The backgrounds are nicer and more colorful, Shank's enemies are more varied, and the controls are refined. It's a better, cleaner Shank experience. The indie charm is still there, and the whole game is more polished.
Oh, and there's one big feature that will probably make the game for fans of the series: An endless online co-op survival mode.
The survival mode expands the co-op game into something distinctive. The original Shank had a co-op campaign that wasn't so great, but this is a full-on Horde-style mode. Two players pick from a plethora of Shank characters and defend a warehouse with three crates on three levels against waves of ever-increasingly difficult enemies. Bombers try to blow up the crates, and it's up to the two players to defend the warehouse and survive as long as possible.
When the game starts up, each player gets to choose their melee and ranged weapons. Things start easy, but get frantic quickly; the bombers always seem to spawn on unattended levels. Eventually, other minibosses appear as well, and just like other survival-styled games the waves get more and more overwhelming as you progress.
Fortunately, you've got some new moves. The game's controls have been tweaked -- grabbing items is now assigned to the right bumper (on Xbox, of course), which means there's no more confusion about whether you mean to attack or grab health. Animations are smoother, too, so things in general are quicker and more responsive than the first game.
Players also have some environmental objects to play with. The survival level has traps you can use to cut off and beat incoming enemies, and various items can get airdropped in as well. Additionally, you can buy items in between rounds, allowing you to set up turrets or hire an airstrike to use when things get especially sticky.
While there wasn't an airstrike in the single-player section of the game I played, there were plenty of environmental and interactive objects, including crates to throw around, or traps to set off. At one point, Shank runs through a burning house, with the flames burning him or any enemy he happens to throw into it.
Combine that with the excellent, vivid backgrounds (versus the first game's more muted palette), and Shank's world feels richer. Don't worry -- you're still stabbing, shooting, carving, maiming, and otherwise murdering people. But Shank 2 looks to do all that a lot more smoothly, and the online survival mode will let you do it with a friend too.