Shank is a game about a guy name Shank who shanks a lot of guys. It’s probably the most appropriate title for a game in recent memory. It is a story of revenge, mistaken identity and a whole lot of sticking sharp things into the soft parts of bad guys.
The first think you’ll notice is Shank’s presentation, which is outstanding. The art style feels an awful lot like Penny Arcade and a Robert Rodriguez movie got run through a blender. The animation is detailed, smooth, and the brutality of the combat is reflected quite nicely. Oftentimes during the story, you’ll get a picture-in-picture view of what the bad guys are up to, which is incredibly slick. Add in absolutely gorgeous background art, and you’ve got quite a visual treat.
Combat is fast, fun, varied and in a surprising twist, mostly based around crowd control. You are constantly swarmed by enemies and the key to survival is learning how to dodge and split groups of enemies up to land your attack combos. Especially important is Shank’s “pounce” ability (any game with a button labeled “pounce” is fine by me), which causes him to leap into the air and onto an enemy, knocking them to the floor and allowing him to do massive damage. It’s pretty fun to tackle a guy and tickle his torso with your chainsaw.
There’s an annoying problem with the combat, however. For whatever reason, the button to pick items up is mapped to your primary attack button, and picking up items takes priority over an attack, so if you fight anyone near a health item, you’ll pick it up, often when you’re still near full health. Additionally, you cannot pounce on a “large” enemy, but if enemies are in a group, the pounce move appears to randomly choose a target, often the guy you get punished for trying to land on.
It’s a little confusing that enemies seem to be made of resilient stuff. In a traditional beat-em-up title, it makes sense that your foes can take a few punches before going down, but in Shank you’re sticking chainsaws and katanas into a foe’s chest and twisting ‘em around. You’d think these would kill a normal man, but even your average grunt in this game can usually survive the ordeal. It’s almost as if their life bars are longer to keep the game from being shorter than it already is.