The Punisher E3 2004 Preshow Hands-On Impressions

Forget the movie--we've got a hands-on look at THQ and Volition's upcoming shooter based on the vigilante superhero.

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Late last year THQ announced that it would publish developer Volition's upcoming action game based on Marvel Comics' The Punisher. With the recent film based on The Punisher having been released not long ago, it would have seemed logical to base the game on the film. However, this is not the direction Volition will be going with its upcoming shooter--rather, the game will be entirely based on the recent era of the comic book and will feature the same brand of gritty, ultraviolent action you would expect from the book. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Volition's E3 demo of the Xbox version of the game to see how it was shaping up.

At its core, The Punisher comes across as a fairly typical third-person shooter. In the demo we saw, the enraged antihero could access a number of different weapons, including pistols, Uzis, pump-action shotguns, M16s, and frag grenades. When controlling the Punisher, you'll shoot with the right trigger button, and you'll use the left trigger button if you happen to be holding two weapons at once. You can duck behind objects to use as cover, and you can jump and dodge your way past enemy fire with some nifty moves. You'll also have the opportunity to enact "slaughter mode." Slaughter mode is a temporary bullet-time effect that lets you target multiple enemies at once. So, if you're holding a pair of Uzis, you'll be able to shoot two guys in different locations in an environment.

The most impressive game mechanic we saw during the demo was the interrogation system. You'll be able to interrogate any enemy in The Punisher. To interrogate enemies, you will need to approach them close-up (from any direction, including from behind), after they've surrendered or even in the middle of combat. Once up close, you need only press the A button to grab the enemy, which will basically turn him into a human shield until you make your next move. There are two distinct types of interrogation in the game: regular interrogations and environmental interrogations. In a regular interrogation, for instance, you'll be able to press the butt of your gun to an enemy's head and increase the pressure by tapping one of the control sticks back and forth. Once you're done with an enemy, either after he has given you important information that will help you on your mission or after he has confessed that he knows nothing, you can simply press all the way forward on the stick, at which point his head will be forcibly removed by the gun blast.

Environmental interrogations work much the same way, but they feature more-brutal methods of torture to a helpless criminal. In the tutorial portion of the game, the very first environmental interrogation involved holding an enemy inches away from the opening to a wood chipper. Once he confessed, we had the option of just pulling him away and knocking him out or pulling a Fargo and sending him to his bloody doom. See if you can guess which we picked. There were plenty of other examples of this type of interrogation throughout the levels we saw, including one where we held an enemy's head over a pool of hungry piranhas and another where we found ourselves grinding a crook's face on the edge of a curb with the Punisher's boot, until we eventually gave him the American History X routine.

The game's brutal sense of violence doesn't end with these interrogations either. The game uses the Havoc physics engine and makes good use of it. Dying enemies show off some good rag-doll physics, especially when being thrown down a flight of stairs. Shooting enemies with more powerful guns, such as the pump-action shotgun, lets you blow away various limbs and heads with gruesome detail, and in some cases, the enemies will squirm in pain afterward.

Though little of the story of The Punisher was revealed to us, it was noted that the game would be primarily based within the recent universe of the Punisher comic book and would include several familiar villains. Bushwhacker, for instance, was shown in the demo we saw, but no other villains were confirmed for the game. Currently, The Punisher is set for release this fall on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. We'll have more on the game in the coming weeks.

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