Shanked!

This blog post was all laid out. I even spent some time yesterday gathering my thoughts on what was to be the subject: the Canon EOS Rebel T2i camera that has taken over as my weapon of choice in the Benchmarking Sweatshop’s ghetto photo studio. The Rebel is awesome, as you might expect, but I haven’t used it for much more than a handful of product shots, which I’m sure doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the camera’s capabilities. My gushing will have to wait, at least on that subject.

Besides, I have something else on my mind: Shank.

The game hit Steam last month, and I’ve been itching to get a crack at it ever since. Yesterday, early Black Friday discounting knocked $5 off, bringing the price tag down to $10. With the Thanksgiving holiday looming and some time on my hands over the next few days, I couldn’t resist. Soon, the surprisingly meaty 2GB download was streaming to the gaming system I have hooked up in the living room.

Originally, I had planned on spending the better part of last night wading through the latest single-player campaign in the Call of Duty franchise. Shank changed those plans, too. I tend to enjoy heavily scripted shooters most when I can immerse myself in the experience for a few hours at a time. However, by the time I collapsed onto the couch, it was nearly 10 PM, and I was exhausted. With doubts that I’d be awake enough to fully appreciate Black Ops, I opted for what I thought would be a quick session with Shank. The side-scrolling arcade brawler seemed like the sort of thing I could pick up and enjoy for a few minutes before turning in early.

Some three hours later, with the game nearly finished, I finally dragged myself to bed. I was actually wide awake at the time, high on what had been a non-stop orgy of carefully choreographed violence. Shank doesn’t make you solve brain-bending puzzles or draw you into an especially deep narrative; it’s all about killing wave after wave of baddies with as much style as you can muster.

The game feels like a cross between Contra and Double Dragon playing out on the pages of a graphic novel. You have long-range attacks thanks to a selection of firearms that never run out of ammunition and grenades that are doled out more sparingly. For close-range combat, a mix of quick and heavy attacks dispenses enemies in suitably bloody fashion. The former employ the game’s namesake—one in each hand—while the latter rely on a series of weapons you pick up as the body count mounts. When the game started me off with a chainsaw, I had a feeling I was in for a good time.

To that arsenal, Shank adds grappling moves, the ability to pounce on enemies from a distance, the requisite number of explosive barrels that every game must have, and an all-important hit counter to track your devastating combos. Enemies are thrown at the player in bunches, providing plenty of fodder for unbroken strings of epic brutality. The action is often too intense to keep an eye on the combo counter, but I did see it roll into triple-digit territory after dispensing with a particularly tenacious swarm. That’s over one hundred successful acts of violence in a streak that probably didn’t last much longer than a minute. The bloodshed is impressive not only for its volume, but also its richness.

Keeping up with the onslaught calls for a lot of button mashing, and you’ll need to mix and match attacks intelligently to deal with each of the three main types of enemies. The boss battles require some strategizing and finesse, too. Perhaps thanks to my years of playing action games with similar button layouts and overall mechanics, the combat flowed effortlessly and intuitively. Unlike some games, which cause me to lean forward on the couch and tense up a little, Shank left me fully reclined and with my feet up for all but a couple of difficult moments. The game’s "normal" difficulty setting feels appropriately challenging, and the pacing is just about perfect, with only the occasional cut-scene or easily executed jump puzzle interrupting the otherwise wall-to-wall carnage.

This seemingly endless stream of gratuitous violence is rendered gorgeously in two dimensions. Cel-shaded graphics are nothing new in the gaming world, but Shank‘s artistic direction nevertheless feels fresh and unique. The stylized graphics are a good match for the action, which is perhaps too over the top to be depicted with more realism.

Action-arcade scrollers aren’t exactly known for their music, making Shank‘s movie-like soundtrack a particularly pleasant surprise. The varied 13-track compilation is the perfect backdrop for what amounts to a revenge-driven rampage, and the developers are offering it up as a free download available even to folks who haven’t purchased the game.

Although I’m happy to have picked up Shank at what amounts to a third off, I’d still highly recommend the game at its usual asking price of $15. That’s at the high end of what you can expect to pay for what might be called a casual release, but Shank has a layer of polish that belies its indie roots. In addition to the single-player story, there’s also a co-op campaign that serves as a sort of prequel to the main narrative. Why can’t you just add a friend to the single-player storyline? Because Shank was designed as a cinematic brawler. According to the developer, "every camera is hand-crafted, ever scene and enemy is carefully placed." Tacking on a second player would have disrupted the delicate balance of the single-player experience, which is so well-realized I’m glad no one messed with the formula.

Shank‘s tight focus resonates with the part of my brain that enjoys coordinating assaults on pixelated opponents from the comfort of my couch. I’d call this a guilty pleasure if I felt any apprehension about delighting in Shank‘s brand of mindless violence. But I don’t, perhaps because the brutality is executed with such beauty and precision. Folks with an appreciation for such things would do well to experience Shank, whose demo is free to download if you have a few moments to spare and, perhaps, an evening to lose.

