Review: Shank

Vicious violence with a cartoon overcoat.

Shank doesn’t mess around. It’s a violent, bloody and unapologetic rush through a grimy, gritty backdrop that is one part Robert Rodriguez movie and one part Saturday-morning cartoon.

For younger readers we may have to explain where this game comes from. Side-scrolling 2D brawlers have been out of fashion for a long time now, with a couple of easily forgettable attempts to resurrect the genre and one or two “modernised” polygonal attempts to drag it up to date. Some have even argued that the entire genre morphed into hack n’ slash games like Devil May Cry and, ultimately, God of War.

This game is different. It would be difficult to define it as “retro” because the only thing that harks back is the concept. Shank seems more like a large evolutionary step that has just appeared, with no intermittent steps, twenty years after its predecessors died out.

Shank, the eponymous hero, is on a quest for vengeance. The opening cut-scene sees our protagonist beating up a crowd of gorgeously drawn and beautifully animated goons. He wins his weapons, a pair of blades; a chainsaw and a couple of pistols, and the game takes over from the cinematic – leaving you with a bar-room full of enemies to defeat as a kind of “in-at-the-deep-end” tutorial.

Controls are snappy and tight with very occasional frustration due to over-enthusiastic animations. Generally the on-screen violence matches what you’re trying to do and the visceral nature of what you make happen is extremely satisfying.

The combat is not exactly combo-heavy but there are occasional opportunities to explore a bit of depth. The “pounce” move will quickly become your best friend, allowing you to leap most of the way across the screen and land on an enemy before dispensing various flavours of death.

As the game goes on, the seemingly-endless repetition of slashing and shooting your way through swathes of enemies is constantly wrestling with just how satisfying the on-screen graphic violence is.

Bosses are suitably large and frequent enough to help break the monotony of slicing and blasting your way through groups of small- and medium-sized foes. The boss encounters almost always come down to a method of avoiding their attacks and a particular method of causing them to pause while you go about the business of cutting parts off them.

You will upgrade your weapons from time to time, gaining access to better guns and bigger blades but in truth the action is mostly similar regardless of what weapons you’re using. Small differences in your attacks bring variation in the on-screen action but the end result is generally the same.

Without wishing to give credence to the notion that length of time is somehow representative of value for money, this game is short. It takes a touch over two hours to run through the single player campaign with a separate (short) cooperative prequel campaign available to play locally (no online multiplayer).

Ultimately, your enjoyment of Shank will come down to two things. Can you live with the gameplay, which feels repetitious when weighed against many modern games and do you enjoy the visuals and the humour? If you’re looking for a fun brawler with sumptuous cartoon visuals and over-the-top violence then Shank has got that seeping from every virtual pore. If you think that every game needs to have an ambiguous, artful, hidden meaning and fourteen hours of gameplay then look elsewhere.

Pros:

  • Great art style.
  • Unapologetic slash-and-shoot gameplay.
  • Grown-up without trying too hard.

Cons:

  • Repetitive game-play.
  • Fairly shallow combat.
  • Ends too soon.

Shank is undoubtedly a huge amount of fun and that’s something which is possibly missing from a lot of modern games. It does have its numerous flaws and it is pretty short but the humour, the presentation and the sheer joy of slicing your way through a group of enemies may be enough to counteract the game’s myriad minor disappointments.

Score: 7/10

18 Comments

  1. Me and my brother played through the co-op story on release day, and honestly, it’s stupidly fun. I kept getting irked at some of the bosses but after attempt after attempt we got through it all in just over 2 hours. But my god what a 2 hours that was. And we’ll definitely be going through it again. As for singleplayer, I’ve only watched my brother playing it but it looks just as good and he completed it in a touch over 3 hours I think. Brilliant game for the price I reckon, espesh if you’re a fan of the genre. And Robert Rodriguez.

  2. I loved the demo, think the art is fantastic and it is pleasantly brutal, but I just can’t justify buying it at the current price when it will be finished in 2 hours! It is so disappointing when a game ticks all the boxes except for a reasonable length. I’m not expecting anything epic, but 2 hours is ridiculous.

    • It really depends on how good you are at this kind of game and how you play. It took me roughly 5 hours to beat, which isn’t that short.

    • Think about it, an average shooter is finished in 10 hours, and costs 40£. Shank costs a quarter of the price, and has a quarter of the lenght.

      • 10 hours is pretty short too. It usually takes me 15-20 hours to complete most games single player (a bit more or less depending on how much time I can be bothered to spend getting trophies), and then I will usually put another 20 hours online (if it has it). Taking into account I rarely new games at full price as well, I’m getting about £1 per hour. So Shank, by my crazed logic, should cost £2. Though really I would buy it if it was around a fiver, but £10 is just too much for 2 hours playtime in my opinion!

      • I’d say if you play most retail games with the aim of finishing the game and not exploring for hidden crap, or on a trophy run you can complete them in 8-15hrs

      • Sadly (or luckily) I am a trophy whore and obsessive explorer ;-)

  3. I liked the demo of this but it just feels a little steep price-wise, I can’t say too much really with some of the stuff I’ve bought in the past but I’ll back for a while in the hope that it goes on sale.

    Good review by the way, thanks, CB.

    • worth the money IMO. If you liked Streets of Rage back in the day, you’ll love this! Its the style game play, only with constant weapon play :-)

  4. I bought this earlier and its very good so far, i can see it getting boring though, but i’ll live with it.

    I love the style of the graphics too.

  5. played the demo of this recently and decided as a playstation plus member that I would wait and see if this gets reduced anytime rather than pay full price for it.

  6. Found it fun at first, but it got far too annoying by the midway point. The boss battles were not fun at all to boot, most especially the last one.

    It’s the same deal as that Scott Pilgrim game essentially, starts out great fun, but the more you play the worse it gets.

  7. I can’t beat the boss at the end :(

    • I’d love a SHANK dynamic theme & some avatars, that’d be schweeet.

      • A Shank dynamic theme would be awesome!

  8. Demo was great fun!

  9. it’s fun, just a shame there’s no online multiplayer, both this and the scott pilgrim game could benefit greatly from that feature i feel.

  10. PLayed it, bought it, loved it, joined the facebook-group

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