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Hands-on: Shank

Justin McElroy

We are, and I don't think I'm being premature about this, in the thrall of a full-on 2D renaissance courtesy of digital distribution platforms like XBLA and PSN. Developers are realizing that modern technology plus a less technically demanding perspective can lead to a really beautiful end product.

That's the case with Shank, a fluid, violent brawler that artfully combines a sort of 2D Devil May Cry blend of sword- and gunplay with a Saturday morning animation style to create the coolest cartoon your mom would have never let you watch.

Gallery: Shank (PAX East) | 5 Photos

You are Shank, a ... well, it's hard to say exactly who he is, or even what he wants at this point. Even after my PAX East showing of the game, I know only that he's an extremely angry individual who feels compelled to kill a lot of people, that he looks a little like Rambo and Danny Trejo's baby and that he's armed (in the section I played, at least) with daggers, two pistols and a chainsaw.

Shank uses his knives and some acrobatic skills to climb and flip his way through the side-scrolling world, but developer Klei Entertainment insists the focus here isn't really on platforming, but rather the combat. As you may have already seen, Shank ties together beautifully animated attacks, taking you seamlessly from levitating an enemy with dual pistol fire to burying a chainsaw in his chest. Gory? Yes. Gorgeous? You betcha.

You won't run out of ways to wreak havok with Shank's arsenal, and unlike many similar games, you'll actually have time to decide which tool from his arsenal to employ. When Shank is threatened, time slows down, giving you an extra moment to plan your attack or avoid an incoming attack or hazard. It's a welcome addition, and one that doesn't interrupt the flow like you might assume.

While Shank may share dimensions with other 2D releases like Splosion Man and Shadow Complex, it doesn't necessarily share their structural depth, thanks to its lack of multiplayer or multiple branching paths with hidden items. But that's by design, according to Klei.

"It's actually pretty scripted, there may be different paths, but in general, it's something we very purposefully built for them," Klei CEO Jamie Cheng said. "It's really about experiencing it and pushing forward."

That said, Cheng seems to be pretty confident that even if there's not a lot of need to keep returning to Shank, the first time through will be well worth the price of admission.

"Our focus is different. It is not, I'm going to go back and find more stuff and find more stuff," Cheng said. "It is something where I'm going to have a really full experience. There's so much depth we're putting in the moveset. It is primarily a first playthrough game for sure."

You'll be able to get that playthrough this summer when the game hits XBLA, PC and PSN.

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