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Old 09-02-2010, 01:52 PM   #1
pwnophobia
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[XBLA/PSN] - Shank Review

Title: Shank
Platform: XBLA / PSN
Platform Reviewed: PSN
Developer: Klei Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts
MSRP: 1200 MSP ($15)
Writer: Adam 'pwnophobia' Cogswell

Shank Review

Out for blood...or is it vengeance?

While the Evil Avatar team cruised around PAX East, we watched other players saw, rip and maim in-game characters all the while with HUGE grins on their faces. After watching the users walk away talking about how they had just pounced an enemy and dropped a grenade in his mouth we just had to set up an interview with Klei. Soon I got to be the guinea pig, sitting down in a hotel room with a 360 controller, played of a level to defeat a boss. When the level finished and the credits started rolling I couldn't stop throwing praises, I just had to play the game. Now that August has finally rolled around and I've gotten to play the game I've been pining for, I'm ready to share my experience with the highly acclaimed Shank.

I'll come right out with it: I'm a bit disappointed. What was fun for ten minutes in a hotel room in Boston slowly started to wear on me as I worked my way through each level. According to the first few moments of the game, the group of bandits, think Kill Bill, offed Shank's significant other and the man himself, but you held on by a thread. Back with a thirst that can only be quenched with blood, you'll start your quest for vengeance looking for the Butcher, the story's first villain, and quickly learn the controls, combo system and watch a few flash backs before you're tossed into the meat and potatoes of the game. Shank is equipped with four weapons: a gun, a pair of shanks, grenades and some sort of powerful melee weapon, with all but the shanks getting replaced as the game progresses. Once you've made it passed the first wave of enemies you've seen the depth of the combat, which is both intuitive and generic.


Combat is handled with a combo system; you can grapple and stick enemies with any of your weapons with each of them having their own strengths and weaknesses. If you can firmly grasp the use of the joystick you'll be able to pull off some pretty slick combinations like juggling an enemy with your gun while you disembowel another three or four with your shanks. The problem with the joystick is that it can be TOO sensitive, an example being up-right and right being just a small hair in between one another causing for confusion when firing a weapon. With so much going on at once I felt like I was spending less time dodging and setting up wicked sweet combos and more time jumping around blasting bad guys in the back with my guns or dual swords. Klei's priority was obviously making the combos look flashy while they could have made it easier to control Shank and his weapons of choice. At times it was unresponsive or slow to take your input, causing Shank to be tossed around like a rag doll and that made me default back to the shotgun time and time again.

Speaking of dodging or blocking, the whole system is extremely weak. In order to dodge an enemy you have to hold down a trigger and press left or right on your joystick. Shank will quickly dash in that direction and then you can continue to fight enemies. It is very common to have a few melee centric bad guys attacking you with one or two other "long range enemies". Using the dodge button you can double it as a block and stop bullets in their path, but my problem with the execution is that it is too difficult to do any of that with so many enemies on the screen. Usually Shank is in the swarm, swinging wildly and will routinely be stopped by the enemy on the other side of the screen. Without the addition of a roll with the right stick, akin to Dante's Inferno, you're stuck on the 2D plain with enemies swarming you like a nest of angry hornets. I'm not saying that allowing Shank to walk up and down the screen would add much to the game, but unless your dodge controls work well you it is hard to play the game as designed.


Shank also includes platforming sections, where if you've done it once you've done it all. These are more than likely put in the game to break up the monotony of killing enemies, which is a very welcome addition, but can be extremely frustrating. The controls don't help as you'll run a long a wall and drop down because you may have twitched, or when you'll stop on a pole for the same reason. The platforming sections consist of a few basic mechanisms like swinging off of objects, wall crawling and running a long edges. To try and add "spice" to the platforming, Klei decided to add enemies that can shoot you off of objects. Imagine that you just got done crawling, climbing and jumping or a few objects only to try and pounce on an enemy that is sitting on a ledge and he shoots you out of the air...more than once. Eventually you get to the point of frustration and allow yourself over shoot or under jump and find that it works, you can now kill the enemy...but are still shot off the ledge by a charging character. Sure, it makes sense to have guys waiting for Shank, he is trying to infiltrate the enemies hide out after all, but I shouldn't be punished for trying to surprise an enemy.

