Totally NOT a murder simulator
Developer: Klei Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts
I find the arcade scene fascinating. A lot of games made and sold cheaply... actually tend to end up better than their full price and boxed bretheren. For 10-20 bucks, you can enjoy a game that gives you more bang for your buck than you can imagine, and this isn't any less obvious than in Shank, a game that replicates old school beat em up action with some modern tweaks and some twists to make this more interesting than I may be making it out to be.
It follows the tale of the newest badass in the block, Shank, as he seeks revenge on those who killed his wife. Shank is less about conversation, and more about murdering as many people as he see fits in order to quench his thirst for blood. If you're into the Rambo series or the Expendables, or any action movie that has more action than conversation, you'll feel right at home here. If you think a compelling storyline is what makes a game, slink away.
At first, you're under the belief that you can simply hammer away at the buttons to perform punch combos and to dodge - either by jumping or holding the block button and jumping back - and when you gain some shotguns and chainsaws, you'll be tearing these enemies up in a cartoony massacre that Samurai Jack would have had, had it not been advertised for kids. The basic combat is quite fun. It allows you to rip anybody and everybody who dares to oppose you apart, and it's just a fantastic system, overall. The only problem here comes in the controls - they feel a little sluggish, and that's because the animation has to finish before the command finishes, which can take a tiny bit longer than you'd think it would... and that can add up when you're getting beat pretty badly...
Then you'll be forced to use the basics in a sort of strategic menuever. Bosses will not be slain by blind button mashing, unless you're lucky enough to mash the perfect combination (though I don't suggest counting on that). Rather, they require some precise jumping and hitting at their weak spot, then some fancy footwork to get out of the way of their attacks. On top of that, you'll be facing more powerful mobs of bad guys who will wittle your health down to a tiny bar if you insist on button mashing. You'll be forced to switch to weapons that suit the situation at hand. Once you learn to figure out what to do, you'll be feeling less agitated at the face of death, and more satisfied with the gratuitous violence you'll be delivering.
It's not all chainsawing limbs and blowing up the insides of peoples' mouths. There are some platforming segments, with some swinging parts, wall jumping, and just a decent amount of parkour here and there. The segments aren't the most creative in the world, nor are they the most challenging out there, but they at least give you something to do that isn't relentlessly killing thugs and pugs.
The game is balls to the walls hard. Considering the demographic target, that should not be a surprise in the least. People my age should be used to hard games like Ninja Gaiden (both classic Nintendo and Microsoft revival) and Devil May Cry, and Shank should not be an exception. You like old school challenge where you have to actually put in an effort to kick ass, you play Shank. If you prefer to have your hand held, maybe you should wait for something else. However, there are a few instances of cheapness, suck as being knocked off a ledge by a gunner you couldn't reach, or getting hit by a missile and falling to your death, but suck it up and get into it!
Once you've gone through the three hour single player quest, you can go through a co-operative quest with a friend. This serves as the prologue to the single player game, and although environments are reused, the level designs are more to suit co-operative play. The enemies are more plentiful, the puzzles are more challenging, and the levels are designed in a way that makes you and your friend want to co-operate, fight, and have fun with each other. If history has taught us anything, it's that games like this are more fun with a friend than alone, and Shank doesn't disporve this by any stretch of the imagination. Me and a friend of mine were having the times of our lives killing anybody that isn't us, and we've both commented on how it relieves stress, seeing how our characters are brutally murdering the bad guys. The game lacks online multiplayer, however, and although it doesn't hurt the game much, it feels like an inconvenience when every other game (other than Scott Pilgrim VS The World: The Game) has online multiplayer and this, which is a pretty damn good game, doesn't.
The graphics are quite good. It's like what would happen if Samurai Jack had more "adult" level violence. It has that cel-shaded 2D look that's very stylish. You know, where they could've been assholes and just make some half assed 8-bit graphics, the artists decided to watch some Samurai Jack and base the art style off of it. That, or they probably hired the artist(s) behind that show - whatever the case may be. Not much to say for the audio - the songs will get you into the action like a typical action movie soundtrack with a bit of western tinge, and the voice acting is a little cheesy, but you don't hear heaps of it, especially since the game isn't that long.
Overall, Shank is a rather good beat em up. Harkens back to the days of old like a good amount of arcade titles do these days, but this one really manages to stand on its own two feet with creative visuals and a fun and satisfyingly violent campaign. It has a couple of issues here and there, but if I was to say that they wrecked the game much, I'd be lying. So what are you waiting for? Nintendo to release this?
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