360 XBLA Review - Shank

6th September 2010 - SHANK - Noun: A knife. A makeshift object used for stabbing, “shiv”. Verb: To cut or gash. To stab. As it so happens a shank is also a cut of meat from the back of the leg. Aptly so for a game that has put Klei Entertainment on the map. The single minded adventures of the bad boy Shank as he takes apart Mexico with his bare hands is some of the best fun you can have on the arcade this year. Find out why after the jump.

Like the name, Shank is as simple as it is genius. Not without flaws the cliché marathon of cutting and bleeding is as close to postal as any game can come. Other more fleshed out titles like God of War or Afro Samurai are similar but this is probably the most violent and 'adult' arcade title you are likely to play. The premise is simple; down Mexico way a very bad man (Shank) tries to get out of his life of crime by hooking up with a hot kindergarten teacher. Former boss and all round bad guy Ceasar doesn't like this, kidnaps the girl and generally fracks with Shanks life. Present at this little encounter are a hit list of other very bad people.

Shank then goes Kill Bill on their ass, wailing on a number of bosses on the way to the top. In the words of Quentin Tarantinoes' classic: “He roars and he rumbles and he gets bloody satisfaction”. The gameplay in Shank works two-fold: Side-scrolling with jumping and climbing, each chapter has a boss and life is replenished with drinks (we assume Mexican beer). Kills are racked up against a continual score and combos are achieved through basic but intuitive mixes of melee and shooting.

Two for the price of one

To be fair, the main selling point of Shank is actually the visuals and the smooth nature of combinations, because although Klei Entertainment have created a very slick looking character for their first title, the action is largely repetitive and samey although never really boring. Further Shank actually ships with two separate campaigns, which is real bonus these days when they could have charged extra. The co-op story, is actually a prequel, explaining the events leading up to the main bash. Co-op is essentially similar to single but bosses now come in pairs making things a bit harder. There are also some excellent unique “buddy moves” including a boost jump and roll. You can dig straight into the cooperative story, however finishing single will unlock all the weapons which makes double teaming it, just that little bit easier.

Out for revenge
The XBOX controllers B button is mapped to guns, while Y will impose melee attacks. Left bumper does a good job of grenades while the right bumper does a context sensitive pounce and instant kill. All in all it becomes very simple to run forward and keep spamming either Y or B. Further the slow motion pounce has no cool down and once on an enemy you can insta-kill or shoot others while pinning. Grapples with the right trigger are also excellent for mix and match insta-death. This all sounds good, and it is but without the flair of bigger AAA titles. There is no levelling and your health bar in particular runs out very quickly. On hard mode, this can mean restarting levels over and again and save points are removed, and on easy the whole affair is a bit-easy.

For something resembling a glorified Flash game on the arcades, Shank does a good job of mixing weapons, even if there are not many to choose from. Different ones are good in different situations: Chainsaw is slow, shotgun has small range, Uzi is faster ect... but in single player at least, it becomes mute, as grenades and shotgun blasts do the most damage with chain fists too close and personal to survive the attacks. Boss battles as well are a simple matter of jumping, avoiding and hitting RT to perform a special kill over and over.


Pro Tip: Shank pays homage to a number of “Indie” films and story types. Can you unlock and name all 11 Shanks?

For a reasonably short romp through the seedy underbelly of Mexico bikers and brothels, Klei Entertainment have delivered their love child on time and with little issue.It is visually stunning with amusing and gory cut scenes and an adult sense of play featuring two stories for the price of one.

If Tarentino and Rodriguez made a comic book, and that comic book was made into a flash based sidescrolling game, its name would undoubtedly be 'Shank'. In all honesty the game is about as Grindhouse as they could make it, without resorting to film grain or black and white. Already there is a very similar movie, being released this year; “Machette” based on a fictional character in one of Tarantinoes' Grindhouse ads and while they do not directly influence Shank, hopefully it paints a picture of what the good people over at Klei Entertainment had in mind.

