Shank Review

By Matt Cabral - Posted Aug 25, 2010

You don't realize how much you've missed side-scrolling beat-'em-ups until Shank sinks its dull prison blade into your gut. Wildly addictive action and smooth controls complemented by a pulpy grind house style, make Shank a must-play for fans of the classic genre.

The Pros
  • Engaging grind-house vibe evocative of Tarantino and Rodriguez films
  • 2D stylized graphic novel-like presentation
  • Exaggerated kill animations
  • A baddie-slaughtering blast alone or with a shank-brandishing buddy
The Cons
  • Co-op is local only
  • Clear-a-room combat not for everyone

You don't realize how much you've missed side-scrolling beat-’em-ups until Shank sinks its dull prison blade into your gut. Wildly addictive action and smooth controls complemented by a pulpy grind house style, make Shank a must-play for fans of the classic genre.


If you’ve spent the summer having your brain bended by the likes of LIMBO’s mind-screwing puzzles or Lara Croft’s tomb-enshrouded traps, may I suggest giving your gray matter a Shank vacation? EA’s fun-as-all-hell, fifteen dollar DLC beat-’em-up, won’t tax your brain, but will blister your thumbs for a cathartic few hours of bad guy-slaughtering fun. Inspired by old school, side-scrolling brawlers, Shank blends criminally addictive gameplay with a beautifully animated 2D graphic novel-like presentation that cribs heavily from the films of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez.



As the titular blade-baring badass, players embark on a blood-soaked quest for revenge against some dudes that did you wrong. The minimalist story is told through beautiful  cut scenes that look as though they just jumped off the paneled page. But trust me, you won’t be looking for narrative depth once the crimson life-juice starts spilling. From start to finish, Shank’s a gore-fueled romp that will have you shooting, disemboweling, choking, and eviscerating swarms of foes in a variety of exaggerated ways. While carving up goons for four-plus hours might sound like a recipe for button-mashing boredom, Shank’s style and smooth controls keep you giddily engaged throughout.

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Rather than unleashing your frustrations on a line-up of look-alike bad guys, Shank spits out a diverse cast of grind house-inspired psychopaths. From Gatling gun-toting goons in sharp suits and katana-wielding hotties, to wife beater-wearing thugs and meat bags in Mexican wrestling masks, Shank’s killers could have strolled off the sets of Kill Bill, Desperado and From Dusk till Dawn. These crazies only represent the low- to mid-level bullet and blade fodder keeping your trigger finger busy until you get to the truly bizarre boss encounters. I won’t spoil all the fun for you, but be prepared to take on an S&M freak--complete with sex slave--that makes Pulp Fiction’s “The Gimp” look like suitable babysitter material.



Just as cool as the crazy-ass cast is how you choose to deliver them to death‘s door. Fueled by over-the-top  animations, Shank takes out the trash with a variety of skills, attacks, and weapons. In addition to his default rusty blade, he always brings a gun and an up-close killer to a fight. My favorite pairing is the double machetes and shotgun, but your thirst for blood may be satiated by, say, a cocktail of dual-packed Uzis and a chainsaw. But whether feeding someone a grenade, ventilating their chest with a shotgun blast, or rearranging their intestines with a katana, you can always count on Shank to siphon life with style to spare.

Complementing Shank’s stylized thrill-kill spree are intuitive controls, allowing you to switch weapons on the fly, perform some light platforming, and utilize pouncing and grappling moves with incredible ease. Somehow Klei has managed to use pretty much every button on the controller, yet keep the controls accessible. While hammering on the attack buttons will carry you through all but the boss battles, this fluid gamepad navigation encourages further experimentation.




When not painting Shank’s environments--which include sun-baked deserts and neon-infused red-light districts--in blood by yourself, you can recruit a revenge-seeking friend to help out. Co-op is local only, but effective side-by-side play totally evokes the  forgotten appeal of being shoulder-to-shoulder with a buddy at a Double Dragon or Bad Dudes arcade cabinet. Still, the lack of online co-op, as well as the repetitive-by-nature gameplay, may turn some players off. However, those with an undying hunger to take on waves of murdering psychotics in a stylish side-scrolling brawler, will love digging their blades into this fresh take on the classic genre.