Comments closed
    • d0g_p00p
    • 9 years ago

    Excellent game. I have been playing it all morning. However I am stuck and cannot get past the butcher

    • d0g_p00p
    • 9 years ago

    Picked it up off of Steam thanks to this blurb. Well worth the $15 I spent. K+M is as bit tricky so if you have a controller I highly recommend it.

    • kvndoom
    • 9 years ago

    Totally diggin’ the soundtrack!

    • hans
    • 9 years ago

    Just make sure you turn off the StickyKeys ‘hit a modifier 5 times to enable’ option in Windows.

    • glynor
    • 9 years ago

    If you haven’t read the Joystiq mini-review of Shanked, it is worth checking out just for the laughs. Justin was in rare-form for that one.

    l[

    • anotherengineer
    • 9 years ago

    Double Dragon II FTW!!!!

    • HisDivineShadow
    • 9 years ago

    Can’t wait till this game’s $5. Can’t see paying more than that, though.

    • dpaus
    • 9 years ago

    l[

      • DrCR
      • 9 years ago

      I literally loled when reading this. Thanks for sharing

    • hendric
    • 9 years ago

    Ok, now get on with that Rebel T2i post! I’m interested talking points to convince the wife that I really need to replace by ancient, original Digital Rebel. 🙂

      • ludi
      • 9 years ago

      Talking points: Your incredible photography would look so much better if you could enlarge it past 11×14 without it looking grainy. Also, you can skip over that HD video camera upgrade because your T2i can do it better.

      • Anonymous Coward
      • 9 years ago

      People get waaay too excited about all the bells, whistles and check boxes new cameras have. I’d definitely recommend a base model unless your (need*money)/cost ratio is favorable.

        • AGerbilWithAFootInTheGrav
        • 9 years ago

        one word – Pentax Kx 🙂

          • wabbit
          • 9 years ago

          that’s actually one word and two letters 🙂

          • Anonymous Coward
          • 9 years ago

          I’m a fan of Canon, myself. Pretty hard to beat the lens selection, and that’s where the really interesting things happen.

          • aces170
          • 9 years ago

          Actually Pentax has release a new model k-r which retails for around $750 on Amazon.. You can check out initial impressions at dpreview, but I w as pretty impressed by the specs. The only reason to be bound to the Rebel T2i (EOS 550D in this part of the world) are the third party lens, and the uber awesome Canon L glass

            • Voldenuit
            • 9 years ago

            All the big manufacturers have some very compelling entry and mid level DSLRs right now. As you say, lenses are very important when considering a system, and Pentax has a limited lens range (compared to Canon, Nikon and Sony) but some really interesting options (FA 77/1.8, 43/1.9, 31/1.8).

            If you’re just buying entry level, it probably doesn’t make much difference who you go with, but once you start looking at the higher end, the different makes all have different strengths and weaknesses, and it can be hard to choose the best fit for yourself going in to it, especially if you’re still not sure where your interests lie.

            Most people just end up sticking with whichever company they start shooting with, because it’s prohibitively expensive to switch once you’re invested in a system. Fortunately, they’re all pretty good in general, nitpicking aside (and there’s no end to nitpicks once you get started).

        • ludi
        • 9 years ago

        I don’t disagree in abstract, but if he’s still shooting with an original Digital Rebel, then (a) dSLR cameras have come a /[

          • A_Pickle
          • 9 years ago

          Not saying you’re wrong, but… just saying that DSLR’s have “come a long way” gives me nothing in the name of specifics that actually have tangible benefit to me, the user of the camera.

          In what, specific ways have DSLR’s “come a long ways?”

            • ludi
            • 9 years ago

            If you’re seriously shopping I’d suggest dpreview as a starting place.

            Notably, Hendric’s Digital Rebel is a 6MP still-picture body with a maximum ISO of 1600 and a penchant for CF cards, which have been relegated to high-end use in modern cameras and are correspondingly expensive. Using the 300-pixels-per-inch rule, 6MP will just barely print 8×10 while starting to lose sharpness, or smaller if you need to crop. The preview screen is only 1.8″ and the inflation-adjusted cost from 2003 is now $1050.

            For $800, the T2i offers 18MP capture which will print to 12×18 or easily accommodate a cropped 8×10 or 11×14 print, ISO expansion clear to 128000 effective for more low-light options, a much larger preview screen, a lot more in-camera options for noise processing and color balance, HD video capture at 1080P, faster multi-frame capture rates and a lot more buffer, a proximity sensor to auto-kill the LCD when you’re sighting through the viewfinder, SD/SDHC card storage, and on the list goes.

