September 9, 2009

Shank Preview from PAX: hands-on impressions

Dale Culp says I reached over to pick up the Dreamcast controller which was taped to a cardboard box with a big question mark drawn on it. “A Dreamcast controller?” I asked.

The representative from Klei Entertainment smiled at me, then explained, “Ok, so, right now, we're platform agnostic,” she said. “Could be Xbox, could be PlayStation, could be anything.”

“But not Dreamcast, obviously?”

“Not Dreamcast.”

My shoulders dropped as I looked at the Dreamcast controller. I knew it was joke, I even laughed when I first saw it, but that didn't soothe my pain as I cried out, “You broke my heart!” “You're the second person to say that,” she said with a smile. Then, she began to demo the game, and my jaw hit the floor.

Shank's got looks that could kill. It's not just a pretty face, though. A classic, 2D beat-'em-up with plenty of visual flair, it was another one of those games that people couldn't shut up about at PAX. “Have you seen Shank?” “Did you play Shank, yet?” “You really need to go see Shank!” Call it a hunch, or maybe journalist instinct, but I was getting a funny feeling that I needed to go see this game, Shank.

Just for the record, we were playing with an Xbox 360 controller, and whether that was an Xbox or PC in the box, I can't be sure, but I wouldn't be surprised – or the least bit sorry – to see this thing come out on Xbox Live.

There wasn't much a story to be told from the demo: you're a big guy with a penchant for chainsawing bad dudes and sticking them with knives. You can grapple and swing from different points in the level to avoid certain sticky areas, or dive straight into the action and dual wield pistols to your heart's content. Just a basic, old-school feel in a modern, 2D engine that feels exactly like this is where we would be if 3D had never come along.

Shank ruins previous conceptions of “fluid” animation. It looks better than anything that has ever come before. The art style, color and animation all come together to take you on an adventure into a hyper-violent action cartoon. The art style reminds me a little of Samurai Jack and has the same in-your-face attitude of certain other big hit Cartoon Network shows I could name. It's just as much fun to watch as it is to play. But good looks and charisma only get you so far...

Where Shank will go from the urban landscape and non-stop brutal action, we can only guess. Does the gameplay ever evolve beyond that classic beat-'em-up style? Shank will have to walk a dangerous line between old school and just plain old. If all you want is classic gameplay and stunning graphics, here you go. So far, I'm not seeing much of a difference between this and Double Dragon, Streets of Rage or any other beat-'em-up that I'm – to be completely honest – tired of playing. I've had my fair share of juggling bad guys and mashing button combos. Maybe I'm just too jaded to appreciate what's going on here, or maybe I've just grown up. Shank is a great looking game that I'm sure a lot of people are going to want to play, I'm just worried there isn't much else there. It's still way too early to call, however. I'm told there's a lot of work that needs to be done and we are seeing a very early version of the game.

If you'd like to see the game for yourself, download wallpapers or watch videos, be sure to visit