The Punisher tries to break out of the shooter blueprint by offering sometimes-gory interrogation sequences, but these don't do enough to change what is otherwise a very by-the-numbers action game.
- Special interrogations are occasionally funny
- Character models all look pretty sharp.
- Poor sound mixing in cutscenes
- Repetitive interrogation scenes
- Camera can't handle the game's many tight areas
- Underwhelming sound effects.
Though many games today take elements from existing titles and try to put their own spin on them, this form of imitation isn't always a bad thing. There's something to be said for honing a concept. But the possibility that the new twist on an old formula won't actually improve the overall product certainly exists. The Punisher, a long-running Marvel Comics franchise about a vigilante trying to save the world from being overrun by scumbags, is no stranger to this concept. Back in 1993, the character appeared in an arcade game from Capcom that basically started with Final Fight as a template, and then dropped in The Punisher, Nick Fury, and so on. It wasn't so great. Now, THQ and Volition have delivered a new game with The Punisher name. While it attempts to put its own spin on the third-person shooter genre by adding sometimes-gruesome interrogation sequences, this game is, more or less, Max Payne without the bullet time.
Well, perhaps "without the bullet time" isn't entirely accurate. The Punisher can go into "slaughter mode," which slows the game down a bit. Slaughter mode is slightly unique in that, while in it, you'll regain some of your health and drop your guns in favor of a never-ending supply of knives that you can throw into the faces of enemies with stunning accuracy. The other twist to The Punisher is that you can grab any enemy for use as a human shield. Though doing this slows down your movement so much that it's only occasionally useful, once you've grabbed an enemy, you can choose to interrogate him. This brings up a little tension minigame, in which you have to work the analog stick just right to keep a line in the proper section of a meter for three seconds. Once you do this, the perp will crack and tell you what he knows, and you'll get a little health boost for your trouble. Most enemies know next to nothing, and interrogating the average bad guy will get you one of only a few phrases per level. But some enemies yield more-interesting results, and these guys are clearly marked with a skull over their head, so you'll know to deal with them dead last.
The Punisher's family was wasted by the mob, and he's out for revenge. Unless you're already a fan of the character, that's all you really have to go on at the outset of the game. The story is told via a series of flashbacks. It seems that Frank Castle's finally been caught at the end of a three-week spree of crime fighting, though the NYPD sees his vigilante tactics in a slightly different light. The game opens with The Punisher being interrogated by the authorities in a little room on Ryker's Island (not to be confused with Rikers Island, the real-life prison). They talk him through the last three weeks, fading out to gameplay at certain points. You start out merely taking on the mob, which happens to be running a crack house and a chop shop in your neighborhood. Eventually, murdering your way up the mob's chain of command leads you to a much bigger terrorist plot. Players will find somewhere between 10 and 15 hours of action here the first time through, with the variance in time largely decided by your skill at getting headshots. The game gives you medals based on your performance, and you can choose to reenter levels with specific challenges to complete, though these additions don't really provide enough reason to go back to the game after completing it.
You do most of your killing with a variety of firearms. You'll begin with only a pair of pistols, but your arsenal grows quickly. You'll have a handy array of assault rifles, submachine guns, and pistols, as well as some more-specialized weaponry, like a rocket launcher, a flamethrower, and grenades. While some weapons certainly have their place--there are a few spots that are much easier if you're toting a sniper rifle--the minute-to-minute fighting that you'll spend most of the game engaged in doesn't require a lot of firepower as much as it requires a steady hand. You can zoom in with most weapons for more-refined aiming, and headshots are most definitely the order of the day. With the game's fairly boneheaded artificial intelligence constantly standing still, or, even better, taking cover behind benches and other items that leave most of their body exposed, most players shouldn't have much trouble when it comes to ringing up headshots.
Even if you don't seem to be able to nail enemies in their heads, the game makes killing them startlingly easy. The Punisher is supposed to be a superhero of sorts, so it's not too far-fetched that most bullets barely take anything off your life bar, but it's so minimal that you can cruise through most of the game by running up to each enemy and pressing the "quick kill" button, which rolls out a brief animation of the enemy in question being shot, being stabbed, or having his neck broken. Sure, you'll take a few shots while you run up to each foe, but since you can just interrogate a couple of guys to get that health back, you're rarely in need of health on the game's normal difficulty setting. The hard setting, as you might expect, limits your ability to do this a bit.