The Punisher always seems to be the Marvel character that gets the most raw deals when it comes to merchandise outside of the comic book world. This sucks because well, I’ve always enjoyed the Punisher comic book and so it is great to see that I now have a slightly above average third person shooter/action game to actually enjoy – but admittedly probably only because I do actually enjoy the comic book in the first place!
Anyway, back to business. The Punisher is a 2005 release from THQ and Volition Inc. which basically follows the typical Punisher storyline of Frank Castle’s family being murdered by the mob after which he then dons the suit and goes out on a revenge slaughter spree, though in its defense the story is told through a variety of ‘flashbacks’ as related back to the police interrogation team that takes you into custody right at the start of the game, following your three week long vigilante streak. Sound confusing? Well that’s probably just the way I wrote it then because the story for the most part is pretty irrelevant anyway.
What is relevant are all the guns, shooting, killing and just general blood splatter which The Punisher dishes out with gleeful abandon. Essentially your typical third person action/shooter, The Punisher does go to great lengths to borrow a whole lot of tried and tested features, like bullet time (slaughter mode in this instance) for example, and then fuse them all together to enhance the base gameplay – which is of course essentially killing everything in sight. (Except innocents of course. Killing the wrong person does in fact end your mission right there and then).
The game uses a two handed gun system in that your left trigger button controls your left hand firing while your right trigger button controls the right hand firing, with the usual symbol buttons used to perform actions like pick up discarded weapons, throw grenades, ‘quick kill’ your opponents or grab the bad guys, use them as a shield or just interrogate them for some much needed health.
Of course, realism is discarded with and while Frank can kill quite a few of his enemies with a single well placed shot, he can in return absorb quite a lot of damage before he finally succumbs, something that becomes even harder when you figure out that you can grab extra health whenever you want to simply by grabbing the nearest goon and successfully interrogating him. Alternatively, you could always just go into ‘slaughter mode’, where everything naturally slows down to a crawl and you get to throw big knives into the offending meat sacks, to regain some of your lost health.
Needless to say, this makes the game fairly easy while playing through in ‘Normal’ mode.
Outside of all the usual in-game cutscenes and obscene amount of shooting at nice looking but extremely dumb AI-controlled opponents, the game does try to vary things up a bit by allowing you to ‘interrogate’ seized bad guys, essentially mini-games in which you somehow ‘break’ your opponent’s will and force him into disclosing some or other important information. In addition, the game also every now and then throws in a ‘special interrogation’ sequences, usually something that involves you bashing your captive into some sort of handy environmental obstacle.
Hmm, that’s pretty much it in terms of gameplay then. Lots of tight (though varied) environments, lots of shooting and hitting things and in general just a whole lot of fun room-to-room shooting action with a wide array of weapons to choose from.
Visually the game’s character models certainly don’t look bad at all, with some good environmental effects thrown in as well, but to be honest, it does feel as if they’ve cut back on the detail with regards to texturing quite a bit. Just a bit more detail on the actual backgrounds would have gone a long way to pulling this game out of the ‘above average’ visual category and placing it into the ‘awesome looking’ pile.
Unfortunately, despite how good as the game does in fact look, the sound doesn’t quite match up on the same level. A lot of the sound mixing is muddy and unbalanced and as a whole, a lot of the game’s effect and action sequences are mooted by some quite frankly shoddy sound work and a particular imbalance between game and cutscene voice and sound effects. And while there is certainly a lot of voice acting taking place throughout the game, sadly a lot of it comes through quite flat and unfortunately gives the indication that some of the voice actors were clearly quite uninterested in the job at hand.
However, these are minor little annoyances when you realise that The Punisher is one of those enjoyable but throwaway titles that are designed to give you a good couple of hours of shooting thrills and that’s it. It’s not designed to make you think or ponder how awesome it is, no matter how hard you try. Oh and before I forget, for all the fanboys out there, it does feature cameo appearances by Nick Fury, The Black Widow and Matt Murdock (Daredevil), not to mention a few decent villains straight out of Marvel’s varied villain bin. And the last but not least, if you did in fact enjoy the 2004 Punisher movie, you’ll undoubtedly love that Thomas Jane reprises his role and voices the titular vigilante himself.
So in summary then, a solid and fairly enjoyable action game that doesn’t push any boundaries but does provide just the right level of satisfaction and enjoyment combined with fairly tight controls and above decent visuals, and while it certainly didn’t win any awards when it first came out, it certainly doesn’t deserve to be lying in the bargain bin just yet either…
Related link: http://www.gamespot.com/ps2/action/thepunisher/index.html