Furthermore, boss battles are all about memorization and dodging. Can you imagine trying to fight a boss that you're supposed to dodge but with limited control over how you do so? Each of them have a some type of mechanism to kill them but you get to guess on how to do so. For example, one of the bosses you have to dodge and attack at the opportune moment. Every time you attack the boss you press him back across the screen toward fire on either side of it. Your job is to push the boss into the fire and then activate a grapple quick time event to damage him. It sounds easy enough but the fights like those tend to last longer than they should and lose any sort of fun after a few attempts. I would have enjoyed a few of the battles more if they were less about trying to activate a QTE and more about DESTROYING the enemy. Sometimes being able to rip a boss to shreds with your swords is more satisfying than waiting for him to open up so you can attack two or three times.


I know this review reads like I absolutely hated the game, but it isn't terrible. Klei took the extra step to make the game look beautiful, loads of color and shading help to set the tone of each level. Add to that mixture a dash of amazing musical scores and great sound effects, Shank shines if you're in it to check out everything but the gameplay. That aside, for the first hour is fun, using it to experiment with the combo system and platforming sections. The first boss battles where I had to dodge and attack I could easily look past, but you can't focus an entire game around those mechanics without some way to break it up. At its core Shank is "just another" beat 'em up that could be heavily improved with a few small tweaks such as control responsiveness and usability. If you are in the mood for about three hours of beat 'em up with a bit of platforming then Shank is probably for you, otherwise you may want to lean more toward an arcade title with a bit of re-playability or wait until Shank goes on sale.

Score: 2.5 out of 5


The Good
  • Great art and musical direction.
  • Visceral kill scenes and combos.
The Bad
  • Frustrating and some-what irresponsive controls.
  • Limited enemy variety.
  • Frustrating platforming sections, specifically near the end of the game.
  • Boss pattern memorization can become stale, quickly.
The Ugly
  • Why is there an enemy that can shoot me out of the air and allow me to fall into a pit? WHY?
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Old 09-02-2010, 01:53 PM   #2
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All that extra stuff.




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Old 09-02-2010, 02:02 PM   #3
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As of right now, I'd go lower than a three. Playing for about an hour was more than enough of the repetition. They focused on animation rather than responsiveness with controls. Yet another style over substance game... At least Limbo held my interest.
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Old 09-02-2010, 02:30 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by modeps View Post
Yet another style over substance game...
I agree, but the style is so silky smooth.

I'm going to continue to support Klei because I'm so tired of generic military designs. This is fresh air. Also, can't wait for Sugar Rush.
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Old 09-02-2010, 02:36 PM   #5
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As of right now, I'd go lower than a three. Playing for about an hour was more than enough of the repetition. They focused on animation rather than responsiveness with controls. Yet another style over substance game... At least Limbo held my interest.
Read fail. He talked himself down for the final edit
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Old 09-02-2010, 03:09 PM   #6
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I've watched enough videos of this to lose interest. I refuse to hit a dog or generic thug 15 times before they die.
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Old 09-02-2010, 03:10 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Froggy View Post
I agree, but the style is so silky smooth.

I'm going to continue to support Klei because I'm so tired of generic military designs. This is fresh air. Also, can't wait for Sugar Rush.
Wasn't Sugar Rush abandoned?

And co-op pushes Shank to a 4 for me, it looks like this review didn't take that feature into consideration.
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Old 09-02-2010, 03:11 PM   #8
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I've watched enough videos of this to lose interest. I refuse to hit a dog or generic thug 15 times before they die.
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Old 09-02-2010, 03:27 PM   #9
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I'm surprised, I enjoyed Shank quite a bit. The animation was top-notch. My only complaints about it were that it could be a tad frustrating at times (and no Easy setting, what's with that?), and that the controls could be a little finicky sometimes. Especially when it came to aiming firearms. I still didn't think it was a bad game, though.
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Old 09-02-2010, 03:28 PM   #10
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Wasn't Sugar Rush abandoned?

And co-op pushes Shank to a 4 for me, it looks like this review didn't take that feature into consideration.
Yeah, it does appear that co-op was ignored for the review.

Since you scored It rather low, I'm just going to assume you played it wrong.
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Old 09-02-2010, 04:00 PM   #11
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I liked Shank. I think this is were number based reviews begin to fall apart. It's the type of game where no, not everyone should play it, but if you like games like Bayonetta, Ninja Gaiden, God of War, etc, then you'll probably enjoy Shank. The controls punish over-extension and aren't instant attacks, kinda of like using heavier weapons in Devil May Cry or a heavy fighter in a street fighter. It's part animation (to make the game look VERY pretty) and part design choice. It's much less castle crashers or scott pilgrim old school mashing, and more "new" school combos of Ninja Gaiden (with very quick enemies who will punish you when you make a mistake).

