We've all heard the story before: Boy meets girl, they fall in love, girl is murdered by boy's seedy associates, boy is left for dead, boy seeks revenge in the most brutal, gory ways possible. So maybe Shank's plot isn't the most original aspect of this very, very violent XBLA/PSN (and now PC!) game, but this game isn't about melodrama. Much like the film Expendables is really just an excuse for every action star ever to blow shit up, this is an homage to everything awesome and fun about side-scrolling beat-'em-up hack and slashers.
[image1]Shank, the man, is a cross between John Rambo and The Bride with a chainsaw and a shotgun thrown in for good measure. A cold-blooded homicidal killer with nothing left to live for but his drive for vengeance. As such, he is skilled in the arts of painful dismemberment, so of course he has a slew of moves.
The combo system is open-ended and allows for plenty of creativity. You can slice someone into the air with your trademark shank, then plug them full of bullets from your duel-welded pistols as they fall to the ground, or pounce on a dude and frantically stab him until he stops moving. There are many ways to kill your enemy and you will end up having to use almost all of them at one point or another, though it soon becomes obvious which weapons are much more useful than others. The controls don't really change much in the transition to the PC, especially since they recommend playing with a controller anyway in the PC version.
Visually, Shank is unique in that it combines cartoon aesthetics – even better now on PC – with grindhouse-esque violence and more blood than a hemophiliac on her period. And it does it in such a way that it catches you off balance. It looks so much like something that you'd see on TV on a Saturday morning that you just don't see all the murder and carnage coming. The action stereotypes mixed with the unassuming art style will have you snickering at the cheesyness of it all, while going “Woah, did they really just do that?” And you gotta give it up for any game that includes a (Spoiler Alert!) mask-wearing gimp that cannibalizes furries.
Another cool aspect is that the two-player mode has its own levels and a story that serves as a prequel to the single-player game. Having a partner to help you out also adds several more moves to your arsenal for even more ways to re-enact scenes from your favorite snuff film.
[image2]This is a game that's all about the action, and it does a brilliant job of balancing the difficulty and still making you feel like you're the baddest motherfucker in Badmotherfuckertown. Shit, you're the fucking mayor, sheriff, and notary all rolled into one. The only place where it seems to fall short is in the length of time that it takes for an attack animation to complete. Much like in Street Fighter, more powerful moves leave you vulnerable and while it does add a splash of combo strategizing, it also makes the controls feel slow and unresponsive at points.
And as it is with almost every game in the hack-and-slash family, there are points where you may find yourself suffering repetitive-itis. But anyone who's familiar with the genre should be used to this by now, and it's worth noting that there are so many fun ways to kill everyone that the repetition isn't felt, if at all, until the tail-end of the game. There's not much replay value once you've beaten both modes, but there is a balance reached in the amount of game time that's already included in their initial playthroughs.
Overall, though Shank's unassuming style and blatant old-school influence make it a must-have for fans of games like Gunstar Heroes, Double Dragon, and Contra. No matter what, vengeance must be yours. So pick it up and give it a playthrough. I suggest starting with the single-player mode than moving onto two-player – it gives 2P mode a cool prequel movie feel, much cooler than Phantom Menace.