Shank -- Not just something you do in a prison yard anymore. Nope, this time you pay for it.
EA and Klei Entertainment showed off this violent side-scrolling action game at E3 this year. It brings back the old days of side-scrolling action packed games like Double Dragon and Rush'n Attack; very simplistic and very fast moving stuff. That's partly what attracted me to the title in the first place. I want to get back to that old era of having fun with games and not over-complicating things. Shank delivers on the nose in terms of those types of values.
If you're not familiar with the storyline, the main character Shank is out for revenge for the death of a loved one. His gaggle of bad guys he ran with took her out (in many terrible ways) and left our boy for dead. Of course as any good revenge story goes Shank wasn't dead. So, ufrom beginning to end he is hell bent on tracking down the gang and giving them the old double-barrel farewell and 'thanks' for taking the only love out of his life.
Very Kill Bill.
Anyway, you go through the game with guns, chainsaw and grenades (and swords) blazing killing massive amounts of underlings as you work your way through the ginormously difficult boss fights. Sound simple? Well, it actually is very simple. You control Shank with the left analog stick and control the firing of your weapons through the four main buttons on your controller (square, triangle, circle, etc.). To change weapons you simply use the directional pad to go through your arsenal inventory. It's very intuitive, for the most part.
Occasionally when you're up against a group of henchman coming at you there are mistakes that can be easily (and repeatedly) had with this simple scheme. For example, to block enemies you need only hit 'L1' on the PS3 controller. Once in awhile you'll face enemies that pretty much give you an opportunity to block and volley. Hitting 'L1' in a split second really isn't as easy as it sounds. For us Call of Duty freaks out there the 'L1' button really doesn't come into play as much as the 'R' side of things. I think I hit 'L1' probably 3 out of 10 times. It might be my problem, but the use of a quicktime 'L1' just seemed so unnatural for some odd reason; not quite sure how.
Another issue I was having with the scheme was firing up with your weapon. Several times during the game you'll find enemies with guns pointing down at you and you simply cannot jump up to them and have your way one-on-one. You'll break out a weapon, like the Uzi, and basically be asked to point it upwards and fire it to take them out. If you don't stop Shank dead in his tracks and fire up from a stationary position then you're going to find yourself consistently shot up. It's very frustrating. It's like if you were playing baseball and you wanted to run and throw at the same time from the outfield, but the game restricted you from movement until the ball was thrown; same type of frustration.
Anyway, while you might look at this paragraph and think, "Wow, that sounds like a huge deal." it really wasn't. Ninety-percent of the controller scheme worked fine, but it just wasn't perfect.
Moving along to actual enemy confrontation....
Like I mentioned before, the game really does embody everything that was good with action games on 8-bit and 16-bit consoles. It sends droves and droves of enemies your way that repeat over and over again. If you're expecting a large variety of enemies that constantly change from level to level, well you're going to be disappointed; but don't hold that against Klei! This is how action games use to be and this is what makes them good; endless amounts of carnage against people we simply don't care about. While I understand in my reviewer heart that killing a man named 'Tony' over 100 times in a span of 4-5 hours is pretty ridiculous, my gamer side says, "STFU and enjoy it for what it is." That's what you gotta do to work that problem out. Simply STFU and enjoy it. If Klei had taken the time to make each character unique then two things would happen:
1. The game would be out on the PS4 by the time it was completed.
2. The game would not cost $14.99.
So enjoy it for its wacky aspect of enemy repetition.
Now, on the flip side to this coin I had some problems with enemy placement. There were many occasions where Shank had to climb through the game to get up to a higher ground. This asked for the character to scale sides of buildings, slide down ramps or climb around on a wire. When Shank got to a jumping off point there were several times where an enemy had been placed on the ledge I was jumping towards and shot me in mid-jump, thus propelling me back to my death. In total I counted about 11 times in the game where this happened. This is extremely unfair and unbalanced, as you don't even get a chance to return fire. My only solution was firing blindly at a wall after the first death in hopes of hitting the enemy I knew was placed in that particular area. It's very frustrating, especially when you're on a roll in the game. Good action games have rhythm players feed off of when they're going through stages (ask any Call of Duty fan about that) and to have it unfairly broken just gets the gaming experience very much out of its grove. So beware of that.
As for the bosses in the game, you'll find them easy for the most part (which isn't a bad thing -- again, it's an action game). The game allows you to play freely with the bosses without much of a pattern for the first 20-30 seconds, or so it seems. Once you establish the fight it lets you in on the 'weakness' of the boss, which becomes repetitive and easy to figure out. For example, towards the middle of the game you'll meet up with a gimp, who is not so thrilled to see you. After about 20-30 seconds into the fight the gimp's slave will pop out of the gimp's cage and act as a distraction between Shank and the gimp. The gimp grabs the slave and that opens up the opportunity for Shank to get his business done. Each boss, minus the last, is like this. You'll find the pattern then you'll rest comfortably back and dispose of the sucka(s). Like I said, the last boss isn't that simple, but I won't go into detail on how that fight works out.
Wrapping up Shank, let's talk about presentation and how much fun it is.
The game is colorful, violent and gorgeous. Shank has animation that is very well done and creative. You'll go through a desert, ride a surprisingly detailed train and go through a series of city landscapes that will make you wonder how this game was only $14.99 and why it didn't make it to Blu-ray. The environments in the game are very stunning for the type of game it is. Certainly it's not Metal Gear Solid 4, but it still has visual value for a simple action game.
As for the character models, that's probably the best part of the game. Looking like a cross between Ren and Stimpy and something you would find on Cartoon Network, the animation is smooth as silk and just as pretty to watch. For example, when Shank is wielding his two handguns he fires them off in certain patterns depending on his enemy surroundings. So, if you have enemies coming from the left and right then he'll fire one direction, while holding the second gun firing behind him. It's smooth and fun to watch. Regretfully, due to this type of 'smooth' animation players will find moments where Shank is doing such pretty moves and the gamer is unable to break the move to switch directions. This can lead to very cheap shots in the game. It's like in God of War III when Kratos is swinging his swords around and he's in a combo that you can't break out of when you desperately need to.
A big deal for the Klei and EA when the game was heading towards launch was the music. While I would like to say I stopped to appreciate it, I really didn't notice. The music I did listen to was impressive, but I was much too busy with the action to care about the soundtrack. I'm positive it sounded nice, though.
With all of this said, the only question left is, "Was it fun?" When you sit back in your gaming chair and load up any kind of game that should be the first question that arises. Screw the graphics, screw the multiplayer, just answer the question "Was it fun?" at the end of your gaming day.
My answer? Yes, this game was fun.
While I certainly don't forgive the small frustrations that came with it when it came to some control issues, some enemy issues and some animation issues, I still think you'll find entertainment with Shank. It has a ton of action and pays excellent homage to the games that started the genre. You also get a wonderful multiplayer mode with a single player mode that has a 4-hour lifespan to it. Add that to DLC (that is coming) and a good variety of ways to kill massive amount of bad guys and what more could you want?
Shank isn't perfect, but it lives up to the billing (and the price!).