Have you got the afternoon free, but you're just so sick of playing Modern Warfare online/hunting bears in Red Dead/scanning planets in Mass Effect? Well then Shank is a great little snack of a game; it won't take you long to complete but it's filled with fun gameplay and a well presented story to boot. The question you've got to ask yourself is its 3-4 hour length worth your $15/£10, especially if you haven't got someone to play the (local only) co-op with.
Shank is a side-scrolling beat-em up that tells the tale of... well... Shank. Story here takes a backseat, but in a good way. Shank is on a mission of revenge but who you're off to kill and why is only revealed in a few cutscenes throughout the game, leaving much of the story for you to work out. It works because it isn't treating you like an idiot; letting you piece together the story for yourself gets you interested in the characters and Shank's quest, leading to a simple, yet satisfying conclusion.
To get to said conclusion you'll have to do some killing, lots and lots of killing. Shank spends most of his time running towards the right side of the screen, shooting/slicing/disembowelling everything that gets in his way. Action is broken up by some light platforming that usually causes more frustration than anything else, so it's a good thing it's only a small part of the game compared to the fighting. On the harder difficulty setting you won't find any checkpoints throughout the level, so falling to your death because of a slight blunder (especially on a level set on a train) can really get annoying.
Shank starts out with a set of pistols, a shank (duh), and a chainsaw, all of which are assigned to specific buttons. You'll get a bunch of new weapons throughout the game to switch out with your guns and heavy melee (the shank is the only weapon that can't be switched round), and there are different ways to use them all. Simply hammering the buttons will bring out some useful God of War type combos that will see you through the game quite happily, but there are other cool moves like a pounce that springs you onto an enemy, who you can then either gut with your melee or stay on top of as you gun down nearby opponents. There's a focus on building combos, although there isn't much of a reward for that but it will satisfy the elitists trying to be the best.
Bosses are a frequent roadblock too and most of them are really fun. Some spike the difficulty up way too much to controller-throwing levels, but for the most part they offer fun strategies that are a change from the usual combat. Plus, they bring out the bloodier side to Shank's quest, as they often die in gruesome ways. Usually it's their own fault for costume design; our hero faces a man (weirdly) dressed in bondage gear at one point and, well... yeah.
Pacing is a small issue though; you can go a few levels without facing a real boss, but then find 2 of them separated by maybe 3 or 4 minutes of gameplay. As a result you may well tire of all the thug-bashing by the end of the game, which is when it throws everything and the kitchen sink at you.
Enemy variety comes in 2 factors: size and weapons. You can't pounce on the bigger enemies, and you'll have to watch out for ranged attacks from people sitting above you, so you usually have to keep your wits about you when it comes to who you're fighting. Dogs will also try and maul your face off, but I've never really taken much pleasure in shotgunning animals into the ground. I'd say that makes me a morally conscious person, but then my kill count (on the game!) is nearing 1000.
You'll come across a few different environments throughout the game. The previously mentioned train level offers the most variety, although Shank's tendency to move forward as he attacks means you'll fall of the edge towards your instant death more often than you'd like to. Some levels offer a wall climbing platform-fest, while others are simple street brawls and throwbacks to the titles that have influenced Shank.
Our hero also looks pretty darn good as he dishes out the pain; the animations and drawings look super-slick HD, and it really looks like you're watching really watching a blood-based cartoon show on a Saturday morning. There's not much in the way of music but what's there works, and voice acting is bad in a good way; Shank's stereotypically low, grizzly voice is the perfect match for the way we're meant to view the character.
And that's pretty much Shank in a nutshell; this is a straight up action title with the format of old school beat-em ups mixed with a combat system as fluid as today's 3D action brawlers. It's a mix that works really well, and when you top it off with some fun boss battles Shank offers a fun single player campaign.
Co-op will see you another hour or 2 of gameplay, serving as a prequel to the main campaign. It's a lot of fun but disappointingly short; not really adding much onto the game past some cheap thrills.
Shank is an undeniably a fun game, but it's a relatively short proposition. It does offer co-op, but it's only going to add on an hour or two. The game features slick combat throughout, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but it can be hampered by some poor pacing and some bad platforming elements. Shank is definitely worth checking out though if you have the cash to spare.