Improvised Stabbing Device
Shank, for anyone who hasn't been keeping up, is an old-school brawler with a distinctive art style. You really don't see a lot of games like this anymore, especially not at full price because in general, action games have evolved beyond the simple side-scrolling beat 'em up action that you find in a game like this. But at $15 Shank is a game that has some real potential.
this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Sure, the story and the cinematics through which said story is told seem to be there more as a formality than as a core part of the game, but who cares? There are a couple memorable cinematic moments, like at the very beginning when Shank acquires all his starting weapons, but overall, the cinematics feel very tacked on as a way to provide motivation for Shank to go stab more dudes. There is a certain "Kill Bill" quality to the story, but it's ultimately just bad; and while some secondary characters occasionally make it seem like the guys at Klei knew they had a bad story, Shank is dead serious 100% of the time and ultimately kind of a dick. If anything I felt the game could have benefited from being a little more self aware.
But again, it's a brawler, who cares about story? What's really important is the actual gameplay itself, and between Shank's very cool art style and over the top combat, it does not disappoint. There's a seemingly infinite number of ways to dispatch your foes (who, by the way, follow the great tradition of having all dudes that look alike have the same name...you will kill lots of Brocks and Dozers). Add in the variety of new weapons you find throughout the game and you get end up with a very robust, very fun combat system.
The game does suffer from some of the same problems most brawlers have. There's not a whole lot to break up the action, so you'll spend the couple hours it'll take you to beat the game just fighting more and more dudes (my playtime on the first run was 2:21.27, though that definitely does not count retries). You'll occasionally find that enemies off screen can still attack you, though moving away from the edge of the screen does cause them to come running out into plain view. There are also a few frustrating platforming sections where a guy with a grenade launcher is waiting for you at the end, lobbing explosives at you the whole time (the same thing also happens once with missiles). These seemed like really archaic design choices that end up being more frustrating than fun, but they also seemed oddly appropriate to the genre.
Boss fights are the closest the game comes to breaking up the action, and most of them do have some gimmick you have to figure out in order to beat them. The animations and character design for all of them are great, but once you've figured out how to beat them, it's just a matter of repeating the exact same thing 4 or 5 times. In fact, it's really the art style and quality of animation that carries these fights.
So it's kinda hard to know how exactly to rate Shank. I've mentioned a fair number of negatives here, not the least of which being the game's length; but in a time when $60 games usually last 7-10 hours, $15 for 2-3 doesn't seem too unreasonable. There is also a hard mode that doesn't checkpoint and a couch-co-op campaign, which should add in some replay value. And I really enjoyed the hell out of this game while I was playing it, and that's ultimately what matters right? When all is said and done, Shank is fantastic where it counts, but still constrained by the characteristics of the genre that (maybe rightfully) began to die out with the advent of polygonal graphics. Fans of brawlers will absolutely get their money's worth, but I wonder how it will fare among the younger generations of gamers who don't necessarily remember its predecessors.