This is the third time in a row I find myself reviewing a downloadable side-scroller. Perhaps this is an indication of rekindled demand for such games or, alternatively, it may just be coincidence. Luckily for me, I enjoy a good side-scroller but I’d be the first to tell you that despite their simplicity (or perhaps even on account of their simplicity) the lines between challengingly fun and frustratingly tedious are exceptionally thin. And while this build-up seems like I am about to accuse Shank of being the latter, I will declare from the start that this is never out-right the case. Still, as I will point out, Shank has many flaws which is not something you’d want from a game so simple and short.
Shank is your classic tale of vengeance. Betrayed by his gang and left for dead, Shank returns several years later seeking revenge. What ensues is a bloodbath as Shank begins to hunt down the members of his former gang, armed to the teeth with blades and firepower.
The game is your standard combat driven 2D side-scroller. You start off with three weapons each assigned to a different button. Effectively your dagger or ‘shank’ is the regular melee attack while the chainsaw is the heavy melee attack. Shank also packs dual pistols which are your projectile attack and useful for keeping launched enemies staggered in mid-air with bullets ( a lot like Devil May Cry). Shank also has some grappling and pouncing moves as well as grenades. Mixing and matching all these attacks allows you to execute numerous combos. As you progress you’ll gain access to new weapons and guns but essentially your moves do not really change all that much. Some moves executed with different weapons trigger different kill animations but this is more in the way of cosmetic variety than strategic gameplay depth.
Shank starts off promisingly enough. It has a distinct mood; It seems almost like the video-game love-child of Kill Bill, Desperado and Samurai Jack. It’s slick 2D visuals are impressive and the game kicks off in style. However after you’ve sliced and diced wave after wave of enemies and defeated the first boss, you are pretty much set for more of the same level after level. That is not to say that it’s awful but it gets really tedious…and if you consider that it only takes a mere 3 hours to complete the single player campaign, I found the experience rather disappointing. This disappointment extends to other aspects of the game as well. While Shank’s main appeal is undoubtedly its visuals, after the first few levels you begin to feel a little short-changed as realize that all level variety is entirely cosmetic and regrettably shallow. Boss battles do bring a little variety into the equation but not enough to really shake that feeling of repetitiveness and, in some frustrating cases, they do more damage than good.
The game has some nice touches that need be mentioned. Among them is the decision to include a separate multiplayer campaign that serves as a prequel to the single-player story campaign. You play as Shank and his gang partner Falcone. Don’t expect a different gameplay experience, just a more hectic one as the screen fills with baddies and it becomes increasingly hard to tell who is slashing who. Another thing worth mentioning is that many of the attacks are really well animated and successfully pulling of a string of combos is quite gratifying. It is a shame however that the end result is so under-cooked as Shank is a game I really wanted to like. For the most part I can say that it is by no means awful but it is disappointing. At a whopping 2GB, it took me longer to download with my admittedly pathetic Lebanese broadband connection then it took to complete…and this is including both campaigns. On second thought, considering how tedious the game was, the short duration is perhaps for the best.