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Shank has the makings of a great beat-em-up – most importantly it has lots of cool attacks and lots of cool weapons. There are three basic attacks: melee (your namesake shank), heavy attack (chainsaw, among other weapons), and guns (unlimited ammo). You can also throw grenades (limited quantity) and combine attacks with grapple moves or jumps. All of these moves and abilities can be linked together into seemingly endless combos, and when you get going against a bunch of enemies, much clever multi-button-mashing pleasure can be had.
Small control annoyances often sully the experience though, and in this genre, even a small misstep in the controls can become a deal breaker. For some unfathomable reason, the same button used for your main melee attack is also mapped to the item pick up action. Enemies often drop items when you defeat them, so often in the heat of battle this leads to accidentally wasting a health drink, which is especially annoying in multiplayer when you need a health drink and your partner with full health accidentally drinks one through no fault of his own.
Enemies also drop weapons you can use temporarily, like heavy machine guns, and when the area you're fighting on is littered with machine gun drops on the ground, you're forced to refrain from using your melee attack, because you'll end up picking up and dropping the gun over and over instead of attacking, which quickly leads to death. Literally any other button would have been a better choice to pair with the item pick up, like guard or even jump. Or why not map it to two buttons, like melee + down on the d-pad? Seriously, it's mind boggling. And no, you can't remap the controls.
Adding to the frustration, Shank is strictly 2D, with no depth to your forward and backward movements whatsoever, yet it seems like a lot of the enemies would be much better suited to an environment with some depth (ahem, Castle Crashers!). Huge, unavoidable enemies that charge at you or spray machine gun fire seem cheap on a 2D plane, and often there seems to be no rhyme or reason to when you can sidestep them and when you can't. And on the flip side, when you have a powerful shotgun and you don't need to worry about lining up your fire with the enemy's position, you can often easily exploit your ranged weapon to take down an army of foes without even engaging them in hand-to-hand combat, which also seems cheap.
Lastly, Shank's blatant and heavy-handed attempt at an M-rating completely misses the mark – it's just embarrassingly bad. We're obviously not prudes at GamesRadar, so it's not just that the story is totally over-the-top crass with tons of gratuitous tits and ass and "hey fuckface"s every minute – it's just that it's done in such a horribly obnoxious way, with no humor or wit to make it enjoyable. If you're going to make light of rape (yes, this actually happens, complete with a "daddy likes it when you fight back" line), you better really know what you're doing on a comedic level, and the writers for Shank clearly weren't up to the task.
If you can overlook the control issues and often totally uneven difficulty (the second boss should under no circumstances be way easier than the first, in any game, ever), and turn a blind eye to the asinine plot and characters, Shank does have its moments. The art style is cool if that aesthetic appeals to you, and the single player and multiplayer campaigns offer two totally different experiences, with different levels and stories, which definitely adds value. So if you're totally itching for a brawler and have already played Castle Crashers to death, and you have a friend willing to play through co-op with you, Shank is still worth considering.
Aug 24, 2010