The story of Shank: gang kills former gang member’s wife, said man kills everyone in the gang. At least that’s how I assume this will all go down. I’ve only just begun, but I mean, yeah. It’s all there. I’ve seen Kill Bill plenty of times to know what a tale of vengeance looks like. And I guess that’s fine. Really, this could be the story of a man named Shank that suffers from dementia and whittles pretty birdhouses during his flex time at Brookside Senior Citizens–so long as it looks this pretty.
As an artist, I love a game that revels in its artness. Like Prince of Persia and Bastion and Limbo and Odin Sphere and so on. If it looks hand-drawn, I’m in. If it’s colorful or has hints of cross-hatching or bold, thick outlines, I’m also in. Highly realistic graphics are uninteresting to me, and only help to make me feel more uncomfortable when shooting people that look like real, honest-to-goodness people in games like Call of Duty or Battlefield 3. No thanks. I’d prefer to blast apart something with tentacles.
But man, Shank. It’s a visual treat and like playing an episode of something—Samurai Jack, perhaps–on Cartoon Network or Adult Swim. You control Shank in 2D, moving from left to right and jumping up and from platforms; the background goes deeper than that, with details like graffiti on buildings and telephone poles and a dreary and muted skyline that look absolutely gorgeous, especially to see it all in motion. Character models pop in that they are much more colorful and animated than everything else, slick with polish and personality. And story beats are covered in dramatic cutscenes and smaller scenes that actually take place directly during gameplay, which is a fun little trick that keeps the game’s pace frantic and fun.
Playing Shank on normal allows for unlimited continues and nicely placed checkpoints, which means I can just try again after Shank gets overwhelmed by too many goons. Which happens a lot. See, I have to learn to not get locked into a crazy-cool 15x combo when baddies are also standing behind me. So it’s a learning process, seeing what weapons work best and when to grab someone and how to toss grenades and so on. There’s a surprising amount of depth here, and I can’t even begin to imagine anyone playing without a gamepad. Like, really. It has to be nigh impossible.
Hmm. Okay, it’s Steam Achievements in your face time!
Just Getting Started: Take out 20 enemies
Making a Name for Yourself: Take out 100 enemies
The Wrong Guy: Defeat El Raton
My hands cramped up during the moving train level due to too many dogs and not enough health drinks, but I’ll be hopping back into it soon. It’s fun and fluid and immensely stylized and even though I kinda know where it’s all going it sure is a blast juggling enemies with knives, guns, and a chainsaw finisher. The only complaint I have with Shank is that the developers gave names to all the dog enemies, and it is ten times more hard to chainsaw a mutt’s face off when you know he’s called Thrasher to someone. Poor, poor, mutilated Thrasher. You probably didn’t mean to be so evil.