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PAX East ’10: Shank

PAX East 2010

It’s no secret that Shank was one of my favorite surprises at PAX last year. For those of you who still aren’t aware of the title, it’s a highly stylized side-scrolling action game peppered with over-the-top violence and the occasional platforming segment. What distinguishes Shank from its competition is the beautiful character animation and varied combat options found within. Given my disposition about the game, I was very excited to receive an invitation from Klei Entertainment to check out an all-new build of the title at PAX East.

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When I arrived at the twenty-eighth floor of the Sheraton I was greeted by Jamie Cheng, CEO of Klei Entertainment, who set me up with the new demo. Before diving in Jamie refreshed me on the controls and we talked about my impressions from the previous demo. Not long after I found myself inundated with enemies as I made my way through the new meat packing level. While I was experimenting with Shank’s wide range of attacks and combinations I noticed the biggest difference between this demo and the previous: the AI. Enemies now provided sufficient resistance and were no longer simple punching bags to be quickly disposed of without thought. In the old build I found myself free to experiment with little concern for Shank’s health meter, but now I found myself checking it and making sure I didn’t leave myself open for big damage.

Just like the rooftops level of the demo, the meat packing plant’s fights are separated with some quick and flashy parkour sections. Platforming is fairly simple thanks to Shank’s responsive controls so I found myself jumping, wall-running and swinging through them right quickly – probably faster than I should have, since Jamie was trying to point out some of the new environmental hazards. Fortunately for him I did miss a jump and wound up a bloody pulp via one of the meat grinders that were littered throughout the level. Thankfully these hazards didn’t discriminate and I was able to knock a few thugs into them for some squishy results.

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Along the way there was the occasional enemy that could be taken by surprise. Jamie suggested using my guns while I hung from a nearby pole and I decided it was yet another opportunity to experiment with Shank’s arsenal so I tossed a grenade towards the chump. Overshooting him, I apparently blew his off-screen compatriot away, although the second grenade found its mark and propelled my initial target off the platform – and presumably to his demise.

Given the breakneck pace of Shank and the fast parkour segments it wasn’t too long before I reached the boss, the Butcher. Much like Toro from the previous demo, the Butcher was a hulking brute who was more than happy to bend Shank in some unflattering – and apparently painful – directions. My favorite attack of the Butcher’s was a ridiculous pile-driver that looked like something you might unleash with a full revenge meter in Street Fighter IV. After taking several nasty hits Jamie pointed out the slabs of beef hanging above the Butcher which could be shot with Shank’s pistols. Dropping the beef into the fray, the Butcher digs his meat hooks into the former bovine, thus allowing me to grapple him and deal some heavy damage. After repeating this mechanic a couple of times, I was treated to a flashy execution animation and sadly my demo came to an end. Overall the Butcher seemed a bit too easy, considering he landed a number of massive attacks on me and dealt very little damage. After mentioning this I was assured his difficulty was a function of the demo and he would be appropriately balanced for the final version.

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After the demo was over I was able to sit with Jamie briefly and discuss the game. Shank owes a lot to the classic brawlers many of us played as children and Jamie specifically mentioned his fondness of the Double Dragon series. He noted when you think back on those games you remember all the cool things you could do, but in reality there weren’t a whole lot of options available to you in combat. Games like Streets of Rage, Double Dragon and even Final Fight only had a couple of attack buttons, which when used in conjunction yielded at most half a dozen combinations. Shank takes this cue and opens things up by giving you dozens of attack combinations, almost creating a little beat ‘em up sand box for all of us old-school brawlers to play in.

It was obvious after my time with both Jamie and Shank that Klei understands gamers; the team’s passion for the genre is obvious. Shank will grab you with its brutal kills and striking aesthetic, but it’ll hook you with its engrossing combo based gameplay. Look out for it later this year on Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and PC.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in April 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @_seankelley.

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