Review: Shank (PC)

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The beat-em-up genre is certainly not new, but Klei is hoping to win some new converts with its over-the-top take on the genre, Shank. The genre has traditionally been the purview of consoles and arcades, but Shank was also recently released on Steam for the PC. For this review I took a look at the PC port.

When I see a game directly tell me that it is best played with a controller, I feel at once challenged and concerned. I am concerned that the game will not take the PC into account to make it pleasurable no matter what I do. And I feel challenged because I want to see what it is like using the keyboard before trying with my XBOX360 controller.

Before I get to the core game, let me just say that Shank ALLOWS me to choose the keyboard and mouse – but does little to help me figure out how to make things happen. In the early fight you need to do certain things to proceed, but unless you are using the controller you don’t get the right clues. This was unacceptable to me – and part of the reason I always try it. If a company cannot help out players without a controller in the early going, I’m pretty certain I’m getting a half-assed port!

And so it was … Let me say right now that I am certain that a console review would be more favorable (Ed. note: read our Downloadable Game Buyer’s Guide for a more favorable console view), but on the PC this game is a mess.

Shank tells the story of the character Shank, part of a criminal organization. He falls in love, and the boss feels he has chosen the girl over the family and orders a hit. Left for dead, we take control of Shank and begin the quest for bloody and stylized revenge.

The best thing about Shank is the visual style – the game is absolutely gorgeous, particularly on a high-performance PC, and the designers made every effort to make Shank stand out in terms of how great everything looks. It really paid off, because visually the game is simply stunning. Oh, and bloody. Very, very bloody. But in a cool, stylized way. The music goes along with the action and feels like something out of a Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez movie (Ed. note: the soundtrack is free to download here).

In terms of gameplay, Shank is a side-scrolling 2D beat-em-up. You start off with simple weapons and basic moves, and slowly unlock more and more weapons, and cooler and more powerful combos. My biggest issue was executing the dodge move, as it just didn’t seem to work right for me at any point.

Have you ever heard that exchange: “You’re driving me crazy!”, “Well, it’s a short drive!”? In this game change that to: “I’m driven for revenge!”, “Well, it’s a short drive!” Even with my limited beat-em-up skills and restarting the game after eventually giving up trying to get the PC controls to work adequately, I was still done within a couple of hours. Amazingly even within that time I found the game quite repetitive!

There is multiplayer, but perhaps the weakest implementation I’ve seen outside of the PSP: it is local-only co-op. While on a console it is normal to set two folks in front of the same TV, on a PC it is more of a pain … and given I played on a laptop it was even more of a nuisance, with me on the keyboard and my older son on the XBOX360 controller. We only lasted a short bit before abandoning the game.

The core components are not bad – the combat system is solid and fun, the graphics and music are very well done, and the overall package is compelling. But because it is SO short and STILL repetitive, because the multiplayer is a useless throwaway on the PC, and because the PC port was poorly handled, I call this game a poor value and recommend PC gamers skip it!

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Pros:
+ Excellent sense of style
+ Gorgeous graphics
+ Fun combat with loads of moves

Cons:
– Poor PC support
– WAY too short
– Repetitive
– Lousy multiplayer

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PC; also available on PSN and XBLA
Publisher: EA
Developer: Klei Entertainment
Release Date: PC – 10/26/2010, PSN – 8/24/2010, XBLA – 8/25/2010
Genre: Action
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1-2
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!