Wednesday, July 13, 2011


"A Fun Time with a Robert Rodriguez Style Game"

Every once in a while a new game comes out which feels truly innovative and at the same time it reminds one of older games. This is a successful game. There are many genres that are not popular today as they were before, and they're made less, and mostly are played by retro-gamers. Beat ‘em up is such a genre. This genre was quite popular back in the old days, and there were many great games in the genre, including Streets of Rage 2, Final Fight and Golden Axe. But they lost their popularity later. They fell from dominance and other game genres took their place. There has been attempts to revive this genre, mostly unsuccessful, for example Beat Down: Vengeance or they met with moderate success, as in the latest Final Fight installment.

The secret behind reviving an old school genre is to walk smoothly on a thin line: if you are too innovative, you will lose the retro-gamers, and it will beat the purpose: it's no longer an old genre. But if you're too retro, it won't appeal to the mainstream, and it will fail because the genre failed for a reason. So the game you're making must create a balance between what's new and what's old.

Shank is such a game. The game is a successful revival of Beat ‘em up genre and it's quite innovative as well. There are many good points to this game. First, I will list them here and I'll discuss them in detail:

- Deep and enjoyable combat system
- Fun platformer elements
- A B-movie atmosphere and style
- Well done graphics and sound

Combat system:
Here we can see the element I was talking about: original but reminiscent of the older games. The graphics is two dimensional, a fresh scene after the emergence of very complicated three dimensional graphics. You basically have to cross from screen to screen, killing all your enemies, and then moving to next screen. This is the bread and butter of the gameplay which is the same as older beat ‘em up games. But there are minute details which give splendid depth to a combat system which is simple on the surface but deep underneath.

There's an underlying motto in the gameplay: make the killing fun. And this goal is completely achieved.

You have three kinds of weapons, a light melee, a heavy melee, and guns. There are many weapons, for example, a knife, a chainsaw, a machete, chains, pistols, shotgun, and a Uzi. Each of these weapons has an interesting combination of combos, accompanied by really well done animation. But that's not all; you can combine the usage of these weapons together. For example you can strike your enemies with your knife twice, then send them to air with your machete, and while they're in midair, shoot them with you Uzi. You also can use counter attacks, pounce, and grapple, and combine all of these actions with all kinds of weapons.

The result of this neat system is your ability to create an infinite ways of killing your enemies. It's really fun and exciting even to watch Shank because of this system, let alone play it. You can always experiment new ways, and all of them look cool and well directed. For this reason, the game never gets boring. You're never repeating yourself.

You're in an endless action, the game never slows down. There are always tons of enemies coming at you, and you, executing different killing methods on them. This makes the game a pure arcade. You never run out of ammo. The game is challenging and at the same time you will never really stick behind any hard level. This arcade experience the game is all the time exciting.

Surprisingly, your enemies' AI is really good. They dodge, get far from you, and choose the best method to bring you down. There are many types of enemies, and while the big enemies rely solely on their strength to bring you down, the other enemies approach you with a strategy. Their strategy changes with the weapon they carry. And therefore you must act accordingly.

In a nutshell, like all its predecessors, Shank can be beaten (in the normal mode) with simple button mashing. But you better choose the other way. It can also be beaten using a complex cool action combat system, using defense and also combining your attacks, and this method will be the most rewarding.

And I recommend playing the co-op mode as well, which is as interesting as the original game.

This game is like a wind which blows in a familiar time of the year, but brings about a fresh scent.

There are also parts of the game when you have to go through platformer levels. They constitute running on walls, jumps, etc. But make no mistake, this game is no Prince of Persia. The platformer levels are short, easy, and fast. It happens really rarely that you have to repeat them. Mostly Shank himself does the most part of the job, and it gets a little challenging when you have to act fast, which is rare. The simplicity of platformer elements is in sharp contrast with the complexity of the combats.

But this is suitable to this game and it's put there to spice up the action. This is in harmony with the ultimate goal of the gameplay, which is to make the game fast, cool and smooth. Therefore it's really a good point. If there was any complex platformer which you had to replay ten times, it would harm the smooth flow of the game.

Have you watched anything made by Robert Rodriguez? He's the director of acclaimed movies such as El Mariachi, Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Sin City, and most recently, Machete. Most of his films happen in a Latin American atmosphere, and are cool and great actions. These are the qualities that Shank shares with this director. I have no doubt that this game is modeled on his style. If Rodriguez would ever make a game, it'd be like this one.

Rodriguez tries to pay tribute to an old genre of cinema in his own right: B-Movies. B-Movies were low-budget films which aimed at the immediate pleasure of the audience, were shown in lowly cinema theatres (sometimes two movies were shown with one ticket), and their typical hero was a strong stand alone man trying to kill his numerous enemy for a reason, and they were full of action scenes and violence and sex.

While not the paramount of cinematic achievement, and definitely not memorable as works of art, these films managed to do what they wanted to do, entertain their audience. They left deep impressions on great directors such as George Romero, Quentin Tarantino and Rodriguez who later evolved the genre into serious art.

Shank is the B-Movie of video games. Its plot is minimal, unobtrusive, and insignificant. It's a simple revenge plot. Shank's wife is killed by some people and now he's out to avenge her. There's no character development, the characters are black and white, and one-dimensional. The dialogues are witty but not deep and meaningful.

Furthermore, the game shares the atmosphere of these movies. Rural Latin America, whorehouses, butchery shops, all filled with action. The game also shares their violence, lots of blood and gore and ingenious ways of killing the enemies. Like those movies, there are hot chicks and obscene language but no real nudity or sex scene.

None of these are compliments, but they make the game pleasant in its own way. At the same time this populist approach to B-Movies stops the game from being taken too seriously.

Graphics and sound:
The game is no Call of Duty but no one expects it to be. It looks the way it should. The graphics enforces the atmosphere of the game. All characters look great. The design of enemies is really great. If the goal of the graphic designer is to be memorable, and enforce the gameplay, and look good, Shank is completely successful. There are many games which just look better technically, but the graphics of Shank is actually creative.

And the same applies to sound. Voice actings are nothing special, but music and sound effects are superb, and convey the same action mood too.

I've rated this game 6/10. Because although I've only complimented the game so far, and I've enjoyed the action, and the B-Movie style, yet I can't say it's a great game or a masterpiece. It's a fair game. It's a fun game. But no more than that. Plus, the game is too short. Whether or not it's replayable depends on you, I wasn't encouraged to replay it.

It's not one of the best games of 2010, nor a masterpiece or a major game. But it does what it does, which is to give you a really good time. Therefore, it's a must try.

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