Shank (PC) review
Shank is a man with no time to mess around. If his name didn't show that – quite literally emphasizing his favorite past time – then the gameplay and structure of Klei Entertainment’s new side-scroller should. Shank is one mean mother out for revenge, and he's going to kill whoever gets in his way to achieve retribution.
On the surface there isn't much to Shank as it takes on the 2D side-scrolling hack-and-slash genre without much innovation. From the beginning, players are given the basic weapon Shank will use to slice his way through enemies, which, of course, is a shank. The shank isn't the only weapon here though as players progressively discover new additions to the arsenal varying from chainsaws to uzis, katanas and the all-powerful shotgun.
Shank is a hybrid hack-and-slash shooter that mimics Devil May Cry in a basic manner as players mix things up between melee combat weapons and ranged weaponry on the fly. Making use of the 2D combat, the biggest problem with Shank is the repetitive nature of combat. Shank combats that nicely with a wide array of enemies to slaughter with a variety of weaponry creating a demand to implement different attack strategies as the combat evolves. Players must mix between defensive and offensive strategies and it's a nice blend of combat that keeps players on their toes. Who knew that there was so much to learn in the subtle art of shanking?
Compared to its console brethren, Shank is definitely best played with a controller. The default keyboard configuration demands a reworking in the options screen and, ultimately, is difficult with the constant switching between the eight different controls. The PC version does indeed support a game controller and evidence from the start, the title even recommends using a controller. It is still playable with a keyboard though, and either way there's a learning curve getting to grips with all Shank's controls.
The control scheme is indeed diverse and quite fluid for controlling a big burly man packing serious heat. Take care in my comparison of Shank to Devil May Cry though; while the combat has a nice mix of melee and ranged juggling the mobility of our dear Shank isn't quite up to DMC's Dante and the jumping mechanics can seem a bit awkward at times. Shank manages to flip out a lot jumping from wall to wall and running across walls but there were several times where pressing a jump did not result in the specific timing I expected, creating awkwardly missed jump or death sections.
There's also one annoying mechanic to Shank's controls. While I understand Klei didn't want to tack on yet another button to the layout, using the default shank attack button to also pick up items was aggravating. This created many scenarios where I was viciously attacking multiple foes across the screen but something like a large gun or health pickup would be sitting in the middle of the screen that I did not want to pick up yet. If any enemy decided to hover over said item I'd find myself either sticking to other attacks or simply avoiding that spot otherwise I'd accidentally pick up the item.
Another irritating feature is Shank's inability to fire upwards. When firing upwards Shank only seems to be able to aim in a diagonal line which can be incredibly frustrating when faced with multiple opponents raining fire down from above. You can throw grenades up but these usually come in a limited supply.
Set in a vibrant world akin to a comic book there's an art style here like no other 2D title with a dark color scheme mixing strong tones of red and black contributing greatly to a mature and confronting experience. From artistic touches of in-game cutscenes playing against the action and techniques of silhouettes and moving set pieces Shank sure has some productions for a short and cheap action game. Overall it creates a cinematic experience that can be as fun to watch as it is to play.
It's strange then to see a game with such cinematic values fall flat on its face when it comes to story. The story arc is definitely not a strong point here but I don't think it ever intended to be so. Shank slowly introduces plot points through flashbacks as the adventure goes on, but when the opening conflict is resolved almost half way through the game it's hard to follow along. Usually, the characters motivations to continue on are to fight the random boss characters that are introduced at the beginning of a level.
Shank is a damn impressive game for a cheap and quick brawler available on the Steam network. There are several interesting boss battles, although they're a little too formulaic demanding specific attack patterns, and the difficulty levels are a bit out of line. Normal is far too forgiving as I found the checkpoint being one screen before I died each time, while Hard is in the other extreme throwing tougher opponents at you while including no checkpoints per level. So beware; Shank is a tough challenge for any gamer.