During this year’s inaugural PAX East show in Boston, there were tons of games on hand. All of the heavy-hitter publishers were there with their fancy gigantic booths trying their best to get the gamers in attendance excited for many of the Summer’s and Fall’s biggest titles. Although there was tons of variety, nothing really caught our collective eyes. That was until we piled into a hotel room that was adjacent to the Hines convention center, where we interviewed Jamie Cheng, the CEO of Klei Entertainment and checked out a rather unknown title by the name of Shank. We all left the room knowing that we just saw the game that was official our pick for “Best of Show.”
It’s felt like forever since we checked out Shank. So was it worth the wait?
The best way to describe Shank would be as follows. Imagine if Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez teamed up with the animators from the Gorrillaz music videos, and then they all sat down with the team from Streets of Rage to make a game. Sprinkle in some over the top God of War-esque violence and add an equally as awesome soundtrack and – well – then you have Shank.
The story picks up with our main protagonist (whom the game is titled after) Shank, who from what we can tell is having a pretty bad day. He’s searching for his girlfriends’ captor and those who assisted him in hopes of tracking her down. When they abducted her they also jumped Shank and left him for dead. However he knows his assailants are just as crazy as he is, so the odds are against her still being alive. So what is killing machine like Shank, to do? Kill everyone until he gets to the top because he has nothing to lose.
Yes, it’s a senseless cliché Hollywood revenge story. And you know what? You wind up loving every single minute of it.
The mechanics in Shank rival those of any AAA full retail brawler/beat-em-up title. You can choose between light and heavy attacks as well as a separate button to unleash your arsenal of firepower. Combat is mapped to the face buttons making it easy enough for anyone to jump in and enjoy it. However for those who look for something more challenging and technical, that’s where your shoulder buttons come in to play as it controls dogging, grappling, lunging and grenade throwing. Button mashers will definitely enjoy it, but God of War or Bayonetta players I’m sure will be able to string together combos that rival those found in any VS fighting game.
The visuals in Shank I think are just as big of a selling point as the game play. Think Graphic Novel meets Anime and that would be the best way to visualize the games art style. A blend of dark and gritty with bright colors that really pop will have you seeing lush colors you didn’t know your HDTV could produce. Cutscenes have such a “big budget director” feel to them the when combined with great voice acting help the cartoonish characters come to life in a human way.
One thing that hurt this title somewhat is the length. It’s pretty short. Like 3 ½ hours short. And that was during a play through where bosses were giving me a pretty hard time. Now that I know the patterns for the bosses and what weapons work best against certain characters, I’m pretty sure I can speed run it in half the time or maybe even less. It makes me wonder that if the game was meant to be short, why isn’t there a trophy/achievement for a speed run? Give people more incentive, besides the co-op backstory multiplayer, to keep players coming back and earning those trophies.
Another slight annoyance that I have to point out was the load times. For something that’s downloaded and played from a hard drive and not a disc, the loading can be a bummer. It only happens in between levels, which is good, the problem is that you find yourself enjoying shooting and err, Shank-ing so much that when you pause for a load it feels like forever as you’re waiting for it to boot up the next level.
I must say that since PAX East, I’ve been zeroing on the day I’d finally get Shanked, and now it’s come and gone. Jamie Cheng and his company Klei Entertainment were able to pull of what I had hoped that they would. They provided a not-so-serious action packed game that was truly different and also provided a breath of fresh air to an aging 2D beat-em-up sidescroller genre. With a gaming forecast full of gimmicky FPS titles, Shank is definitely worth a look. In my opinion, it’s a candidate for downloadable title of the year.