Klei Entertainment have just released their comic book-inspired Tarantino-esque action game Shank. We've cut our way through hundreds of enemies to find out if it's any good...
For a long time there's been a discussion that game designers and producers shouldn't try too hard at writing movie scripts, simply because they aren't really writers. Some take that to heart, trying to tell their stories based around the fact that they are dealing with games. Others still try to infuse their games with the drama and feelings of movies, despite the fact that they probably should stay away from doing so.
That is very much the case in Shank. The story here is so abysmally bad it hurts, a terrible Tarantino-rip without any feel for storytelling. The dialogue is ludicrous, the one-liners awful, and I often find myself fearing the cutscenes that only become worse and worse as the game progresses. Shank is simply trying too hard to be something it is not, a hard-boiled story about a man in search for revenge that only ends up being a cheesy mess. And not cheesy in the good way either. Bad cheesy, which is never a good thing.
At first the game confused me. The comic-inspired graphical art style and the over-the-top action where Shank cuts up his enemies with a chainsaw both pointed to that this was all tongue-in-cheek and that the game was supposed to be humorous. As the story progressed, it became increasingly apparent that this was not the case - there's nothing fun or humorous about a woman getting raped and killed, after all. In short, the story doesn't fit into the gameplay at all. I might laugh a bit when Shank decapitates the wrong wrestler using his chainsaw, but I'm not smiling as one of the antagonists carries away Shank's girlfriend with the message that he wants Shank to "hear her scream." I'm just raising multiple eyebrows.
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Shank is a fairly typical sidescrolling hack-n-slash. You have your melee attacks, your ranged attacks and some grenades. You can grab enemies, or pounce them from the air, and the overall goal of the game is just to hack (and slash) your way through hordes of gangsters, gang-members, assassins, soldiers and attack dogs in your search for revenge. The violence is initially quite satisfying, there isn't that much to complain about when it comes to controls except in the few cases where you end up on way too small platforms and easily plunge to your death if you don't stay on your toes.
After a while it gets incredibly repetitive. Shank does try to mix it up at some points, but hardly enough - 90% of the game is still more or less the same fights, against the same types of enemies, over and over again. The platforming parts are the same way and never really change, the environments don't really do much for the experience and the game is not ashamed to rehash boss strategies. You'll quickly learn what works best - towards the end of the game I was more or less only using the machetes and the shotgun, hardly thinking about what I was doing anymore - and unless you play on hard difficulty there's not much challenge after you've learned how the game, and thus a majority of the fights, work.
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There isn't much game to begin with, to be honest, but at the same time it would probably just be even more repetitive if there was. There's also a co-op mode, which I guess gives the game a bit longer lifespan - and killing enemies together is always more fun than alone, no? But compared to other recently released games, like Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, there's no real reason to pick up Shank for the co-op mode in the first place.
Shank's problem is twofold, I guess. It tries too hard when it comes to its storyline and it doesn't do anything to push downloadable games into new territory. Castle Crashers is far better than this and that's been out for years, and other games - like Snoopy Flying Ace, the aforementioned Lara Croft or the fairly basic Deathspank - are at least trying something new in the medium. Shank isn't, and once I've managed to erase the memories of the hero's "dialogue" with the evil priest (yes, there's one of them in there), I'm pretty sure that I will forget about most of it in a few weeks.
5 / 10
Some satisfying violence, fighting is fun for a while