To Brandish a Shiv
Let us clarify matters first and foremost. Shank is an awesome game. And in this case, by 'awesome,' what I really mean is 'could have been amazing except...' There are quite a few flaws in the overall product that is Shank, however they are by no means show-stoppers. The game is absolutely worth your time (of which it won't take an awful lot) and money.
By now it is probably safe to assume that everyone has seen plenty of Shank in still shots and in motion. It really is a beautifully crafted game. The design team really did take time and produce characters and environments with loving detail, and this effort truly pays off. I haven't seen overall 2D animation and design of this caliber since the height of the Neo-Geo. There is a bit of repetition in the way the levels look and play, however, frequently full of windows to crash through, poles to scurry up or down, skulls to grab and swing on, billboard-like surfaces to wall run on, and suspended ropes for you to hand-over-hand....over. There is an acceptable amount of variety all told, though, given the length of the game. The animated cut-scenes are top notch, and the story is certainly worth experiencing.
The gameplay is, unfortunately, where more problems crop up. The most glaring issue, in my opinion, is the way blocking and dodging are handled. L1 is assigned as the button for both, however holding L1 in combination with either left or right on the left analog stick make you dodge. There were countless times where I accidentally dodged to the side and into trouble (or fire) when I only meant to block an incoming attack; And there are lots of attacks to block. This issue could have been quickly and easily avoided by utilizing the presently-unused right analog stick as the dodge and L1 simply as block, either by default or by allowing me to change the control scheme to suit my tastes. This is a fairly glaring problem in my personal opinion, and one I've seen echoed elsewhere in write-ups on the game. Additionally, there are certain poles that you are unable to climb up; you just slide down slowly. These poles look no different than the other variety and can make for occasional cheap deaths as you may mis-time a jump and fall off the screen. The enemies can be obnoxiously quick to dodge on occasion as well. There have been times where I had to turn back and forth quite a few times before an enemy would stand still long enough for me to get in some damage. All of these problems are certainly frustrating, but none of them caused the game to become un-enjoyable.
In normal difficulty the game is still quite challenging, but has a reasonable number of checkpoints on each stage making re-playing portions after you die not too big a deal. It never felt like I was placed too far back in my progress, barring the times I died just before the next check points. Hard mode, however (which I haven't delved into yet) apparently removes these checkpoints and increases enemy difficulty. It is also the only way to get a gold trophy for game completion. This sounds like a nightmare to me, and I don't see myself bothering with that any time too soon. Additionally, I have not yet gotten around to the multiplayer campaign, but intend to do so eventually.
Overall I had and will continue to have fun with this game. It is certainly worth $15 in my opinion, and I haven't even played all there is on offer yet. The game has flaws, but the old-school design and aesthetic are unique enough to outshine them. Hopefully the game gets enough support that the developers can produce a sequel with the faults righted.