Shank Updated Hands-On

With a God of War writer and a veteran animator at the helm, beat-'em-up Shank fuses brutal side-scrolling action with a stylish cartoony aesthetic.

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If it weren't for the bloody violence, Shank could be a game adaptation of a Cartoon Network show. But with God of War series writer Marianne Krawczyk behind the script and experienced animator Jeff Agala, former director of Atomic Betty, as creative lead, the game's fusion of brutal revenge story and stylish, comic book aesthetic makes perfect sense. Product manager Alex Charlow cites Tarantino movies as another creative influence for Shank, though actionwise the game is all about reinvigorating the side-scrolling beat-'em-up tradition founded by Double Dragon.

Shades of Kratos: throttling the Butcher with his own chain weapon.
Shades of Kratos: throttling the Butcher with his own chain weapon.

In the demo we played, our bandana-favouring hero, Shank, battled his way through a meatpacking plant to face off with the Butcher, a hulking end-of-level boss armed with a meat hook on a chain. The art style is striking, the animation is smooth, and though the demo's colour palette was muted and cool, we're told to expect a diversity of looks in the full game. On the way, we dispatched henchmen and dogs between platform hopping, wallrunning, and swinging over spiky, grinding rollers--though the platforming action is light and forgiving, with occasional moments of slow motion helping you time jumps, for instance, just before sliding into a spike pit.

But the meat of the game is the beat-'em-up action, for which Shank is equipped with double pistols, double shanks (naturally), a chainsaw, and grenades. We're assured that weapon pickups will have their place, too. Each weapon is mapped to a face button, making for a satisfying multiweapon combo system, stringing long-range and up-close attacks together.

Shank mixes brutal revenge story and cartoony aesthetic.
Shank mixes brutal revenge story and cartoony aesthetic.

Each weapon has its own moveset, with attacks determined by thumbstick direction: the pistols allow for an arms-crossed, double-directional fire mode, for instance, or if you jump and shoot downwards, your gunfire will momentarily hold you in midair. Enemies, even henchmen, are aggressive and challenging. Switching between weapons makes for faster, more effective combos than spamming one move at a time, and the finished game, says Charlow, will feature a combo counter as well as online leaderboards.

We ended the demo by grappling with the Butcher, trapping his meat hook weapon in a hanging pig carcass so Shank could leap on his back and wrap the boss's chain weapon around his throat. Strangling and decapitating him with said chain would be memorably vicious on its own (and more than a little reminiscent of Kratos), but it's all the more eye-catching for being rendered in a black-on-red silhouetted cartoon.

A two-player co-op mode would seem like an obvious addition for a latter-day Double Dragon. There's no sign of it so far, but product manager Alex Charlow tells us to "wait and see" regarding multiplayer. Independent studio Klei Entertainment is working with EA Partners to bring Shank to the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 as a downloadable game this summer.

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