Backgrounds alternate between brown and red, painted and sometimes in silhouette. As the game progresses there are points where Shank will go into complete shadow, as well as enemies as the only thing you can see is the stark contrast of blood against the brightly setting sun. Bosses are larger than life and generally there is a good mix of characters to fight that make up for the lack of weapons to use. Because of the very exaggerated animation form, cut scenes blend seamless to gameplay with larger than life gimps, pimps and bikers. Not to mention the ninja hookers.

Rated M for mature
In an unusual move, Shank for all intents and purposes should really feature a heavy warning for adult content. There is strong language, drug use, sex prostitution, 'rape' and a lot of blood and guts. Given the arcade release, mostly any kid could in theory play this or at least try it, but discerning parents watch out: Them boobies are big.

The co-op story in particular features Shank and friend saving a stripper from nasty bikers out for a 'good time' intent on 'having their way' but the single player as well features some full bodied Gimp bosses, bondage battles and general hookers hell bent on stopping Shank. The adult content actually helps to lift this title above other simple but immature titles but just because it is cartoon, doesn't mean tits and ass don't offend.

Pro Tip: Use pistols when hanging from ropes for a one hit kill. If possible always shoot things off screen before they see you for an easy win.

Some issues arise in regards to the XBOX360 and apparent “disk fragmentation” that causes the game to chug. A poor excuse from Klei, for whatever reason the intro and cut scenes will freeze up and slow and there is considerable load times and character pop in for a 2D side scroller. Not much of an issue past the first scene, just be ready for the loading. Klei is working on the problem, though it is more likely an issue with the sound which is not quite as good as the rest of the game.


Sound is actually where Klei Entertainment has dropped the ball, but not for lack of trying. After releasing the whole soundtrack remix before the game shipped, it is unfortunate that it sounds so bad in-game. Music alternates between soft and not even there, while not always matching the pace of the game. The disjoint of sound files may also explain the lag in loading game assets.

When it gets going, the actual musical score is very similar to that from Red Dead redemption, earlier in the year with a very strong 'Mexican'/military theme. It suits the story very well, but flairs up in the wrong places, while boss battles sometimes have no music at all. Apart from that everything is pretty stock standard. Voice acting is well represented, if not a tad cheesy as you would expect. One liners are not that funny, and some of the dirty old bikers and Gimp sex slaves are all too convincing. Although the story is good the plot is very simple, and the talking between characters horribly cliché. For fans of 'Sylvester Stalone one liners' though, this is pure B+ action.

Pro Tip: download the entire soundtrack and play it in the background. But the game may freeze.

On the back of the Winter of Arcade, Shank is a must buy. Although Scott Pilgram released in the same week on XBOX, either buy both or at least try Shank, then buy it. For 1200MSP you are essentially getting 2 games in 1 with the co-op completely different and just a little but harder. Some areas of Shank are a little rough with the main ideas needing more flesh, but the look and story is top notch. Klei at this time have not included any online co-op which is a big problem with many titles including Lara Croft and Scott Pilgram. Without that you may never experience the second story but find a mature friend and you have a win for most 'adult' arcade title this year.

Shank is not for the feint of heart. Strippers, bikers, gangs, gimps and pimps all descend on one (or two) of Mexicos most chiselled anti-heroes. Truthfully, if Klei had released this on the web as a browser Flash based game, no one would have even cared, let alone scored it so high.

As it is though, despite some glitches and load issues, there is more game here than some other titles and on top has a slew of unlocks for costumes and easy to make achievements. Some shank Avatar awards would have been nice, but for such a mature title perhaps Microsoft is playing it safe. Don't play it safe and Shank is one helluva guilty pleasure.


+ Fun and engaging gameplay
+ Completely separate coop story
+ Chainsaws

- Some technical issues with XBOX Live
- Sound
- No online co-op


Reviewed and Written By Ian Crane