Shank is not 'just another' action-platformer. It has the devilishly cool style of Desperado (or El Mariachi), the vengeful plot of Kill Bill, and the intensity of Alien Hominid. And yes, the combination is as cool as it sounds. Shank doesn’t play nice, nor is he the kind of guy to forgive and forget after being stabbed in the back. His old companions, a motley crew of blood-thirsty assassins, killed the love of his life and left him for dead. Somebody should have checked his pulse.
Shank takes ultra-violence to the extreme, and then guts it like a pig for good measure. Subtlety and stealth are not his strongest suits, and the game revels in the mayhem with super-fluid animations, geysers of blood, and triple-digit combos. The grizzled anti-hero is a fearsome warrior, capable of taking on a dozen men with his guns, melee attacks, grenades, and aerial assaults. He’s always outnumbered, but, like Beatrix versus the Crazy 88s, numbers are no match for skill.
He’s a multitasking marauder, able to pounce on one enemy with his knife, popping up from stabbings just long enough to fire a few bullets into the mob before slamming his prey’s face into the concrete. In one smooth movement, he disembowels one guy with a katana, lodges a clip of bullets in the next, and swings a pistol over his shoulder to take out the rear. The fact that you control every second of the frenzy is a testament to Shank’s superb controls.
Shank is not a button-masher, and people expecting Final Fight with guns are going to run into trouble fast. The game is hard, sometimes infuriatingly so, but it is rarely unfair. Discounting his knife, Shank can swap among seven other weapons, including a chainsaw, shotgun, dual-machetes, and an uzi. Each weapon has strengths and unique combos that you have to discover for yourself. You can pounce on an enemy and deliver a shotgun blast to his face. Dual-pistols don’t give you that option, but they do let you cross arms and fire in two directions at once. Victory is all about knowing which enemy deserves which weapon, and the dexterity to make the switch mid-combo.
There are rough patches that are too sadistic, even for Shank. Since you can’t fire straight up, nor jump high enough, gun-toting enemies on rooftops require you to line yourself up at perfect, diagonal angles to hit them. This is vastly easier said than done when simultaneously trying to fend off a pack of dogs, knife-wielding cronies, and two guys with mini-guns. Platforming segments are generally fun and have the right amount of challenge, except when missiles or grenades are dropping from the sky. Then, platforming devolves into a matter of luck.
From a luchador to a bondage-freak and his slaves in chipmunk masks, the bosses of Shank are as memorable as they are brutal. There is little room for error, and some will smash your skull in two hits. Ultimately, each boss has a very distinctive pattern and a momentary weakness, usually advertised by a button-indicator. Once you know how to beat a boss, there is no fun in fighting it again.
The three hours of playtime, give or take depending on talent, are perfect for the genre, and there is plenty of replay-value. In addition to the ecstasy of combat and a hard difficulty, the local two-player co-op functions as a prequel, complete with separate levels and bosses that require hefty doses of teamwork. The big question is why Leaderboards are only judged by clear-times. Shank’s combat is combo-based, and even has a combo-meter, but there isn’t a single scoreboard in the game.
A few sticky spots, including one-trick bosses and the lack of proper Leaderboards, can’t keep Shank down. The combination of seamless combos and slick controls could almost make Bayonetta moan with envy, while the decadent violence begs for the Robert Rodriguez treatment. Like a rusty shiv to the throat, Shank catches a few snags going in, but leaves a mark that won’t soon be forgotten.