- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2010

A review of some of the latest M-rated video games offering violence for the sake of violence.

Shank, (Klei Entertainment, reviewed for PlayStation 3, rated M for mature, $14.99 from PlayStation Network or 1,200 Microsoft Points from Xbox Live Arcade)  So if Robert Rodriguez directed an animated grind-house film on the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, I’m guessing it would look pretty much like this 2-D side-scrolling tale of revenge.

In control of the beefy, Rambo-esque Shank, the player knifes, explodes, shoots, slices and dices his way through a stylish cartoon universe, all payback for his sweetheart’s slaying and delivered in an action-packed, blockbuster movie style.

With tons of grappling leading to tons of bloody and violent death scenes, including stuffing grenades into bad guys’ mouths, the game relishes in pushing a player to his most ferocious limit. Of course, the unlimited use of a chain saw helps.

The bad guys come in all shapes and sizes, including evil luchadores, attack dogs, sword experts and a fat guy using his stomach as a weapon. Options include costume changes, using weapons dropped by enemies, and pounding liquor to restore health.

Added to the levels of action is some occasionally tricky platforming, and an unlockable local cooperative mode (Shank is joined by a former partner equally adept at killing) that reveals the origins of the hero.

The animation, with its cutting homage to Jack Kirby and the sweeping absurdity of Samurai Jack, is wonderful and should extend from the video game, acting as a blueprint for those studios (that will remain nameless) that keep trying to make PG-13-rated comic book cartoons that end up all looking the same.

Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days, (Eidos Interactive, Xbox 360, rated M for mature, $59.99)  Two reprehensible and morally bankrupt bums return to wreak vengeance upon Shanghai’s filthy and corrupt underworld in this ugly third-person shooter.

Presented in a down-and-dirty documentary style complete with shaky hand-held camera work, the action is too real (the most graphic on-screen moments are tiled out) and it takes a little getting used to.

The single-player story gets nastier by the chapter as Adam “Kane” Marcus delivers his brand of psychopathic hurt, including execution-style kills, shotgun blasts, grenade launching, tossing and exploding gas cans at enemies, and frequent neck-snapping of unaware foes.

A selection of cooperative modes includes teaming up as Kane and Lynch for the solo campaign and Fragile Alliance and its multiplayer variations.

At Fragile’s most complex, teams have four minutes to steal 4 million bucks and survive the cops and each other’s backstabbing.

This bloody, ultraviolent, profanity-riddled affair offers an uncomfortable view of ugly men who have lost their humanity. It’s a brutal game to play that requires a good hand and eyewash just to feel clean after the near-continuous firefights.