Shank

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Klei Entertainment for PC, PS3, and Xbox 360, originally released in 2010.
Shank is a 2D sidescrolling action game in which the player controls Shank, a muscle-bound, bandanna-wearing, chainsaw-wielding badass who has come to lay down vengeance Desperado-style on a slew of deserving baddies. It seems that some unsavory characters betrayed him and killed the woman he loved, and Shank must kill his way to the top, taking down the lynchpins one by one in this stylish over-the-top brawler.


Great care was taken to create the overall style of the game, with richly detailed environments and strong character designs. A great deal of attention paid to how Shank himself would move, navigate the environment, and dispatch his enemies. This is not a point-and-kill game. Shank’s design, animation, and moveset come together to create a character who is very ready to get his hands dirty, and this translates to a visceral gameplay experience, which is further emphasized by bright and liberal blood splatters, and an almost ludicrous amount of lighting, motion, particle, and blur effects.


Shank has a variety of weapons at his disposal. At the start of the game, he wields a pair of infinite-ammo pistols, a knife (what better to shank you with, my dear?), and an always-gassed chainsaw. Essentially the pistols act as the long range but weak attack, the knife is the standard up-close attack, and the chainsaw is the heavy attack. A clever combo system allows you to string these attacks together to juggle enemies, stun them to wear down more of their life bars, and to do crowd control when a bunch of bad guys come at you at once.


Later, Shank’s supply of armaments will grow with the addition of a shotgun, dual machine pistols, a machete, and a sword, each adding a new attack to his repertoire, and each has its own advantages when being worked into one of the many face-wrecking combo strings. Weapons can be switched out freely at any point during gameplay.

There are also some limited-use weapons to be found, including grenades – of which you can carry up to five – that can be tossed at enemies, bounced down into lower areas, and even shoved into an enemy’s mouth for an explodey treat! A heavy infinite-ammo chain gun can be picked up from some larger enemies, allowing you to provide some red hot justice to a string of foes, but the weapon is automatically dropped when Shank jumps, ultimately forcing you to leave it behind.


Outside of weapon-based combat, Shank can grapple enemies and throw them, as well as block attacks and perform dodge moves. He also has a button specifically for jumping high up into the air in slow motion and coming down to pin an enemy to the ground, at which point he free to get in a few hits before the enemy recovers… unless you manage to drain their life bar completely with an industrious use of your combos. Shank also gets around the environment pretty well, with the ability to shank-climb his way up walls, run across billboards, swing and jump from certain objects, and crash through the occasional window.


And of course, this would hardly be a beat-em-up if it didn’t come packed with some larger-than-life pattern-based boss encounters. Each boss you face has a certain weakness and must be lured to expose it. At that point, Shank can perform a special attack to land some big damage, and after a few of these, the boss goes down. It is possible to whittle the boss’ health down with basic attacks, but this is not a formula for success. All of the bosses can take a big chunk off of your life bar if they get in close, and basic attacks barely hurt them, making them all but invincible outside of their exposed weaknesses.


As with any brawler, things can wear thin after a while. By about the midpoint, you will have been exposed to each basic enemy type, at which point you will encounter them again and again in ever-increasing numbers. And, while you are acquiring new weapons throughout the course of your onslaught, they don’t end up having a tremendous impact on how the game is played. Once you master the combo system, you can apply the same basic attacks to weaker enemies, while changing things up a bit when going against heavy-damage brutes or the fast-moving dogs that can pin you down.

It’s also easy to find yourself overwhelmed in certain situations with so many enemies around you that it’s difficult to see what you’re doing. In these instances, you will generally die fast and hard. However, you have infinite lives, and checkpoints are frequent, so you won’t have far to go to face them again, and the bigger enemies sometimes drop health restoring beer to help you get a bit further.


