ShankShank is the kind of game that reminds you that the purpose of any given game is to provide you with an interactive means of entertainment. Usually, that's used to introduce an artsy game like Dear Esther or Proteus, not a game like Shank whose sole artistic quality lies in the Flash animation showcasing some over the top bloody action. But Shank really does drive that point home - it takes a relatively simple concept that could be mildly entertaining, and uses it to such great effect that it makes things more entertaining! It's not trying to be the next Silent Hill or Braid - it's just a dumb little video game that revels in ultra violent combo attacks and a story so thin, you could mistake it for somebody with anorexia.
At the same time, Shank is actually deeper than it appears at a cursory glance. Once you start to acquire more secondary weapons and the enemies start to get harder, you'll quickly learn that mashing buttons will land you a quick trip to the boneyard. Instead, you'll be forced to learn how to use each weapon you're given and how to link them together to ensure that you can juggle your enemies while keeping yourself from getting whacked by other enemies. The idea is that you should soften them up with your knives, use a heavy weapon to cause damage and ranged weapons to either keep enemies behind you from attacking you or to swat enemies away. It just depends on what you have equipped. Uzis quickly chip away at enemies' health while the shotgun swats close-by enemies away. But then you have your chainsaw, which is slooow but powerful, and machetes that can do combo attacks like your knives, only slower but stronger. There are other weapons, but half the fun of Shank is experimenting with the different weapons at your disposal for the best combos during any given situation. Not to mention that Shank also has access to grapple and pounce attacks, and a limited supply of grenades, and there is a fair amount to keep in mind during combat.
Flow is especially important, as Shank moves at his own pace. He doesn't just burst into a flurry of knife strikes right after lobbing some sucker in the air with his chainsaw; he has to finish the animation before transitioning to the next. Some would call this limiting or clunky - I call it nuanced. It's done in a way that further discourages mindless button mashing as Shank, like I said, needs to finish an animation before starting the next one. Constantly mashing buttons in a random sequence will have Shank move to an animation that won't be suitable to the current situation at hand and might actually get you killed. No, you need to pay attention to the enemies on screen and think "hmm, should I go straight to a heavy attack, or dodge to the side and carve up somebody else", among other things. It's all situational, and it's due to this distinction that Shank's combat gets rather addicting.
That isn't to say it's the deepest brawler in the world as it's not as if you have like a million weapons, combos and enemies; in fact, enemies have simple attacking patterns. They mostly punch you, charge at you, shoot a couple of gun shots, lob grenades and maybe grab you to give everyone else a shot at you. At the same time, it's not just a mashfest like what any simpleton whose personal standards are measured by how much ad revenue they get from the developers would say - strategy, experimentation and flow are required to ensure survival. Enemies can and will get plentiful and despite their simplistic strategies, they can and will *bleep* your ass and you won't even realize it. That's not even mentioning bosses, who have their own patterns and you'll be required to find the right timing to unleash a counterattack without getting killed. Suffice it to say, the bosses are going to start off being hard as hell until you find the sweet spot at just the right time - *bleep* it up, and you'll take a beating. But once you get the timing right, the majesty of the combat system reveals itself to you even more as you'll be even more observant of what's going on and be required to make snap decisions that'll keep you alive while getting in there to deliver a few combo attacks. Because of this, the boss fights end up being the highlight of the game. Imagine that you're fighting somebody who either has the size or weapon proficiency advantage over you, and yet here you are, stabbing them with chainsaws or cutting them up with your machetes.
One must give credit to the graphics for expressing the ultra violence in a way that won't get people upset about it. It's cartoony with plenty of bright, vivid colors... well, okay, they're mostly brown and grey, but they're pretty vivid shades of brown and grey. The animation, though, is what ropes me in. It flows ever so fluidly and the blood gushes out with such flow that it's rather hypnotic. After some time, you'll find yourself so fixated on the animation to worry about button inputs that once you get the feel for it, you'll figure out what button to press before it even pops up in your brain to do so. That, my friends, is the hallmark of a game that knows exactly what it's doing.
Shank is not a game one admires for anything beyond its combat, but it never really places much importance on anything else. There are a few platforming segments and all that really stands out about them is that sometimes, you might get knocked off a pole you're climbing and either land on the ground or die. Other than that, it's just there to break up the combat. Same with the story - at the end of the day, it's a simple revenge plot that never really develops or twists into anything remotely interesting. It just breaks up combat before and after each boss and level, especially when you face the last boss. Shank's actions speak louder than his words and it's not just because his voice actor sounds like Christian Bale's Batman on valium - whether he's carving enemies up with his chainsaw or cutting them up with his machetes, only to then to blast them away with his shotgun, Shank is somebody you don't want to *bleep* with. Simple as that.
In summation, Shank is a one note game, but it's such a brilliantly played note that it doesn't even matter. It's hypnotically brutal despite its cartoony graphics. In fact, it's because of these graphics that the game is so engaging to not only play, but to even watch. Plus it's like three hours long, so brevity isn't an issue either. Really, the only issue is when it tries to tell a story. The story is dog shit in quality and just plain boring to go through. Just turn your brain off and *bleep* up some thugs with your knives and chainsaw. That's the best way to enjoy the game and get the most out of it.