Shank opened well for me. The animation style is great and made me think of Samurai Jack, a show that I’m particularly fond of. The side-scrolling action has a retro feel to it, although modernized by the addition of copious amounts of bloodshed let loose by your blade, guns, and chainsaw. I certainly can see what the game was going for here – a nod to Charles Bronson/Chuck Norris style 70s B-movies, a unique animated, almost comic book style look, and non-stop action with a violence that belies its Cartoon Network façade – but that fact that it doesn’t quite all come together to make a game that’s fun to play becomes obvious pretty quickly. Unfortunately, Shank is one of those games that quickly loses its luster, and is a rather short game that feels so much longer for all of the wrong reasons.
There is a story here, but it boils down to your basic violent quest for justice ala the aforementioned 70s action heroes. You don’t quite know what the target of all of your anger looks like, so you take on the goons of one nefarious hulking tower of evil after another, dispatching the bosses in a series of episodes of mistaken identity. But it’s OK if you kill the wrong person when they’re all evil anyway, right? However, in about the same running time as a 70s action flick you’ll eventually meet your true foe.
To its credit the battles in Shank feature a number of attack moves and kill animations, as well as a small arsenal of bladed weapons and firearms. But there are ultimately a limited number of these moves, numerous identical foes, and basic attack controls that bring you to the quick realization that you’re in what amounts to an exercise in button mashing. Adding to the growing tedium is the frustration that comes from imprecise controls and canned animations that must run their course before you can do anything else. There’s some limited vertical movement in this horizontal scroller, but hopping between levels and, even worse, over gaps has a certain random factor to it that has no place in a modern game. While some of the boss fights have their entertaining moments, they're not really worth all of the dreary button-mashing you need to get through to get to them.
Shank does sport a co-op mode in addition to its single player portion, but it doesn’t add much to the game. The levels form a prequel to the storyline of the main game, but the prequel is a rather short story indeed and can only be played on the same console – there’s no Xbox Live support should you be short a friend to share your couch with.
Final Rating: 64%. It looks great, but Shank is too simple, repetitive, and frustrating to play.