The Punisher

The Punisher

Written by Jennifer Lam on 2/17/2005 for PS2  
More On: The Punisher
Like every Marvel property, Frank Castle’s life is one filled with pain and suffering. After stumbling upon a mob hit, Frank's wife and child were murdered in cold blood. He should have perished with them, but he somehow survived and vowed to take out his rage on every single piece of scum on the face of the Earth. Unlike the other Marvel properties though, Frank Castle is a normal man devoid of super powers. He can’t sling webs, he’s hardly acrobatic and he doesn’t have superhuman strength. What he does have though is an insatiable taste for revenge and a short temper. This is great news for fans of the comic and even better news for fans of video gaming.

In his first foray into next generation gaming, the Punisher begins anew. Instead of focusing on a later storyline and alienating newcomers to the franchise, the developers wisely decided to start from the beginning and tell the story of Frank Castle and his transition into the Punisher. This includes the murder of his family, his past service in the military and his present-day job as super vigilante supreme. This was a welcome surprise since I’m not all that familiar with the comics. Even though the information isn’t as in-depth as it could have been (they’re small flashbacks that pop-up throughout the action) they get the job done.

At the onset of the game you’ll learn about the Punisher’s vigilante tactics. You’ll deal with low-level scum like drug dealers as you try to rid the streets of crime and filth once and for all. Of course everything isn’t what it seems and you’ll soon find yourself tackling the head honchos that pull the strings behind the scenes. Along the way you’ll stop a nuke from launching, destroy an entire family of drug runners, crash a funeral and eventually take down the game’s head honcho, Jigsaw. Throughout the adventure there are plenty of memorable experiences that will really stick with you long after you’ve put the game down. I still tell my friends about the funeral scene in which you get to burst out of a casket and unleash hell upon an unsuspecting body of people with your massive chain gun.

Frank Castle is a very versatile man with a plethora of options in his arsenal. He can shoot dive (Max Payne-style, without the slowdown), strafe, crouch, dual-wield weapons and kick open doors. Pressing the R3 button allows you to bring the weapon’s sights up to your eyes, leading to better aim for those long-distance shootouts. Frank can still move while in this state but his mobility is severely limited. The only feature that he really lacks is the ability to blind fire like in or 007: Everything or Nothing. It’s a shame too because all of the foes do it in the game, it would have been nice to be able to give them a taste of their own medicine. The last core gameplay feature is the Slaughter Mode which is essentially the rage mode which makes the Punisher nearly invincible. When activated the Punisher goes berserk and can move faster than his foes and take more damage than normal. He can’t operate any firearms so he’ll have to rely on his knives to take his foes out. We felt that this mode was a bit lacking due to the underwhelming nature of the knives. Eventually you’ll just run up to all of your enemies and hit the triangle button to score the quick one-hit kill.

An element that really sets this game apart from the others is a special interrogation system that allows Frank to get information from his enemies. In the midst of combat Frank can grab his enemies at any time and use them as human shields. As they’re blocking bullets he can choose to interrogate them. After selecting the interrogation option players can choose one of four methods: Gun Tension, Choke, Punch and Face Slam. Doing so brings up a special interrogation meter; the key is the try to keep the tension level in a special highlighted area for three seconds. Doing so will reveal key information and as an added bonus, will refill some of the Punisher’s health. In certain sequences there will be special characters that need to be interrogated in order to proceed. Generally there will be context specific interrogations that can be performed in these sequences. These range from threatening to throw someone into a meat grinder to running someone over with a forklift. Variety makes these fun and they’re always interesting to watch.