            For some users these may only be “bells, whistles, and check boxes” as Anonymous Coward described them, but an experienced dSLR user can do a whole lot more with these features than what the older dSLR bodies offered.

            That said, my roommate was shopping for his first dSLR and went gaga over a T1i, and what he really should have bought was an XS or /[

            • Smurfer2
            • 9 years ago

            As an avid photographer, I’d say that pretty much sums it up. I’ll just reinforce that the larger preview screen, and especially the better ISO performance, make a big difference. Of course, tripling the megapixel’s helps at times too. (on the Nikon’s anyway, CA removal in camera is nice too 🙂 )

            • Voldenuit
            • 9 years ago

            I wish Canon would use the worldwide model numbers (eg 350D, 500D, 550D) instead of the Rebel moniker in the US, as it is a lot harder to keep track of the letter designations.

            I also think they’re being too aggressive with the megapixel race – the pixel density is ramping up faster than the lenses can keep up, and high ISO performance on the Canons has also suffered as a result compared to the midrange Nikons, Sonys and Pentaxes. IMO, 12-16 MP is a good balance on APS-C at this point in time.

            They were sensible enough to scale back the MP count on the G11 and G12 compacts after going too far with the G10, so I wonder if they can similarly swallow their pride on their DSLRs. Yes, high MP counts have their uses, but they’re not universally beneficial in entry and midrange bodies. I bet most regular shooters would take better ISO and DR over excess resolution if given the choice, and even (or especially) pros use high resolution bodies (like the 24 MP D3X) appropriately, ie for studio, landscape and product photography, where the added resolution is more important than the loss in light sensitivity. Most high end Nikon shooters I know still opt for the 12 MP D3 and D3s precisely for the reasons I’ve outlined above.

            • Anonymous Coward
            • 9 years ago

            I say its a bit ridiculous to list the ability to print larger than 8×10 as a selling point for a new camera. Who does that anyway, and how many times?

            I’ve got a 10MP and 18MP DSLR myself, and if the 18MP camera takes better pictures, I’ve never noticed. If fact all those megapixels mostly annoy me by removing sharp details. It has features that might help me have the correct focus and framing when I press the button, but the photo quality side of things is really nothing to get excited about, and I think people buying new DSLR’s really need to think about what they are doing before they waste their money. Old cameras can take very fine pictures.

            • ludi
            • 9 years ago

            If you’re buying a dSLR, presumably you are doing so for features like the ability to engage in decorator-sized prints. If you’re buying it because you want a nice camera then you’re doing it wrong, there are high end P&S units that do it just as well in a smaller form factor with a lot less weight, because the lens is matched to the smaller sensor size and doesn’t have to be interchangeable.

            Also, with a larger image you have more margin for framing errors when taking the shot, because you can crop away a significant amount of the image and still print a sharp 8×10 from it.

            • Voldenuit
            • 9 years ago

            I respectfully disagree. You seem to be saying that most people should be buying a DSLR to print large, otherwise they are just as well off with a compact.

            This is not borne out by the market or by results – there are lots of amazing shots taken by DSLR users with 8 and 10 MP cameras. Heck, even the Nikon D3s is “only” 12 MP on a FX sensor, and it is very highly regarded by pros (who are more likely to print large than casual users and enthusiasts). Many publications and (especially) websites do not print large (or print at all), yet still benefit greatly from using DSLRs instead of compacts.

            There are many benefits to using a DSLR beyond higher resolution. Better (and faster) lenses, specialist lenses (macro, perspective control, defocus control, coma-corrected), faster AF, more DOF control, better flash support, better metering, better high ISO and dynamic range, etc. that open photographic possibilities that a high end compact cannot hope to match (although a good compact in the hands of a good photographer can fit a few of those roles quite nicely). And with high end compacts costing as much as entry level DSLRs these days, the DSLR* usually wins out as the more powerful and versatile tool unless you really need the portability. In my experience, most buyers of high end compacts are existing DSLR users that need a more portable backup solution.

            More realistically, the megapixel race among DSLRs is an issue of marketing than need (perceived or otherwise), and I think it can even be detrimental to photographic quality for manufactuers to obsess over MP instead of improving other aspects of their sensors and processors.

            * I include mirrorless systems like m43, NEX and NX and transflective cameras under the umbrella term “DSLR”, when I should more correctly say “system camera”, but “DSLR” is a more widely-recognized term and still makes up the bulk of system camera sales.

    • Sargent Duck
    • 9 years ago

    Downloading the demo now.

    The trailers look great. Unfortunately it’s back up to $15, but seeing as how some games *cough* cost $60 for a few hours of single player, that’s good value right there.

    Although the best value/money for me was Plant’s vs Zombies. Bought it on sale for $9.99 (I think) and logged over 40 hours.

      • DrDillyBar
      • 9 years ago

      Getting Demo also.

    • rhysl
    • 9 years ago

    woo hoo .. great game ..

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