Shank, despite the pointed pseudonym, is pure blunt instrument. Fiery of temper and thick of neck, he barrels through the game’s brisk but brutal run time like Schwarzenegger in his prime, minus the one-liners. The game from which he takes his name is equally cinematically inspired, owing as much to Tarantino’s more kinetic efforts as it does to genre trailblazers like Double Dragon. Notably, the violence is at once cartoonish, adult and satisfying.
Combat encourages button mashing, but it’s only truly effective when tempered by cautious crowd control. Genre standards such as air juggles and grenades thin the pack, and a pounce move combined with judicious use of firearms allows our hero to escape the melee by leaping on to a distant enemy. It’s a neat, deceptively complex system that makes a virtue of the game’s otherwise rather limited 2D play area.
The game is at its best when at its most manic – most of the time, at least. Even proficient players will stifle a groan when bigger enemies (thrown in to spike an otherwise flatlining difficulty curve) enter the fray. The approaching sound of feet is more taunt than warning when caught in the middle of a combo. Similarly irritating is the poor enemy placement that allows them to shoot you off ledges with little or no warning.
The co-op mode is also less successful than it might have been. It’s just as intense an experience, but at times too intense. The resulting melee can become confusing (heroes and villains look too much alike in the heat of the moment) and successful attempts to fend off waves of baddies can lead to the action spilling off the edge of the screen.
Like the movies that doubtless inspired it, Shank ultimately has more style than substance. It looks fantastic but it’s hardly a lengthy game, and it does little to trouble your brain. As throwaway entertainment goes, though, it’s solid popcorn stuff.