Another interesting aspect comes in the character dynamic. When engaging in tons of mindless killing it’s easy to become numb to the fact that our character is human. The developers took plenty of care to showcase the Punisher’s regard for human life, even as he mows down dozens of foes. There are plenty of instances where he shows his humanity by sparing the lives of innocents while taking other courses of action that don’t lead directly to violence. In a later level the Punisher is trying to blow up a ship, he’s planted the C4 and could easily leave, but then he finds out that the enemies are smuggling in women to use as prostitutes. Instead of leaving he takes it upon himself to ensure the safety of the women before destroying the ship. It’s little flashes like these that showcase the Punisher’s humane side, and I applaud the developers for incorporating it into the game. Part of what makes The Punisher so relatable is his vulnerability. We all know how it feels to have something we loved taken from us and we all know how it feels to be sympathetic.There’s just something inherently badass about taking on a small island nation alongside Nick Fury. As the game progresses you’ll witness cameos from a number of other Marvel properties including Matt Murdoch (Daredevil), Black Widow, Iron Man, Kingpin and Bullseye. All of these characters are integrated quite nicely and play an integral role in the game’s plot. It’s nice to see the developers taking full advantage of the license instead of focusing squarely on the title property. Something tells me that Peter Parker would have made an appearance in the game too if Activision didn’t have the exclusive rights. There’s even a little homage to Half-Life as you’ll watch Professor Gordon inadvertently open a portal in Stark Towers. Comic book fans will wonder why it took this long for a developer to finally acknowledge the other super heroes that roam around their universe.

Though the game features plenty of variety, it still manages to become repetitive fairly quickly. There’s a lot to do and the action keeps coming, but the game lacks that one fundamental feature to give the action that special oomph. The interrogation aspect is pretty fun but the game needed a wildcard to make the shootouts truly memorable. Overall you just kind of feel like you’re killing the same nameless foes over and over again, not that there’s anything wrong with that, it just doesn’t feel particularly engaging. Aside from being repetitive, the game’s main problem is that it’s simply too easy. Frank is essentially a walking tank that can take far too much damage. In most circumstances he can simply stand in the middle of a room and take out his foes like a death-dealing turret. Even his encounter with a tank is far too easy because the tank’s giant shells do far too little damage. A novice player will be able to tear through the game with little trouble; we recommend you beef up the difficulty right from the start to avoid beating it too quickly. Speaking of which, the game is painfully short and can be beaten in about two-to-three days. As it stands, the first half of the game starts off great but eventually fizzles out. Towards the end of the game I found myself staring blankly at the screen, wondering how more there was left to go.

To add some replay value the game employs a medallion system (determined by how many points you earn in a mission) which governs its unlockables. Goodies range from comic book covers, to flashback sequences to pre-rendered movies. These are great throw-ins for fans of the franchise as they’ll simply want to unlock all of the treasures that are hidden in the game. To make things easier the game also allows you to replay any of the stages that you’ve completed at any time. So if you want to just beat the game you can run through the stages and then go back later to get the better medals.

Frank’s character model looks great but the rest of the world looks pretty mundane. There’s a lot of variety in the locations, that’s to be sure, there’s just not a whole lot of detail. Every portion of the game is plagued by poor models and muddle textures that really look out of place in a game released in the year 2005. To make things worse the engine is really ineffective and suffers from horrendous slowdown in many of the game’s key moments. Other special effects such as sparks and flames look pretty bad and the filter used for the slaughter mode hurts our eyes. Overall the Xbox and PS2 versions look pretty identical, but the Xbox version suffers from less slowdown.

We really can’t complain about the audio, but we really can’t get excited about it either. It’s easy to fall in love with all of Frank’s wisecracks but it’s even easier to get annoyed with your enemy’s repetitive lines. We liked the weapons effects but the heavier weapons really needed to have beefier sounds, ones that gave my subwoofer a work out. Even with the sounds turned up I could barely rattle a sheet of paper with a rocket launcher round. At least the sound separation is pretty good; I always had a pretty good idea of where the enemy was shooting from through the use of audio cues.

It’s easy to fall in love with THQ’s The Punisher, it has tons of non-stop action and a badass character that you can really get behind. It’s just that the repetitive nature of the game really stops this from becoming a true classic. Don’t get me wrong, there’s great fun to be had from killing a bunch of nameless enemies (just check out Serious Sam), but there needs to be some variety sprinkled within the carnage. Had that variety been instilled in the game to keep the action fresh, the Punisher would have been one of the first marquee titles of the New Year. Still though, what’s here is rather engaging and will hold any action fan over for a weekend.
After the horrible debacle that was the Punisher major motion picture, it’s a wonder why THQ decided to continue with its licensed property. Then we realized that the game, unlike the movie, is actually faithful to the comic and thus retains Frank Castle’s badass nature. The end result is an action-filled romp that proves to be ever Punisher fan’s dream come true.

Rating: 8 Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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