Shank Hands-On Preview


I had never played a game billed as a "cinematic brawler" prior to stepping into an off-the-beaten-path hotel room at the Sheraton adjacent to the Hynes Convention Center in Boston during PAX East this weekend. Shank, from Klei Entertainment has left me quite optimistic about such a prospect, though, thanks to its smooth mix of platforming action and bloody side-scrolling brawling.

"Brawling" may not be the best term, although it’s the company’s preferred description, because Shank is really a whole lot less brawling and a whole lot more stabbing, shooting, and chainsaw massacre, with some abusive, manhandling grapples, throws, and slams folded into the mix. In between all of this, integrated in an effort to create a different gameplay cadence for each level, is plenty of jumping, swinging, wall climbing, and sliding down poles at all angles. This platforming aspect, although not Shank‘s primary focus, is a noticeable distinction between Klei’s game and similar side-scrolling beat-em-ups.


Also impressive at this stage in development is the game’s combat, as it should be, considering the sheer amount of fighting players will be doing in Shank. Face buttons make Shank, the game’s protagonist, jump, shank, chainsaw, and shoot, with grapples and "pounces" mapped to the right shoulder buttons. A grapple in Shank is a close-range grab, from which the player can continue to stab and saw enemies, or opt to throw them across the screen onto others. A pounce does the same, minus the throws, but only after Shank makes a long-range leap that pins opponents to the ground. In either tie-up, he can momentarily break from his onslaught to shoot oncoming foes, without ever letting go of his current prey. Klei CEO Jamie Cheng also demonstrated the special uses of grenades and parries, which are mapped to the left shoulder buttons. Besides simply throwing grenades at enemies, Shank can also stuff the pineapple-shaped, explosive delights right down their throats after grabbing them. Blocks and parries defend the player, and open up opportunities for free attacks and the initiation of melee and ballistic combos.

Chaining attacks, explained Jamie, is an important aspect of Shank. Not only do combos increase one’s effectiveness in combat, but the myriad ways in which the different moves can be linked together seems like something that players will make their own game out of, always trying to be more stylish fighters and simply do more badass things with the tools they have at their disposal. One such badass maneuver is Shank’s cross-handed, bi-directional gun-slinging move, where players can seamlessly gun down at enemies approaching from behind while maintaining steady fire at their original target. By simply tapping the control stick backward as they fire, players will cause Shank to aim one gun behind him and continue shooting in both directions. He also has the ability to shoot at angles, which played a part in the one boss fight available during the hands-on demonstration.


The never-before-played meat-packing plant level culminated with a fight between Shank and a hulking, maniacal, chain-wielding butcher, who would easily snatch Shank out of the air to counter any grapple or pounce, and who took minimal damage from Shank’s regular attacks. The key here was to get the brute to sink his morning-star-like meat hooks into hanging carcasses by shooting them down from the ceiling before he made his attack. Shank could then charge, grapple, and deal massive damage from the clinch, rounding out a Zelda-esque, pattern-based boss encounter with a quick button prompt and a bucket of blood, in all its graphic-novel-style animated glory.

I enjoyed my time with Shank, and look forward to playing more when the game is released for XBLA, PSN, and PC this summer. Especially for nostalgic, NES-era Double Dragon (and ilk) players, this is certainly one to watch.


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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