Shank, or a Look Inside the Mind of a 15-Year Old Boy

Review

Originally posted at: http://www.criticalgamer.co.uk/2010/08/30/shank-review/

If The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai is 2D Ninja Gaiden, Shank is 2D God of War. It’s a pretty game with flashy combat and moments of badassery that come at the expense of precision. The fighting game pedigree that carried over into those aforementioned games (and even the more recent God of War games) is a bit lacking here. As a result, it’s all too often that Shank (the protagonist) seems to slip from your control like a wet bar of soap.

That wouldn’t be a problem if the game was all flash with no substance, but the AI enemies don’t mess around. They attack in mobs, exploiting any moment of weakness with a barrage of bullets or a quick stab from behind. The challenge is welcome, but Shank’s easily punished repertoire of combos is not. Sometimes he just tries too hard to be cool, and as a result ends up shooting bullets in the air at enemies that aren’t there or failing to block while he finishes a flashy combo.

It’s those moments in Shank, when things just don’t work, that deflate what should be a relentlessly awesome experience. When it does work (which is most of the time) bouncing between three distinct weapons, leaping across the room at enemies, or executing showy gun combos feels incredibly satisfying.

Shank is a story of revenge, one inspired by… well, Robert Rodriguez movies mostly. Turn the upcoming film Machete into a cartoon and stylistically, you wouldn’t be able to tell the two apart. Shank plays its Mexican drug cartel violence a little too seriously though. Especially with the Samurai Jack-esque art style and flat voice acting that makes the story laughably corny.

You basically fight your way from one criminal stereotype to the next. The plot is filled with violent beheadings, strippers, misogyny, torture, and just about any scenario you can imagine a teenager coming up with after a binge of revenge movies. Devoid of any kind of substance, self-aware comedy, or unique style, the story is just sort of annoying.

Shank’s co-op mode works as a prequel to the story. With two players, the screen is a bit busy, but it’s a fun time regardless. Boss fights require players to work together in clever ways and finishing a tough fight with a partner is an awesome experience. Still, if you don’t have a like-minded friend around to enjoy the game with, Shank is going to be an alarmingly brief experience.

Between single-player and co-op modes, the game rounds out at an all-too brief 5-6 hours. After that, there’s hard mode (which is insanely difficult), and some extra costumes to unlock, but overall there’s little reason to go back. Even over the course of those initial hours, the experience starts to drag. Areas and enemies are repeated far too often to keep the gameplay feeling fresh – by the eighteenth time you leap dramatically through a window it loses its impact.

Shank is the kind of game that’s a blast when you first start playing, but as it drags on, the flaws become a bit too apparent. That it wears out its welcome so quickly is a serious issue. And with so much style, it’s unfortunate that it feels so soulless. It’s not at all a bad game, at least average, even great if you’re willing to look past the issues; but in the grand scheme of character action games, Shank is a big letdown.

(Scored 2 out of 5)

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