DEVELOPER INTERVIEW
8 Bit Horse interviews Jamie Cheng of Klei Entertainment. We discuss the developer's gaming influences, the decisions regarding the art style and gameplay, and the overall development process. Check out the video interview below, which features footage of the game in action.




2D CRED
Shank was developed by Klei Entertainment, a studio founded in 2005 by Jamie Cheng. He previously worked on Homeworld 2, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, and The Outfit before founding his own studio out of a desire to work with a smaller group of passionate developers. The studio’s strong art direction comes at the hands of Jeffrey Agala, known for his work on the animated television series Atomic Betty.



Klei Entertainment’s first release was Eets: Hunger, a puzzle game released on the PC in 2006, with an enhanced 120-level version appearing on Xbox Live Arcade in the following year, called Eets: Chowdown. These games star a hungry little dude who wanders through the environment of his own accord, similar to the titular characters in Lemmings. Players must set up a series of objects so that the critter eats his way from one end of the level to the other, jumping from platform to platform, and being flung around by player-activated objects such as belching whales.



Klei Entertainment also provided some development support for the XBLA port of the ninja-themed platformer N+, released in 2008. The award-winning game was originally released as N by Metanet Software as a downloadable PC title in 2006. The game stars an acrobatic ninja who must run through grey environments populated by deadly robots, picking up collectibles and avoiding obstacles along the way.



Klei developed a free-to-play online arena combat game called Sugar Rush, which was set to be published by Nexon, the creators of MapleStory. The game made it to the beta testing stage before Nexon closed their North American publishing headquarters in 2009. The game is no longer available in any format.


In 2012, Klei Entertainment released Shank 2, which picks up where the first game left off, and gives Shank some new weapons and a whole lot more bad guys to slice through, blast in the face, and otherwise massacre. The visuals have been brought up a notch, and features an online cooperative survival mode.



Later in 2012, Klei Entertainment entered the stealth action business with Mark of the Ninja. Rather than having the player charge into the fray with sword drawn like most so-called ninjas of 2D games past, Mark of the Ninja places a strong emphasis on stealth and distraction. Players are rewarded for sticking to the shadows and creeping around the environment. You can knock out lights to conceal yourself or distract guards, climb up walls, across ceilings, and through vents to navigate the environment, and use a variety of ninja skills to place traps and dispose of your enemies quietly. Players use the environment to ambush patrolling guards, sneak up on them from behind, and dispose of their limp bodies, all the while earning the ability to buy upgrades for even more impressive and deadly ninja moves.



Klei Entertainment followed up their series of action-based titles with Don’t Starve, a game that is firmly rooted among contemporary crafting and survival games like Minecraft and Terraria. The game begins with one Mr. Wilson P. Higgsbury who finds himself stranded in the woods, tasked with finding some food before night falls. As is typical of the genre, you must gather materials to craft tools that allow you to gather better materials to craft better tools, and so on… with a primary goal of preventing your own starvation.


Craftable tools include such items as an axe, which allows you to cut down large trees – whereas before you could only uproot saplings – and gather logs and pinecones. Pinecones can be planted to grow new trees to give you future resources that may aid in your ongoing survival. Eventually, you can even plot out a few areas dedicated to farming. Logs are required if you plan to build a fire, which will help to keep you safe from various night dwelling predators… just be careful not to accidentally burn the forest down in the process.


A timer in the upper right of the screen shows the time of day with daylight hours dedicated toward foraging and building, and evening hours spent defending your camp. You can use your axe to defend yourself (which will break after repeated use), but you are better off crafting weapons for that task. In addition to the timer, you’ll find meters indicating your hunger level, health, and sanity, all of which must be maintained to ensure your survival.


The game features roguelike elements, including permadeath, so once you’ve been killed or succumbed to starvation, it’s game over. Manage to survive a bit longer, however, and you will eventually open up new crafting options, such as building a refrigerator that lets you store food, and helmets that give you protection against attacks. You can even construct a “meat effigy” that allows you to return to life if you fail.


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