Lots of games have a multiplayer component these days. After all, playing with a buddy is fun. Not many games implement multiplayer as an entirely separate experience, though. Shank does. Coming soon to PSN and XBLA (with a PC release also looming in the near future), Shank offers both a single-player experience as well as a co-op multiplayer experience. Both game modes have their own story lines, distinct levels and characters. In essence, it is two games in one.
The brainchild of indie developer Klei Entertainment (previously responsible for Eets), Shank is best described as brawler, meets violence, meets Saturday morning cartoon. It's wacky, bloody and completely over-the-top, while at the same time sporting a visual style that looks like it was ripped right out of a comic book or stylized cartoon. It'll catch your eye the first time you see it running.
Playing through the single-player mode allows you to experience Shank in all its glory, complete with guns, knives and the incredibly sweet "air shank," which has your hero pouncing on an opponent with guns drawn. The single-player game also reveals a good chunk of the story, but it doesn't tell you all of it. For that, you need to give co-op mode a go. Serving as a prequel to the events in the main game, the co-op mode was built from the ground up with two players in mind. You can't play it solo.
In order to play co-op, you'll need a real, live buddy sitting on the couch beside you. There is no option for Live or PSN play (it's offline only), and there is no co-op buddy AI, so if you're totally friendless, it's time to get out and meet some people. While it sounds mildly annoying at first, the lack of online play makes sense once you sit down and start playing. Shank's co-op is heavily dependent on working together and interacting with your partner. Hopping online to find a random, silent gamer just wouldn't work.
Both the level layouts and the camera work are different in co-op, ensuring that the areas you're exploring feel fresh. Compared to single-player, the camera gives the impression of being pulled back farther in order to accommodate both players, but the visuals don't suffer. Character art is still as sharp as ever, with both of your heroes showcasing vivid facial expressions.
With the sheer number of enemies, combat can be a tad crazy in co-op. The fact that they're dropping left and right, since two players are contributing to the carnage, only adds to the mayhem. There was an initial period of disorientation, but after playing for a few minutes, it all started to click. It also doesn't hurt that Shank is white and his partner, Falcone is black. They're both equally matched badasses, but the skin tone differences make it a lot easier to find "your" character during the carnage.
Movement is slightly restricted in co-op due to the fact that both players must remain on-screen at all times. Aside from that, it's all fair game. Level designs haven't been dumbed down, so expect plenty of climbing, exploding, falling, jumping, running, wall sliding and more. Much like classic arcade games, Shank throws everything at you and then sends more, so the best way to experience it is to keep playing until you get "into the zone," where blasting a baddie is a mere reaction rather than a conscious thought.
One aspect you do have to think about in co-op, however, is health. Health pickups do not always occur in pairs, so keeping an eye on who needs it more is important. If you don't watch what you're doing, it's easy for one player to accidentally ninja-grab a pickup that the other sorely needs (sorry about that, Darren!). Thankfully, death isn't permanent so long as at least one of the two players stays alive. When your buddy goes down, you can revive him with a button press.
For the co-op boss battle, we faced off against a big burly dude in a junkyard who liked to chuck exploding barrels our way. Bullets and knives didn't seem to do a whole lot of direct damage. The trick was timing our shots so that bossman's barrels exploded before he threw them, resulting in a momentary stun. Of course, he didn't stay stunned for long. To take him down quickly, one player would stun from a distance and then the other would pounce as soon as the boss was dazed.
Shank may be a new property, but with the controller in hand, it feels like something decidedly old-school. With sharp graphics, tight controls and plenty of on-screen action, it's tough to not be impressed with this upcoming arcade title. Toss in the additional co-op mode (which we imagine probably has a code name like Sly Stallone and Sam Jackson vs. the World), and Shank is looking like another breakout indie hit.
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