Tormented by personal tragedy and filled with an insatiable rage, Shank carves a bloody path in his quest for ultimate vengeance. As Kratos has proved many times, there’s no better way to begin the bloodletting than to arm up with twin blades for some hardcore grunt-slicing action. Shank may have the weapons and stone-cold demeanour to get the initial murdering done, but as the death count rises and the enemies begin to respond, he’ll need the player’s every trick to see him through to success. The over-the-top action of this arcade outing is surprisingly relentless, but is it a cut above the rest or just another case of style over substance?
Beaten, broken and betrayed, our hero lies on the ground in a pool of his own blood. Even worse, he’s lost the most precious thing in his otherwise violent world – his beloved girlfriend. Consumed by a burning bloodlust, Shank takes to the streets against overwhelming odds; meeting faces from his past then single-handedly tearing them down one at a time. Characters include the meatpacking wrestler – Butcher – and a busty strip-club owner named Cassandra, but while tied to the story in a one-note ‘bad guy’ sort of way, they fail to make the tale compelling despite the odd line of bad dialogue served up to lighten the mood. It’s a shame that this cheese factor is never exploited in the proper fashion, resulting in a B-movie yarn which fails to entertain between the minute-to-minute hacking and slashing.
One glance and the game’s appeal will become clear – Shank is absolutely dripping with style, sporting a grindhouse atmosphere and cutscenes in the style of an adult cartoon (think Samurai Jack crossed with a Rambo action flick and you’re just about there). Gameplay melds the running and climbing of a 2D Wet with the slicing and shooting of Devil May Cry, and while making this comparison is to overstate things a bit, the similarities are certainly there. Throw in an emotive score to contrast with the on-screen action and Shank’s presentation becomes a complete whole, making for a unique experience that strives to be more artistic than inventive.
Armed to the teeth with all manner of death-dealing equipment, Shank’s quest begins with twin pistols for juggling and ranged attacks, as well as a chainsaw ideal for some neck-plunging finishers. The double ‘shanks’ provide the light attacks and the heavy attacks are typically slower but pack more of a wallop when landed successfully. You’ll gain access to a handful of other items throughout this corpse-laden journey and each one feels satisfying to use thanks to a strong combo system and competent control scheme. Each armament – makeshift or otherwise – inflicts a unique death on your prey, unlocking a few new combat techniques in the process, such as blasting a foe in the face once he’s been knocked down with a pounce. The combat is fast, visceral and charged – the screams of your enemies will keep the adrenaline pumping even as the flaws make themselves apparent, indeed obvious and unavoidable.
Those considering a purchase are advised to consider the type of game Shank is – namely a fighter in the traditional sense, waves of respawning enemies included. As such, the game has moments when things can seem cheap instead of genuinely challenging, with one late back alley brawl involving flamethrowers, grenade launchers and gun-toting bad guys likely to test your patience and finger-twitching dexterity to the limit. Many times, it can feel as if luck played its hand over skill, as appears to be the nature of the genre. There’s no Easy mode either, so it’s paramount that you prepare to face whatever arises with the same gusto as the leading man. Picking up health-restoring energy drinks at the right time is also made more difficult than it should be, having been mapped to the primary attack button in an irritating design choice.
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