Shank is a side-scrolling beat 'em up with a comic book art style. In the game the player controls Shank, an ex-mob hitman. The game features three main types of weaponry: a pair of knives, heavy melee weapons (the starting one is a chainsaw) and firearms (the starting one is a pair of pistols). Each weapon is assigned to a controller button, and the attacks can be combined to perform various combos. The player can collect temporary-use weaponry from fallen enemies, such as machine guns, rifles and hand grenades.
Shank has other attacks such as multiple grapple attacks, throw enemies, and is able to perform a pounce maneuver, in which he jumps in the air and lands on a nearby enemy. Some acrobatic abilities can also be performed, such as swinging from lampposts or other tall structures, and running along the front of things such as billboards. On-screen enemies each have a health bar that displays on the player's HUD, akin to Final Fight.
Shank features a cooperative campaign designed to be played locally, which is a prequel to the single-player campaign. The multiplayer allows players to play as Shank and his partner-in-crime named Falcone. In this mode players are often required to work as a team to accomplish objectives, such as defeating level bosses. Players can combine moves for special attacks with the characters perform together. Also available is the ability to revive a fallen teammate should they die in combat.
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