Shank on the Xbox 360 is a delightfully brutal action packed hack-and-slash video game
- Excellent 2D animation, decently challenging single-player campaign, deliciously violent combat, narrative is a good mix of serious and ridiculous, although the dialogue can get pretty cheesy
- Irritating control issues, completely uneven boss battles, somewhat short on features and content, two-player co-op makes all the game's little technical flaws stand out like a huge sore thumb.
A delightfully brutal and expertly animated hack-n-slasher, Shank is an action-packed experience, but still suffers from irritating control issues and a short playtime.
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Games like Shank don't come around often enough. Sometimes, violence for the pure sake of violence makes a great way to pass an afternoon, and Klei Entertainment's Shank will easily burn a few hours off an idle day. As a pure hack-and-slash experience, this game offers exactly what it promises, and although it suffers from some irritating design flaws, you can't really argue with a game that lets you run a chainsaw through an evil pro wrestler's sternum.
Shank, the titular hero of the game, wouldn't be out of place in a bar fight with Kratos. He bludgeons, bleeds, and bashes his enemies to death without breaking much of a sweat, furled by a thirst for revenge against the people who killed his girlfriend. Where the God of War carries a utility belt full of mythical artifacts, Shank gets by on more practical weapons like knives, grenades, machine guns, chains, and machetes. Each armament in Shank's artillery is fun to use, and the game does a good job of continually mixing things up level after level. Just when you start to tire of your standard pistols, a shotgun or katana drops into your lap at the just the right time.
However, the real trick is using all the different weapons together in proper sync. Personally, I found the chainsaw and shotgun to be the best combination for most encounters -- and the best way to overcome Shank’s somewhat sloppy hit detection. Given that the game is a 2D hack-and-slash title, I expect a certain amount of hiccups in the combat, but Shank thankfully keeps things tight enough that I don’t feel terribly cheated when unexpectedly ploughed over by the oversized enemies.
Shank's outrageous boss battles are where the game really shines: they're huge, difficult, and require a surprising amount of strategy. Even after repeatedly dying at the hands of the behemoth bosses, I didn't really mind biting the big one, since I was actually having fun trying out different tactics for each encounter -- violent animations and gruesome quick-time events make even the losing battles really enjoyable experiences.
Still, it's a little telling that Shank favours style and flashy action over fine-tuning. Huge enemies will barrel roll right at you in tight corridors to cheaply whittle down your health, while minor foes are easily dispatched by standing on the opposite side of the screen and letting loose with your gun of choice. Even worse, trying to save health items (beer) until you really need them is near impossible since you pick up items with the melee button. So, if you're in the middle of ten vicious gang members and you accidentally stray too far to one side of the screen, you'll often waste a precious beer on a full health bar.
In the single-player game, all these minor annoyances aren't much of a problem. It only takes a level or two before you're able to work around the rough edges and slay evil gang members without making critical mistakes. But in the two-player co-op mode, every small problem becomes a massive obstacle. Sadly, this effects the boss battles the most -- even on "Normal," they're insanely cheap, with the game barely providing you any room to dodge or anticipate attacks. Even worse, it seems like these fights are balanced with the game assuming that both players are dedicated experts. But if one of you isn't up to the task, you'll be on the receiving end of several hopeless (and frustrating) beatdowns.
But overall, Shank is nonetheless entertaining throughout. With dialogue and voice acting that tries way too hard to be serious and gritty, the whole thing comes off as B-movie camp, which makes the protagonist's story (and the co-op prequel) much easier to enjoy. In particular, I really appreciated Shank's art style -- the animation and character design are top notch, and could easily be used to produce a standalone TV or Internet series. Although the solo game is incredibly short (I finished it in 3 hours flat), the co-op is so difficult that you'll probably get your money's worth just by grinding through the murderously unfair bosses.
Despite my gripes, Shank is a badass game. It could've done with a little more content (maybe a boss rush mode?), but it's a hack-and-slash murderfest that can easily stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Castle Crashers and Scott Pilgrim.
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