Review

Shank Review (Xbox360)

Preview goggles, as I call them, are what we all wear when we see movie or game trailers that look too good to be true. So good, in fact, that you immediately want to see or play said film or game. It happens to the best of us. There's an industry just around making us, Joe consumer, want to go do things we probably wouldn't do normally.

At PAX last year, almost exactly one year ago, I previewed Shank. I was enthralled, to say the least. A beat-em-up action title, at the time set for no specific console other than the Sega Dreamcast (a fan favourite joke), with an incredible art style and unlimited combinations of blistering, painful attacks. And, of course, lots of shanking.


But like many game demoes, it plays well for 10-15 minutes, but after that time the rush of that minty-scented newness vanishes, and the true gameplay experience reveals itself. With Shank, this is very much true, except it hurts from the start. Slow install, slow load times, and even a bit of framerate lag plagued Klei Entertainment's newest title far before the going got good. Low framerates were thankfully sparse afterwards, but slow load times persisted ever so vehemently, at least on the PS3.

As the title suggests, Shank revolves around the same-named character who fights with knives, chainsaws, pistols, butcher knives, and a small assortment of other none-too-friendly weapons. After his old gang, who left him for dead after killing his girlfriend, this Kill Bill story is no nonsense. Dialog is scarce, with the majority of human sounds left to grunts and death squeals. Shank himself lacks the tough voice, instead speaking with a raspy, almost deliberately cold and uncaring monotone. The colourful enemies are more incorrigible, but you're not playing this game for the novel-esque narrative. You're playing to cut some bitches up.


That's why Klei put so much effort into making combat as seamless and exploratory as possible, as was explained to me last year and at GDC in March. All weapons eight collectable weapons work differently and are all, save for the shank, interchangeable at any time. Players can start with the shank, lead into a chainsaw, fling the enemy into the air and keep them there - Devil May Cry style - with two brandished pistols. Lunge and pounce attacks keep enemies in place for an up close and personal beating. Grenades keep larger and grouped enemies at bay. With eight weapons to choose from and easy switching between them, part of the enjoyment of Shank isn't just to fight the bad guys, but to do so creatively. There are hundreds of attack combinations that can be performed, so many that it’s impossible for anyone to do them all in one playthrough.

One playthrough, however, is just three hours. At first, I was confused. A timer showed 2:59:46 as the credits rolled, and the story had come to an end after beating a seemingly ridiculous boss. How could this be the whole thing? For $15? I could have seen any Lord of the Rings films in theatre, with a snack, for the same price. I could have made a real shank in less time. Ahh, but there was multiplayer to be had, and with more time needed to explore, I was primed and ready.

Sadly, I wasn't ready to see that it was restricted to same-console play only. No online matchmaking, no online cooperative play. Just a friend in your basement, playing an alternate campaign which takes place prior to Shank's unfortunate happenstance, where the second player is Shank's best friend and they do the every-day work they normally do. Namely, killing police officers, sad biker gangs and political pawns. The two-player action is even more intense and difficult than solo play, yet just two hours after starting, it was done. We inadvertently completed it in one sitting.


The major disappointment isn't that Shank isn't as good a game as I expected. It isn't even that it's so short. No, the disappointment is that after beating it again on the gruelling Hard difficulty setting, the game was over. I couldn't enjoy it with a friend online, I couldn't share the experience with anyone who wasn't in the same room. And that every load screen set me back 2-3 minutes. A game should not allow players to read through all of their email and rss feeds while loading. It made the Mass Effect elevator seem short in comparison.

Shank isn't a bad game. It's good, but not great. It's also hard to recommend, both because some players just won't appreciate the difficulty whereas others won't appreciate the price to gameplay ratio. With no online play, replay value is a reverse skyrocket, burrowing deep into the Earth's crust. So while other Arcade titles will stick out in our minds for getting that high score, being absolutely creepy or being so damn fun online, Shank will feel like a fairly average title, one that could have been so much more than it truly was.

Top Game Moment: Getting a 100 hit combo using every weapon in the game and not getting a scratch.

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Comments

By djole381 (SI Elite) on Sep 09, 2010
djole381
Too bad there is no PC version....yet