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