It’s tough following the excellent games the annual Summer of Arcade gave us this year. This time around there was something for everyone; If you have a friend there’s the fantastic cooperative Lara Croft title, if you have more than one friend there’s Monday Night Combat, or if you like to go it alone there’s Limbo. So Shank was following a great lineup of games.
Luckily, Shank shares little resemblance to the aforementioned games and instead brings with it a gorgeous art style, fluid combat, and even a cooperative option if you want to shank some baddies with a friend. Like I said, Shank looks amazing. If Limbo hadn’t come out a month prior it would easily be my favorite game for visuals. The animations are seamless, the environments spectacular, and there’s blood aplenty. The gore is very Tarantino-esque in its over-the-top delivery. It’s obvious the developers were inspired a bit by Kill Bill; there’s even an unlockable yellow and black striped costume reminiscent of Uma’s threads that would’ve been my costume of choice had I not already unlocked the ridiculously kickass psychopath outfit.
Unlike the heroes in the movies that inspired it, Shank’s badass knife-slinging protagonist isn’t very likeable. His rough demeanor fueled by the rage left after his woman was brutally slain has turned him into a young arguably better armed Clint Eastwood, and while that makes sense and works with the action of the game, story-wise I never found myself too invested in him.
The visuals are easily my favorite thing about this game, but that’s not the only fantastic element Shank has to offer, because the combat is near perfect. You start off with, well, a shank, and dual handguns. As you progress through the story you’ll unlock an assortment of weapons ranging from a brutal chainsaw to dual submachine guns, and even a katana to really bring that Kill Bill comparison home.
Add the vast arsenal of weapons to the deep and intuitive combat system and it all works amazingly well. Transitioning between my grab attacks, blocking, throws, and switching from close to ranged combat is flawless, and it’s all built to be easy for a newcomer to master while being deep enough for “hardcore” gamers to be able to show off their skills.
The enemies start off pretty easy but soon begin to arm themselves with grenades, guns, riot shields, and crazy gymnastic skills that make getting a combo extraordinarily difficult later in the game. Every time you’re hit the combo meter resets and when those gymnast chicks are flying all over the place it makes life excruciatingly difficult.
Like any good 2D action platformer, Shank has a good collection of bosses for you to fight at neatly placed intervals. These guys double as both a welcome change of pace as well as a chance to show off your new skills and weapons. Each boss requires a unique approach to defeat him, my favorite being the S&M boss that had me running from his slave and pulling at his nipple clamps as part of the strategy to beat him. Seriously, if that sentence didn’t motivate you to get the game I’m not sure what will.
Outside of a little repetition in the gameplay department (it’s essentially go here, kill the guys, move on, kill more guys, continue to boss, repeat) and a lack of things to do outside of the main story and local-play only cooperative prequel campaign, (it’s strange there are no hidden items or collectibles hidden throughout the levels) Shank proves an excellent summer release can be found outside the much-hyped Summer of Arcade.
This review is based on a digital copy of the Xbox 360 version of Shank, which was provided by the publisher.