Somewhat dull shanks
When you scratch the surface of any form of media, you'll be able to see it for what it really is. In Shank's case, it's a violent beat em up where you go from segment to segment, beating up bad guys with various weapons and... well, I guess that's about it. Oh, and there's some story laced somewhere right before hitting Point B of each level, but beyond that, it is a rather shallow game that seems to have very little substance. Having said that, it is actually a little more complicated than mere button mashing, and once you figure that out, this game really starts to click and all of a sudden... it's still a bit underwhelming...
Shank is a tale about Shank - once a hitman for the mafia, now a deserter and a target for his former workmates. They kill his girlfriend and leave him for dead, so from there, Shank has to find and kill them. It reminds me of Kill Bill... in that while it appears to be a B-grade plot, it actually takes itself fairly seriously. Therein lies the problem - there's no real depth in the plot. It is nothing more than a mere two parter, with one involving the killing of targets (and with one target making Shank really think about his work), and the other involving the killing of his former cohorts. Since there's no depth to speak of, the story is thus a waste of time. That's not to mention that only one half is accessible via single player while the other half can only be accessed through co-op mode. It may give the co-op mode some substance, but it just ends up screwing both modes over in the long run...
But I'll be damned if it doesn't look stylish! It may have a cartoony style that looks like what would happen if Samurai Jack was made in Flash, but unlike Samurai Jack, it doesn't pull punches for the sake of getting a slot during the daytime hours on Cartoon Network. It may not be on par with the likes of No More Heroes in terms of over the top executions or the Saw series in terms of gore, but for what it's worth, it is still quite bloody, and oh yes, it does look good. The animation is very smooth, which is always a good touch. Maybe not Fantasia smooth, but smooth regardless. If this game excels at anything, it's this, without a shadow of a doubt.
The soundtrack works on a fundamental level, giving you the feeling that each fight is an epic showdown in an action movie. Although it doesn't feel right when you're mostly fighting henchmen and thugs, it doesn't stop it from giving off that vibe. Sadly, the voice acting is anything but. Most of it is passable, but nothing I'd praise unto the high heavens. Shank is the biggest offender, as he sounds more like somebody who has a hairball in his mouth than somebody who takes no prisoners, which would kill anybody's boner. It's sad - he's out there carving enemies up, and yet his voice has the legitimacy of Christian Bale's Batman.
Ultimately, the aim is to beat up waves of enemies. At first, you'll only be given a pair of shanks, a chainsaw and dual pistols, but as you proceed, you'll be given other weapons that may be in the same class as the chainsaw and pistols (strong melee weapons and guns, respectively), but attack in different ways. I'm not going to explain how they do - what I will explain is how this can give the game more depth than you could initially give it credit for. See, as you gain weapons, you'll notice that they'll attack in different ways, and thus, it's up to you to experiment with them to see if you can get some good combos out of them without getting your bells whipped. At times, you'll find yourself switching the weapons up to get the best results in combat - going from a samurai sword to dual machettes is how a real man fights! Fighting with a buddy (locally, unfortunately) isn't much different, except for some co-operative attacks that can really tear up the place, and the fact that one person can revive a downed ally. Sounds pretty cool, right?
Sadly, I never really found a moment where that works better than a single gun and maybe alternate between two weapons every now and again. For the most part, enemies will either attack in close quarters or from afar, with maybe a few being truly unpredictable. After a while, I stopped experimenting and just ended up sticking with the same arsenal, and odds are, you would too. It also doesn't help that grabbing becomes a wee bit too useful - either by thrusting towards them or pouncing on them, you can grab the enemy and then deal a fair amount of damage, and while you're attacking, you'll be immune. To put it simply, the combat has a lot of potential, but it never reaches it, and because of this, it gets a bit dull after a while.
Thankfully, the bosses aren't so simple. The general idea is to analyze their patterns and develop a strategy from them, but what this usually means is careful analysis, especially on the harder difficulty setting (more on that later), because one wrong move has the potential to net you a reservation six feet under. For the most part, this revolves around unleashing a combo while they are vulnerable and moving out of the way when they unleash a combo of their own, but it's not as easy as I'm making it sound, and for good reason... this is where the combat can really come to life as you try your hardest to kill the boss before it kills you, often mixing it up to get a good combo going on before they start on their's.
The biggest kick in the testicles is how long it is - both co-op and single player last 6 hours, and with very little else to do, this game will be collecting dust inside cyberspace while you play other games. Perhaps you could play it on the hard difficulty setting, but all that really changes is how much damage you take and the fact that there are zero checkpoints, meaning you'll be required to start from square 1 upon death... meaning you'll develop a more conservative strategy out of paranoia. Sadly, said conservative strategy isn't too different from the other strategy you'll likely use. Thankfully, once you get the weapons, you've got them forever, meaning you can mostly use the machette+shotgun combo in the first level, regardless of difficulty.
Story: It has the potential to be good, but since it's so straight laced and shallow, it's not. 1/5
Graphics: It looks great, has very smooth animation, and while it's not the bloodiest and stylish game on the market, it's got some style in terms of executions. 4.5/5
Sound: The soundtrack does a fine job of making every fight seem epic, particularly the bosses. The voice acting... no thanks. 3/5
Gameplay: On the surface, it appears shallow and derivative. However, as you play through the game and notice some things, you'll find that it really clicks, and suddenly, it still feels underwhelming due to a small variety of enemies and none of the fights (barring the bosses) allowing you to really use the combat system at its best. 6/10
Shank is an underwhelming game with many things that could've worked well. At its surface, it's as shallow as they get, but once you scratch the surface, you find a game that may mean well, but doesn't have much payoff once you start to really get into it - either due to the enemies not requiring much more than a simply strategy or the fact that it's about a handful of hours long to beat it both on your own and with a buddy. At the end of the day, it's a shallow brawler under the pretence of a deep brawler, with the graphics being the only real strong point.
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