Completed the story mode on normal, around 7 hours. Played about an hour of the co-op prologue.

Gripes: There is little replayability, and an Online function for the co-operative functions would’ve helped allay this.

Get it for the: Fluid, brilliant combat, and the wonderfully lush visuals.