Shank
Have your say
9
10
The game art is pretty special


Giant menacing bosses, blades, firearms, explosives, motorised tools. This game has them all. Fans of Jason Stratham-style action movies will be impressed by the range of weapons, moves and combos at your disposal in this game (forced grenade-feeding, for example). Unfortunately though, the gameplay itself doesn't do the hardware inventory any justice.

The art and visual style are impressive and have the look of a Pulp Fiction-type graphic novel with gallons of blood. Remember the Robert Rodriguez movies Desperado* and El Mariachi**? Try to imagine those crossed with Batman: The Animated Series***. Don't get me wrong though, the in-game graphics and extended cutscenes are much more cartoon-like than other visualisations of graphic novels, so you're not going to be watching Sin City**** here. The music is a desolate, atmospheric homage to classic westerns and although it suits the titles and menus very well, I thought that the action was crying out for some more rocking sounds. The level backgrounds are not particularly appealing, and some elements which you can grab onto/swing from aren't immediately obvious. A silhouette effect is used on some levels which just doesn't quite work and only adds frustration as the screen fills up with a series of fast-moving black blobs. The stylish character animations more than make up for these visual issues though - many of which would make John Woo proud. The story (told though cutscenes) is predictable but does have a reasonable amount of depth to it for such a small game. This brings me to the first major problem with the game - it's short. With a pricetag of approximately £10, the game does offer reasonable value, but there is only 3-4 hours of playtime for the single player mode. I have heard that the co-op mode extends this considerably, but didn't get to try it.

However, by far the game's biggest flaw is annoying controls. The control layout has different buttons for light attack, heavy attack, shoot, grenade, grab, pounce, block, switch weapons - I was playing with a controller and hadn't even become comfortable with the configuration by the end of the game (although that isn't a long period of time). Every so often you will get a small feel of the fluidity of gameplay that the developers were obviously aiming for, but for the most part the controls and structure of the attack patterns don't allow the game to play in the smooth way which it looks like it should. I often found myself locked into a sequence of moves in one direction, leaving me open to attack from behind (and the enemies attack very quickly in this game). Firing cross-handed with pistols in both directions is one of the nice visual touches which do look cool, but as with a lot of moves, lock you into a particular position/direction for longer than is comfortable. I found myself avoiding using the uzi altogether because of the annoying spin manoeuvre which looks very cool but usually leaves you standing wide open directly in front of a group of enemies. There are a lot of these niggling issues which really intrude on the gameplay. For example, tapping shoot whilst in mid-jump will freeze your position in mid-air whilst you empty your clips. Sounds great, right? Wrong. You character will nudge slightly backwards with each shot, meaning that your land position may now be directly over a hole or other death trap when you reload and drop out of the air.

All in all it's a decent little game with a lot of attitude, but is let down by a few glaring flaws which can't be ignored. The most disappointing thing is that so much more could have been done with what is already there. The foundations of a great game are all too apparent, it's just badly executed. Fluid gameplay does glimmer though every now and again, but quickly disappears leaving you in the middle of unresponsive button-basing. Given that 16-bit consoles were making better side-scrolling beat-em-ups nearly twenty years ago, this just does not deliver anything near as much as it could. There isn't even any third-dimensional depth to the levels - it's up, down, left, right only. After firing through the single-player mode in just over 3 hours, I was left with much more of an urge to dig out the SNES/Megadrive emulators for a game of Streets Of Rage 2, Final Fight or Double Dragon rather than a second playthrough of Shank.

REFERENCES
*Desperado - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desperado_(film)
**El Mariachi - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Mariachi
***Batman: The Animated Series - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batman:_The_Animated_Series
****Sin City movie - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sin_City_(film)

One of the many weapons in the game