Shank – A Bloody Good Time

This is a game I got from a friend on Steam. I believe he gifted to me for Christmas or my birthday or something and I am such a terrible person I never repaid him for it (also – I had no money but I’m really sorry Ultramario I didn’t mean it). I am, however, eternally grateful to said friend because Shank is an awesome game.

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A story about love, revenge, and chainsaws.

Shank is the story of a man named… well, Shank. He’s back after a lengthy disappearance where everyone thought he was dead, and is on a quest for revenge. Revenge for what, you may ask? Well, you’ve gotta play the game to figure that out. What you need to know is that he used to be a member of the very gang he’s seeking to destroy, that he’s rip-roarin’ pissed, and he’s the most awesome fighter who ever dared exist.

(The co-op multiplayer campaign is a prequel of sorts to the events of the single player campaign – unfortunately, I’ve never had someone else around to play it with.)

First things first, the campaign itself isn’t terribly long – it’s around a dozen levels long. Second, the story isn’t exactly spectacular – Shank seeks revenge, he gets his revenge. There’s not much in the way of greater motivations, though we do see the occasional flashback to why Shank is out to kill gang leader Cesar and his underlings, and eventually, the reason Shank is so determined and why he felt so betrayed.

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Our hero, getting ready to lay down the smackdown.

For a short game, though, it works. It provides a little bit of intrigue, and provides a pretty good reason to root for our hero. The most important part of this game, however, is in the gameplay.

Shank is a side-scrolling beat-em-up with a variety of dudes to murder, weapons to murder with, and locations to murder in. It’s got the typical “light attack” in Shank’s, well, shanks, while the “heavy attack” is a gruesome chainsaw. Shank also has a long-distance attack with a set of twin pistols (which you needn’t worry about running out of ammo for) and he can also toss grenades around as long as he has some.

You can also block and dodge, grab and throw, and Shank also has a special “pounce” move where he jumps into the sky and lands on any unfortunate victim below, with enables you to do a lot of damage quickly, and position yourself quickly. Shank’s got plenty of moves for dealing with the varied enemies before you, and occasionally you can get a counter prompt for some attacks which will let you perform a quick comeback. There’s even some context-sensitive combos – trying to throw a grenade during a grapple, for instance, instead has Shank shove a grenade down his current victim’s throat before tossing him aside.

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Shank introduces his chainsaw to some enterprising young men.

Throughout the game, you’ll unlock new weapons for Shank to play with as well. You’ll start with shanks, chainsaw, and pistols but by the end you’ll have three new heavy weapons and two new guns to play with. What’s nice is that they aren’t direct upgrades – they all have their own strengths and weaknesses and even their own effects during grapples and pounces.

Take the chains, for example. These change Shank’s heavy attack into punches with heavy chains wrapped around them. You can’t really launch enemies into the air to juggle with these, but they make up for it by letting you choke them during grapples. Or the shotgun, which has a much shorter range than the pistols and is much slower, but can hit multiple enemies at once and send them flying across the screen. Switching between each weapon is delegated to the D-Pad, so you don’t have to worry about pausing the game to do it. Experimenting with the different item combinations is pretty fun.

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The shotgun isn’t as good at juggling, but can help clear a crowd.

Enemies can be carrying a number of weapons, as well, from close-range to long-distance to maybe both at the same time. There’s large dudes that can only be grappled with heavy attack moves, ninja-like women who leap all over, even dogs. Sometimes the number of enemies on screen can be a little extreme, and it can get a little messy dealing with enemies that are running up into your face while other ones hang back and take potshots at you with their guns. Throwing dudes works a lot of the time but you can expect to feel that some encounters aren’t exactly fair.

A few levels also have rockets or debris raining from the sky on top of you – while they can hurt enemies too, you’re not given much warning for when they approach and they can ruin a nice combo streak you might have going. Occasionally an enemy will be placed in a location that you just can’t approach easily, and they tend to be the enemies that grab and throw you, generally resulting in you landing back in the position you were just struggling to get out of. It doesn’t happen too often, and it’s late-game, but it’s still obnoxious.

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Fortunately, there’s plenty of health-recovering beers lying around.

When you’re not killing everything in sight, Shank has to do a little basic platforming here and there. It’s pretty simple stuff – climbing up walls, swinging from skulls, sliding down slopes. You’re rarely in a position of danger, and if an obstacle is coming up, the game tends to go into slow-mo to give you a little extra time to react, which is nice. The platforming maintains the game’s momentum pretty well, too – it doesn’t feel like you’re being stopped to do some mandatory climbing around garbage, it just feels like a natural part of the levels.

There’s a handful of boss fights in the game, each more difficult than the last and often having some sort of puzzle aspect to them. They’re all pretty fun, and if you die, the game will give you a hint as to how to open up the enemy to more damaging manoeuvres. Death in this game is generally forgiving – you’re reset to a nearby checkpoint with full health and three grenades. It’s a minor pain if you had five grenades before, but it’s nothing too serious.

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Performing a grapple when a boss is stunned will make Shank do a move that deals a lot of damage.

Visually, the game’s quite nice. The characters are all nicely animated and the art-style’s excellent. Some of the locations are a little bland, but the simple art style of the backgrounds is kind of charming and helps keep Shank and characters from blending into them, and the colour choices are pretty fitting. It looks like you’re playing a comic-book styled after the movieĀ Machete or something. You’ll be fighting a lot of identical twins, but that’s just something that happens with these kinds of games.

Between levels you’ll get cutscenes showing small story events. Unusually, these seem to have been pre-animated and are played as videos since there’s some compression artifacts going on that aren’t in the main game. It doesn’t seem like they do anything particularly strenuous the game engine wouldn’t have been able to handle, but it’s not like they look terrible anyway. Even during a level, though, you might get a comic-book style panel cutout showing something happening. It’s pretty cool.

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The game is genuinely beautiful at times.

The game’s audio is also quite nice. Sound effects are clean and crisp and can help indicate what’s about to be coming your way, and character voices are appropriately cheesy. The soundtrack is excellent – it fits the style of the game perfectly and each track fits the style of the level it’s used for. A nice touch is that they’re kind of “layered,” if that makes any sense – a single track is made up of a bunch of smaller loops, and as you progress through the level, the music progresses to each loop in turn. So a level’s music will start out low and subdued, until the end where it’s more intense. One track that stands out in particular is the one that plays during an underground level – it’s amazing. The loops aren’t always clean, but it’s still a really nice effect.

So overall, what is Shank? Well, it’s a good game, that’s for sure. It’s a little frustrating at times, yeah. And it can feel like it’s over way too quickly. But it’s not too expensive (as of this writing it’s ten bucks on Steam), has a nice number of unlockable costumes for Shank to use, and it’s just a blast to play.

Give it a shot if you like your beat-em-ups bloody and stylish.

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Revenge is a dish best carved with a chainsaw.

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