Review: Shank (PS3)

Title: Shank
Format: PlayStation Network Download
Release Date: August 23, 2010
Publisher: Electronic Arts, Inc
Developer: Klei Entertainment
Price: $14.99

Gameplay:
If you’re looking for a thought provoking, emotionally balanced story then you might consider looking elsewhere.  Shank doesn’t waste much time with plot, character development or any such nonsense.  At its heart Shank is a story of revenge . . . . bloody, hell-bent revenge.  After investing some time with the single player campaign I realized that anything more would have hindered Klei Entertainment’s side-scrolling 2D brawler.

If a further point of reference is needed I might suggest looking to any number of the ultra-violent films of Robert Rodriguez or Quentin Tarantino.  The introductory cut scene reminded me almost entirely of Rodriguez’s action-heavy bar shootout sequence from his 1995 film, Desperdo (mmmm . . . Salma Heyek).

Even the main character, Shank, looks like he could be the video game equivalent of Danny Trejo from his upcoming film, Machete; and wouldn’t you know it, some of Shank’s  weapons of choice include some bad-ass machetes.  Interesting, very interesting.

Aside from the uncanny similarities to the aforementioned movies Shank is a game that had me grinning almost immediately.  Starting up the single player campaign you have the choice between 2 settings: Normal (“Play the game, enjoy the story”) and Hard (“Tougher enemies and no checkpoints”).  I decided to play it safe and “enjoy the story.”

The game controls for Shank are easy to adapt to and provide for some clever and unique killing combinations.  Aside from the common Guard (L1) and Grapple (R1) controls, Klei added a feature called Pounce (R2).  This quickly became the starting point for many of my brawling efforts when confronted with multiple enemies.  Pounce essentially throws Shank high into the air, knives drawn and toward the nearest target.  After “pouncing” the enemy (essentially sticking him to the ground) you’re free to engage other, oncoming enemies, with whatever guns you may currently have selected.  Using the pounce feature, although not always appropriate for every enemy type,  allows for some interesting finishing moves on the poor sap you’ve just pinned to the ground.  A personal favorite: after pouncing, slicing and reducing the enemy’s health to near zero, I like to finish them off with a shotgun blast, point blank, to the head.  It’s quite satisfying.

The remaining combat controls, perhaps not as interesting as the Pounce, are seamlessly integrated into the game play.  Switching between Heavy Attack (Triangle), Guns (Circle) and Melee (Square) are as fluid and as solid as any AAA disc-based game I’ve played in the past year; and it’s these same controls that have made Shank the game that I was hoping it would become since first seeing footage at this years PAX East.

Aside from the graceful combat controls Shank’s platforming abilities are just as tight.  Climbing walls, swinging from conveniently placed lamp posts, sliding down ramps and jumping over various meat grinders are simplistically coded into the Left Analog Stick and the Jump (X) button.  Nothing more is needed to get from point A to point B.

Unfortunately, the most interesting thing about the enemies that you’ll face off against are the names that the Klei developers decided to provide them with; names like Ramone, Sal, Wallace and Miguel.  It’s an attention to detail that seems unnecessary yet a welcome addition that helps the player through wave after wave of common enemy types.

Thankfully, Shank does include a number of actual Boss fights.  Although they don’t necessarily enhance the story much (if any) they do provide for a nice break from the repititious brawling that led up to their face-off.  Each Boss that you encounter  is fairly unique from the next and will require specific methods of attack in order to defeat them.  For some it’s a matter of timing while other may require the use of Shank’s surroundings.

Visuals:
The art style of Shank provides for another feather in the hat of the Klei developers.  It’s a near perfect blend of Saturday morning cartoon, comic book paneling and cell shading.   From the majestic scenes of a barren desert to the frozen dungeon of a murderous butcher the set design is beautiful and appropriate.

This unique style of art direction is also realized within the individual character design.  Although the common enemy and mid-level bosses tend to be clones of one another, Shank and the Bosses that he’ll battle are wonderfully detailed and enhance the emotions that the characters represent:

Vengeance:

Insanity:

Brutality:

Audio:
The game settings do allow for adjustments to the music and FX volume.  The sound effects are fairly run of the mill: knife slicing, shotgun blasts, grunts and death cries.  I wasn’t expecting too much more than what we’ve all come to know and love with every other shooter and brawler.  However, it’s the music that truly delivers.  It evokes appropriate emotions to the action; whether brawling or pausing to watch another cut scene.  Being a musician for many years I tend to pay closer attention to the music that is used in movies, television shows and video games.  It has the potential to enhance or destroy the end product.  Shank’s musical direction elevates the game to even greater levels of enjoyment.

Online/Multiplayer:
In a time when the development of the multiplayer component is often more important than the single player campaign I was a bit surprised at the Multiplayer functionality of Shank.  It’s definitely there and it provides for a completely separate co-op story; inclusive of cut scenes and boss fights.  The downside to this is that the multiplayer co-op does not allow for online functionality.  For most I’m sure this doesn’t amount to much, if any, criticism.  Unfortunately, my most available and trustworthy co-op partner also happens to be my 11-year-old son, and this game is far from appropriate for an up and coming gamer.  This is a situation that online co-op functionality would be a great addition.  Perhaps Klei has plans to develop this aspect of the multiplayer for a future release but as of right now I’ve yet to hear anything about it.

Conclusion:
Earlier this year I caught a glimpse of a game called Shank.  After seeing the gameplay I was hooked.  I needed to find out more.  What was it about?  Who was involved?  When would it be released and on what platform?  The months that followed included various teasers and trailers and my appetite for this beautiful looking side-scroller grew.  Finally, Electronic Arts made the announcement that they would be fully supporting this probable underdog of a video game.  Although the game certainly has a number of highs from start to finish it is not void of any lows.  If you’re comfortable with a shallow story and some significant rinse-and-repeat enemies leading up to the more impressive boss fights then Shank is a game for you.

Score:
8.0

Written by Bill Braun

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  • Great Review Bill, I’m looking forward to try Shank soon. The art behind the game looks great and maybe I’ll convince the gf to play some co-op with me 🙂

    Thank you for the review