Shank is incredibly repetitive. If you don't have mindless fun playing around with the combo system and learning different juggles and knockdowns for the 4 different heavy weapons, 3 different ranged guns, and the shank light attack, then you won't like this game. But, at only 3 hours, it doesn't have that much time to begin to grate anyway. By the end of the game, I still had barley had a chance to use a couple of the weapons, and hope to experiment more with a coop match.

I'm not sure why everyone hates the dodge controls (even the suck-up reviewers). Most people praised them when God of War used them on the PSP. It took me a couple of minutes to get used to, but the Shank dodge is pretty overpowered and really easy to "abuse" once you get the timing down. You can essential phase right through any boss charge attack, and every other attack you can simply stand out of range of. It's just a matter of learning which animations lead to which kind of attack, and where to stand. For example, in the fire fight mentioned in the review, the solution is essentially:

spoiler.....tactic-wise, not story:
...
...
...
If you stand very close to the fire, then the boss AI won't trigger the standard charge attack. If you stand too far away from the fire, you can't combo him into it. Just stand about 3-5 widths away from the edge, and wait for him to charge you. Then phase through him and attack him into the fire. If he doesn't charge, simply dodge/phase your way to the other end of the arena and try again. Like many old school games, once you get the safe-position on the map and attack animation warnings down, the bosses are pretty easy.

I'm not sure how to wrap this rant up. It's not that I disagree with the analytical points of the review, it's that you can basically re-read the exact same review in a much more positive light depending on if you like hard, combo heavy action titles. Kinda like this:
http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2002/7/29/

Of course, getting shot off the rope by that one grenade guy IS awful. No sugar coating that one...
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Old 09-02-2010, 04:25 PM   #12
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Oh, the dogs in Shank are terrible.
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Old 09-03-2010, 01:10 AM   #13
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Oh god the dogs. That made me nearly quit, but I stuck with it.

Shank is enjoyable in the ways that it can be. Its gimmicks get old at the 2 hour mark, but it's still a fun little 2D brawler with some nice hooks.

Scott Pilgrim on the other hand... My girlfriend and I played the demo and loved it. So, we bought the game. We stuck to the lowest difficulty, and we got absolutely trashed on the movie set level by the dinosaurs and fucking aliens that shoot shit that electrocutes and burns you. Of course, in Scott Pilgrim, when something hits you, you fall down for like 4 seconds. When you are finally able to get back up, another enemy with a bullshit attack (like a paparazzi with a camera flash that stuns you for a couple of seconds so that the dinosaur can emblazon your asshole again), and you're down again.

So we were having a good time until we got to this level and the difficulty just kind of took off away from the fun. I'm sure it probably scales better with 4 players, but the game should be at least playable by 2 players.

And it's not like I was rushing in and just hitting one button. I was leaper around, dodging, blocking, picking openings to attack. But you just feel so fucking slow while the enemies are incredibly agile, and if you aren't lined up in the exact right place, you don't hit them, but they seem to always be lined up right. I dunno. The game just kind of feels difficult for the sake of being that way, not because it's fun and challenging.
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Old 09-03-2010, 03:58 AM   #14
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Wyrm, did you eat plenty of food to upgrade your STR, SPD and DEF?

The way you're describing it, it sounds like you made it to that level with all your stats still at 0 or 1 or something...
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Old 09-03-2010, 10:32 AM   #15
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I enjoyed Shank and feel I got my money's worth (despite not trying the co-op). It's just a fun, repetitive, atmospheric beat-'em-up. I feel it didn't really claim to be anything more and I received exactly what I was expecting.
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Old 09-03-2010, 03:16 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Phokal View Post
I liked Shank. I think this is were number based reviews begin to fall apart. It's the type of game where no, not everyone should play it, but if you like games like Bayonetta, Ninja Gaiden, God of War, etc, then you'll probably enjoy Shank. The controls punish over-extension and aren't instant attacks, kinda of like using heavier weapons in Devil May Cry or a heavy fighter in a street fighter. It's part animation (to make the game look VERY pretty) and part design choice. It's much less castle crashers or scott pilgrim old school mashing, and more "new" school combos of Ninja Gaiden (with very quick enemies who will punish you when you make a mistake).

Shank is incredibly repetitive. If you don't have mindless fun playing around with the combo system and learning different juggles and knockdowns for the 4 different heavy weapons, 3 different ranged guns, and the shank light attack, then you won't like this game. But, at only 3 hours, it doesn't have that much time to begin to grate anyway. By the end of the game, I still had barley had a chance to use a couple of the weapons, and hope to experiment more with a coop match.

