Shank is a man in search of retribution and, fittingly for a fellow with such an asinine name, he owns a pair of knives. No prizes for guessing what he uses those for. He also owns a machete, a chainsaw and some other weapons that he puts to similar use.
Like the movies it derives so much from, Shank is dumb, ridiculous and dumb. Unlike the likes of Desperado and Kill Bill however, it’s not a movie, which is its undoing.
Shank plays like every other 2D brawler out there. You dart across the screen slashing, chainsawing, shooting or bludgeoning anything that moves. In this case, “anything that moves” is a handful of enemies and a dog.
For the first six minutes brawling is a spectacle. Ramming a grenade in the mouth of one of Shank’s foes, punching him in the mush before leaping back as bloody chunks shower down like confetti is undeniably great. Pinning another to the floor, pummeling him with a chainsaw while every so often looking up to shotgun an encroaching goon is shamelessly splendid.
But the appeal of leaping on every enemy from afar wanes quickly, despite its effectiveness, and you can make it through any fight just fine by button mashing. Ans there isn’t a combo list anyway, so put to bed any hopes of depth rivaling something like The Dishwasher. Instead you can fire two guns at once in different directions. That’s the kind of thing Klei Entertainment are going for with Shank.
These shortcomings aren’t helped by the fact that Shank is as responsive as a deaf dog in a room full of broody bitches. On more than one occasion the lumbering oaf ignored my prompts to block, an issue particularly testing during the numerous boss encounters that represent some of the games finest and most lamentable moments.
And it’s short. Extremely short, yet it still manages to feel derivative and repetitive. You fight the same trickle of enemies with the same weapons time and time again. And again. You’re drip-fed new weapons but the selection you begin the campaign with are as effective as any you unlock later on. There’s no sense of character progression, no hidden items, no replay value, nothing but this ‘cinematic’ thing.
That said Shank does flaunt some lovely touches but they only stress how much of a shame it is that the same fondness and consideration isn’t demonstrated elsewhere. The way vanquished foes fade to grey when they die, the colour seeping from them as quickly as the blood spurts, is a slick artsy touch. The soundtrack too has this beguiling somber loneliness to it that, while not really parallel to the superficial tone of Shank’s fiction and pristine Cartoon Network-esque art, does, on occasion, fool you into thinking you are playing something far more accomplished.
But those features alone can’t absolve Shank from his sins. Were it a movie it might pass as mindless popcorn stuff, but by shoehorning tired game mechanics into its vengeance tale, Shank proves to be as monotonous as it is pretty. There are the bare bones of a half-decent brawler here, wrapped up in jaw-dropping packaging that only serves to make the game inside that much more disappointing.