While Shank may still be referred to in some circles as an indie darling, the game packs a whole lot of production value. What may have started as a homemade knife, has been proven to be one gracefully elegant weapon. The title’s story is penned by Marianne Krawczyk, author of God of War. The game itself is presented in 9 layers of HD parallax taking art direction cues from Jeff Agala, creative director on the project and creator of Cartoon Network Original Series Atomic Betty. The game is being published by EA Partners, who is responsible for EA’s dealings with People Can Fly (Bulletstorm), Valve (Orange Box), Harmonix (Rock Band Franchise), and more. To call all of that indie, just doesn’t cut it.
That isn’t to say Shank has lost its indie roots. Klei CEO Jamie Cheng and Jeff Agala set out to make an adrenaline filled action fest that would also push the boundaries on how digitally distributed games are made. The game mixes and blends genres, as it feels part spaghetti western, part grind house film. Jamie Cheng described the plot to us as a “pulp fiction revenge story through and through.” The main character feels like a total badass combination of Stallone from Rambo and Brock Sampson from Venture Brothers. All in all, it’s a thrilling concoction of just epic ingredients you can only expect to see with the complete freedom of an indie studio.
The best part to the game is that it doesn’t just look and feel badass, but it makes the player themselves feel badass. From the moment I picked up the controller one thing became clear Shank is your conductor’s baton and the actions perpetrated on screen are your symphony of violence. Every movement is intuitive and graceful. Shank moves from one violent action to the next in an artistic fashion. The first enemy on screen I leapt toward in a wolverine-esque leap. I immediately stabbed him and moved toward the next enemy only to pull out a chainsaw and move past him. I then became surrounded and pulled out my gun firing cross armed in both directions knocking the enemies away. I then proceeded to switch to my shot gun firing forward and behind my back over my head for the kill. My trusty knife then disposed of the next enemy as I pushed forward to the final on screen foe only to stuff a grenade down his throat and watch him explode. It was a thing of beauty.
The games controls are very simplistic, but when combined into combos they show their true depth. The guns are mapped at B, knives at X and the chainsaw at Y. Shank encourages players to not spam a single button as attack chains will end if new attacks are not cycled into the mix. Players will want to be creative, as the true reward comes on screen from the visceral joy obtained by the onscreen carnage. As players progress, bosses will occur that require a little bit of planning in order to exploit their weaknesses. Jamie Cheng also expressed a greater need to use the parry feature on higher difficulties assuring us that the game would challenge even the most hardcore of gamers.
Shank should last the average player five hours, which is a very respectable length for a downloadable Xbox Live Arcade title. From what we have played, if the plot of the game is even close to par this may very well be one of the best games (including retail titles) released this year. The game truly feels like an expression of the player, as combat is extremely responsive and fulfilling and the fluid nature of moves the player’s disposal is unmatched. Shank does not currently have a price or release date at the time, but in the mean time, check out our interview with Jamie Cheng, CEO of Klei Entertainment.