Gut You Like a Fish: The Shank Review

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Publisher: EA
Developer: Klei Entertainment
Systems it’s available on: Xbox 360, PS3
ESRB rating: M for Mature
System reviewed on: PS3

The beauty of Shank is that it doesn’t overreach. The downloadable brawler makes good on a simple mandate: stabbing, shredding and shooting a whole lot of bad guys.

The first thing you notice about the title is its looks. Shank looks like a cartoon that Vincent Vega, The Bride, El Mariachi or other characters from movies by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez would come up with if they worked for Disney. The folks from Klei have freely copped to how the outsider directors’ oeuvres have shaped their tastes, along with old-school beat-em-ups like Double Dragon or Bad Dudes. Still, what’s more significant than that is what they do with the influences.

In Shank, the style is part of the substance. God’s honest truth: a huge smile broke across my face the first time I saw Shank use the in-game shotgun. He spins around in a super-stylish dance of death, punctuated by blasts of buckshot. It looks cool, feels unique and doesn’t get in the way of play. That single-minded sharpness flows all throughout Shank, too. Clean art design and punchy animation complement the lean game design and the catchy soundtrack is mostly shades of desperado rock with the occasional symphonic sequence sprinkled in for good measure. The voice acting always comes across as deadly serious, too. In terms of gameplay, Shank‘s not complicated: you get a melee attack with short blades, a heavy attack with a chainsaw or machetes, and ranged attacks with guns. You can dodge and pounce, too. You direct these attacks at the waves of enemies the game throws at you. The end.

However, the stress Shank puts on varied and balanced attacks make it very hard to dismiss it as a button-masher. This game’s all about the art of the dodge and the art of the juggle. Boss battles hew the pattern-based designs of yesteryear, but the end results of those battles carves out gory new territory. Let’s put this way: Shank cuts the head clean off of the game’s first boss, only to find it was the wrong guy underneath the luchador mask. Remorse? Not in this game. And the leather fetish boss? Hoo boy. Wait until you see the distract-the-enemy mechanic in that fight.

There’s not much story in Shank but, for what it aims to do, it doesn’t need reams of plot. The elemental motivation of revenge propels Shank to cut a bloody swath to the crime boss he want to kill. Gangsters with receding hairlines, thick-legged strippers with Uzis, Doberman pinschers named Thrasher… these are some of the oddball enemies you’ll be cutting to bits. The whole game feels pulled straight from a collective, adolescent id and, while it’s nestled in raunch, Shank never feels like it’s going for shock.

Average players could probably finish Shank in about two days and probably even quicker if you play with local co-op. But, its brevity makes it all the more memorable. Lots of games have shotguns but few use them like Shank. That is to say, memorably.

Official Techland Score: 9.0 out of 10