When I was younger, games like Double Dragon were the reason I fell in love with games. Challenging, strategic games with a combat system that was altogether enjoyable – at the time. Shank attempts to capture the same enjoyment that side-scrolling beat-’em-ups in the past provided.
However, games have evolved quite a bit since the 8-bit era. The many cheap, shallow game design issues found in games of the past have evolved into something much more refreshing. The question is, does Shank fall right back into these past issues?
Meet Shank. Shank has been wronged by some evil people. So, what else does one do when he has been wronged? Yep, that’s right, dismember everyone you face in every way imaginable.
While the story is forgettable, all one should want from a game like this is some background and a non-intrusive storyline. Thankfully, Shank provides just that so as to leave you with more time to kill, kill, kill. And trust me, you’ll need it. But I’ll get to why that is a bit later.
The combat in Shank is all about variety and combos. To start out, Shank can wield handguns, grenades, and, of course, a shank. Throughout the game you will pickup more firearms and weapons to cut up your enemies so as to provide that variety. Unfortunately, these weapons are given to you on a silver platter, which in all honesty is opportunity lost in my opinion as providing weapon unlocks or hidden weapons could provide a bit of replayability. Instead, costumes are provided as unlocks – oh joy (sarcasm).
While one would think that the variety in weapons is enough to keep the combat refreshing, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In all honesty, the combat is shallow and repetitive. Outside of weapon use, you are able to grapple the enemy and pounce them in slow motion. This provides a method of stringing together combos as well as getting out of sticky situations.
These sticky situations though usually boil down to doing everything you can to overcome the pure number of enemies you are faced with at times. This is where the combat falls apart. Variety goes right out the window and you will find yourself sticking to grapple, heavy attack, rinse and repeat. Or, my personal favorite, shotgun, shotgun, shotgun.
While I understand that doing this can be a contributing factor in the repetition I spoke of, I can assure you that no more than halfway through the game the combat boils down to nothing more than mindless button mashing and seeing what you can pull off in given situations. While that is fun at first, that fun quickly dwindles. Unfortunately though, that will only work in normal difficulty.
Hard difficulty not only throws more difficult enemies at you, but also completely removes checkpoints. After completing a game on normal, if you haven’t noticed just how shallow the combat is, you surely will on this difficulty. In all honesty, it isn’t even worth playing because, sadly enough, it is even more repetitive and frustrating than normal difficulty.
As for the controls, for what you need to do, they work quite well. However, at times, the simple platforming the game has can become clumsy due to the controls. And one of the most annoying elements about the controls is one that makes me want to throw the controller right through my television: the button for picking up health is the same as the melee button. This means that when you find yourself wanting to wait to pick up health until after you finish off a couple more enemies, you literally have to force yourself to completely forget about the melee button when in the vicinity of health. This is not only frustrating but counterintuitive to the variety the game tries to provide.
For those that have played beat-’em-ups for years, you know that games like this are most memorable due to boss fights. Unfortunately for Shank, the boss fights make you frustrated and left wanting. From beginning to end, the bosses in this game are cheap and repetitive. Each one of them is nothing more than finding the one thing that queues a special move for you to pull off. Should you die once, the game will tell you that very thing you need to do. So, challenge goes right out the window, you literally rinse and repeat the entire boss fight and in between find yourself getting hit with cheap moves by the boss. Absolutely no fun in that.
To boot, the last boss can literally take up more than one-third of this, no lie, three hour game! That is including the roughly 30-45 minutes you spend trying to beat the last boss, which again, is cheap, repetitive, and frustrating. Ironically enough, this game length works for one reason: if it were any longer it would be unbearably repetitive and boring, so much that if I weren’t reviewing the game I wouldn’t even bother finishing it.
Should you be looking for more replay value, co-op will be the only other thing that shows even a hint of worth – given that, once again, the harder difficulty isn’t even worth it. As with the single-player mode, co-op starts off as a blast but quickly falls apart as it turns into pure chaos and becomes repetitive just as fast. If that wasn’t enough, boss fights become even more frustrating with a partner and the mode is shorter than single-player. Nonetheless, it will surely provide more mindless fun than the single-player as most games are more enjoyable when playing with a friend.
While Shank is an absolutely beautiful looking game, it is repetitive, shallow, and cheap. It falls right back into the very issues of the past I spoke about earlier. It makes me thankful for the evolution games have gone through since the 8-bit era. And don’t think for a second that I’ll let that slide because it is downloadable or “old school”. There is no reason any game in this generation should provide me with the very things I hate about games of the past. But hey, if you like that kind of thing, have at it.
The visuals in Shank are easily the best part about the game.
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The combat is shallow and repetitive - boss fights fall right into that category as well.
The soundtrack isn't that great and the voice acting is, at times, laughable.
Shank can be as short as 2.5 hours. The harder difficulty isn't worth it, and co-op has the same problems single-player does.
Shank is shallow, repetitive, and short. Enough said.