I'm not sure why everyone hates the dodge controls (even the suck-up reviewers). Most people praised them when God of War used them on the PSP. It took me a couple of minutes to get used to, but the Shank dodge is pretty overpowered and really easy to "abuse" once you get the timing down. You can essential phase right through any boss charge attack, and every other attack you can simply stand out of range of. It's just a matter of learning which animations lead to which kind of attack, and where to stand. For example, in the fire fight mentioned in the review, the solution is essentially:

spoiler.....tactic-wise, not story:
...
...
...
If you stand very close to the fire, then the boss AI won't trigger the standard charge attack. If you stand too far away from the fire, you can't combo him into it. Just stand about 3-5 widths away from the edge, and wait for him to charge you. Then phase through him and attack him into the fire. If he doesn't charge, simply dodge/phase your way to the other end of the arena and try again. Like many old school games, once you get the safe-position on the map and attack animation warnings down, the bosses are pretty easy.

I'm not sure how to wrap this rant up. It's not that I disagree with the analytical points of the review, it's that you can basically re-read the exact same review in a much more positive light depending on if you like hard, combo heavy action titles. Kinda like this:
http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2002/7/29/

Of course, getting shot off the rope by that one grenade guy IS awful. No sugar coating that one...
This is spot-on.

People like you and I are in the minority I believe. Gamers thesedays don't like challenging games or mastering control mechanics. They want a quick fix rather than a workout. That's why games like Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden, Bayonetta...etc. don't sell as well as a button masher like God of War.

Gamers with extensive experience in fighting games and affinity for martial arts will appreciate Shank because they understand "mindless fun playing around with the combo system and learning different juggles and knockdowns" -- reason why we play fighting games.

common negatives found in most reviews - repetitive gameplay and inconsistent/irresponsive control. Repetitive gameplay's explained already.

As for irresponsive control, it's not really true if you analyze frames of animations and understand the design decision behind it.

Combat Canceled: God of War & Action Game Design
Getting Technical With Ninja Gaiden

Ninja Gaiden is very strict when it comes to canceling - so strict, in fact, that not a single animation that I am aware of can be canceled Pre-hit frame. I feel this is a great rule when trying to build a solid foundation for the combat gameplay, but it also adds to the difficulty. The player knows, when they press a button to attack, it must complete its hit frame before another animation can take place.

Here's a funny thing about that rule: it is so true that the player cannot even pause the game, because they could swap weapons and cancel before the hit. Don’t believe me? Try it out. The game is made to be hardcore, and for the hardcore, so they use rules that help establish a fair play field if the player is willing to learn the system to the point of flawless execution. I applaud Itagaki and Team Ninja for their effort and contribution to the genre!
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Old 09-03-2010, 03:19 PM   #17
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I loved Bayonetta because the controls worked, Shank's didn't.
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Old 09-03-2010, 06:57 PM   #18
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As God of War lead combat/systems designer Eric Williams explained in his Gamasutra article, games with less action cancel is geared towards hardcore gamers and that's why purists such as Itagaki often bash Kamiya's taste in combat system design, liberal use of action cancel present in his games like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta. Unlike Ninja Gaiden, Kamiya's games focus on chaining combos and racking up multipliers rather than challenging combat, thus appealing to wider audiences. Take that to the extreme and you get a button masher like God of War.

Shank's not quite in the same league with NG but some aspects of the combat design are clearly done for a purpose of providing challenge in combat as seen in games like Ninja Gaiden. It's not that control's broken or inconsistent, but it doesn't allow action cancel as often in order to create restriction and challenge which emphasize the importance of patience, observation and timing in combat.
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Old 09-08-2010, 12:42 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by gravlax View Post
People like you and I are in the minority I believe. Gamers thesedays don't like challenging games or mastering control mechanics. They want a quick fix rather than a workout. That's why games like Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden, Bayonetta...etc. don't sell as well as a button masher like God of War.
It's not that the rest of us shy away from competition or are unable to appreciate complicated play mechanics. What we resent is being forced to wrestle with these issues simultaneously.

If you do not have the time or inclination to play games obsessively, failure isn't a motivation to keep playing.


Quote:
As for irresponsive control, it's not really true if you analyze frames of animations and understand the design decision behind it.
Unbending animation only compounds the problem. Truth is Shank has limited mobility, which means he lacks precision. Add cumbersome controls and he begins to feel disconnected.

Getting Shank to do what you want is like trying to write with your other hand. Sure you can manage, but it’s not going to be very legible.
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