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Shank cut

Title: Shank n Format: PSN, Xbox Live n Rating: 16+ n Price: from €14

Shank is angry. So angry his bandana has changed from white to red. That's symbolic anger, which bodes badly for the hundreds of enemies who stand in the way of his revenge. That's about all the story you get so thankfully the gameplay is a blast; based on a rich combo system which maps a series of weapons to the face buttons. You'll start with a shank, handguns and a chainsaw and attacks can be easily chained along with jumps, throws and a pounce move to create violent combinations.

As you're drip-fed new weapons (including a katana, shotgun and chains) you'll find new and inventive ways to separate thugs from their entrails, but nothing beats the simple pleasure of grabbing an enemy and stuffing their mouth with a grenade before strolling nonchalantly out of the way.

The combat is fast, fluid and fun and the pacing is spiced up with some light platforming and frequent boss battles -- almost invariably with hulking behemoths -- which force you to use the environment to prevail.

For the most part it's pretty generic stuff, only enlivened by a blistering ninja lady fight halfway through and the considerably tougher final battle which relies on split-second timing and a serious immunity to thumb fatigue. The visuals remain striking, particularly the shifts to fighting in silhouette against a blood-red sunset.

But Shank does have its pitfalls. It fails utterly to capitalise on the trashy B-movie you think it should be and the co-op mode (only playable locally) feels tacked on. Platforming is a breeze until later levels that rain rockets and debris down on you at random intervals, leaving you plummeting towards instant death.

And, while all that bloodletting is enjoyable, it does become tiresome.

Klei Entertainment has crafted a unique game in Shank, with fantastic visuals and a robust combat system that is as deep as you want it to be. But the single player is a little short, the boss fights are underwhelming and some gameplay niggles stop it being a classic. Score 7/10

Title: Mafia II n Format: PS3, Xbox 360, PC n Rating: 18 n Price: from €45

This overdue follow-up to the 2002 gangster classic follows the adventures of Vito Scaletta, a returning war hero who joins up with a Sicilian crime family in 1940s fictional city Empire Bay.

Vito's journey towards becoming a made man is, naturally, a violent one and the extensive cut scenes and dialogue tell a rich story of the rise and fall of the character, from prison to underhand dealings and betrayals.

Unfortunately, while the story is impressive, the gameplay in Mafia II is a little disappointing. It's basically a cover shooter with added driving and the promise of a massive metropolitan world of the '40s and '50s to play in.

While the period detail is stunning, the game forces the player down a rigidly linear path. The world may be big but it's despairingly empty; few buildings can be entered and there's little incentive to explore the world. You can't even choose missions, and locations are often long minutes away from each other with nothing to do but drive and listen to period music.

All in all, Mafia II is disappointing stuff, offering a mere 10 hours of play and not a whisper of multiplayer. An offer you can refuse. Score 5/10

Title: RUSE n Format: PS3, Xbox 360, PC n Rating: 16+ n Price: from €45

Real-time strategy (RTS) games have traditionally fared badly on consoles but that hasn't stopped Eugen systems from giving it another go with their genuinely inventive RUSE.

First impressions aren't great: the introductory CG is less than stunning and the in-game menus aren't much better. Add some oddly extended loading times to the mix and it's fair to say that RUSE isn't as polished as its rivals, particularly with the majestic Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty arriving just a few weeks ago.

The game is set in World War II and focuses on portraying the macro rather than micro management of war, a welcome change of pace from the minutia of most RTS games.

As the title suggests, RUSE is based around deception and making your opponent think you're about to do something very different to what you've actually got up your sleeve -- and that in itself is a fantastic pitch for an RTS game.

RUSE is a lot of fun at times but gameplay remains finicky. Also, the game suffers terribly due to the amateurish presentation and careless execution. Score 4/10

coming soon: Halo: Reach is landing on the Xbox 360 on September 14. We'll have a Halo special in the Herald next Monday.


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