Shank impressions to live by: kill or be killed

If you didn’t listen to Podtoid 114, you might’ve never heard of Klei Entertainment‘s Shank. Since it doesn’t have a publisher or a platform (although I did demo it with an Xbox 360 controller) and was only announced at PAX a few weeks ago, that’s quite alright. For a quick look at Shank‘s pedigree, keep in mind that Klei also developed both Eets games (for which they received an enormous grant from the Canadian government) and N+.

So, yeah, Shank. It’s kind of like that episode in Season One of Arrested Development when GOB gets himself thrown in prison as a publicity stunt so that he can escape the next day. His plan goes awry when he gets shivved in the back by White Power Bill. In the show, you’re supposed to empathize with GOB because he has daddy issues.

In Shank, you play as White Power Bill. Without the neo-Nazism.

I don’t know a lot about Shank‘s story or its protagonist (let’s call him Bill*), but I do know that Bill has a set of prison shivs, a chainsaw, and some pistols and that his hobbies include killing people before they have a chance to kill him. Shank features really fluid animations, both in the game and the cutscenes, which is nice because the combat would be totally scuttled without them.

Shank looks like a pretty standard 2D sidescrolling action-platformer … and it is. Shank doesn’t innovate in any way whatsoever, but it doesn’t matter because it’s the tightest and most balanced 2D sidescrolling action-platformer I’ve played in a long time. It’s a refined and finely-tuned game that does pretty much everything right. To put it rather bluntly, Shank simply feels good to play: different weapons (shank, chainsaw, pistols) are mapped to different face buttons, and stringing combos together using Bill’s entire arsenal is really the key to success.

Not only is sticking to just one weapon boring, but it doesn’t set up those Devil May Cry–esque juggling combos nearly as well as a nice mix. My personal favorite is a few swipes with the shanks and a chainsaw uppercut, capped off by a few bullet rounds as the enemy falls back to the ground. There’s also a really nice pouncing move that allows Bill to pin one enemy to the ground while shooting in either direction. It’s great for crowd control, and I have a feeling it will be increasingly useful in the later levels.

Perhaps my favorite thing about Shank is that it doesn’t have any pretensions about why it’s fun. There aren’t any power-ups or a high score or a combo counter—Shank wants you to learn new combos because killing people in new ways is cool and badass and empowering in and of itself, not because you want to get a better combo chain. And it works incredibly well, especially considering that the possibilities seem pretty endless. If you check out the gameplay video, you’ll see some combos that I never considered when I played it. When you add in Bill’s swinging and wall-running abilities, it seems that simple experimentation might be Shank‘s biggest strength.

Like I mentioned earlier, Klei hasn’t announced a platform for Shank yet, but I did play it on an Xbox 360 controller. There was also a Dreamcast controller laying nearby, and fans are already clamoring for a PSN release on The Shank Blog. I hope to keep you guys updated as we get more information.

*Actually, the main character’s name might just be Shank, but I’m not 100% sure on that. Besides, given that most of the enemies in the Shank demo were vaguely Hispanic-looking and that it takes place in what looks like southern Texas, calling him White Power Bill seems hilariously inappropriate.
Joseph Leray