The Punisher is one of the more recognizable characters from the Marvel-verse. His vigilante antics have been providing some of the bloodiest mainstream comics for many years. His path of vengeance has made its way through two movies, an excellent arcade beat-em-up and now, this excellent third person shooter. The bloody rampages that the player wreaks throughout the game will no doubt be a talking point at any meeting of gamers; after all, interrogating someone by using a rhino is unique. The Punisher can be broken up into two main sections of gameplay ? your generic third person shooter and the interrogation sequences, which play out as mini-games.
The third person shooting takes up the majority of your time. It’s always a pleasure when a console port arrives with no remnants of the console control system, and The Punisher is one of the few that delivers this experience. Even the tutorial’s “speech bubbles” have been entirely redone for PC controls. The sloppy mouse controls that we’ve come to expect on console port shooters is a no-show. Instead, a quick and accurate set of crosshairs graces the monitor. Movement is similarly tight and the default key configuration only required one change for me. Once in game I was shocked at how efficient the controls are; slitting throats or shoving grenades into mouths using the “quick-kill” option is easily executable, and reloading, interacting with the environment and engaging in slaughter mode are all intuitive actions. The player isn’t even required to move a hand, unlike the sprawling key configurations that plague many console ports.
Gameplay within this third person environment is like a comic book (rather than a graphic novel) Max Payne, with Frank Castle (the titular Punisher, for those not in the know) running, shooting and diving for cover. The game also includes some more interesting elements, such as taking hostages to use as human shields as well as to interrogate them. Interrogation is a fun little mini-game with multiple forms of standard interrogation, including choking and gun tension, as well as special environmental interrogations (such as ones using power cables, cranes, doorways and most memorably, a rhino). Interrogations are a matter of moving the mouse around in order to get the suspect’s stress level to a certain point and hold it there for three seconds. It sounds easy, but sometimes it can be very difficult. Though these two elements are very simplistic in their implementation, it is this simplicity that creates more efficiency and immersion, because you can think more about what you are going to do, rather than how you are going to do it.
Graphically, The Punisher isn’t outstanding: forget curved surfaces, forget any fancy effects – The Punisher has simple graphics. But, like the controls and the interrogation gameplay, this simplicity also has positive effects. You’ll find that minor characters have enough personality to be believable and the main characters look absolutely perfect; they’re dead ringers of their comic book representations. Environments aren’t elaborate, but they don’t lack in personality. Some would call The Punisher comic-styled, and though I don’t agree, I can see why they would say so – I’d call it utilitarian, which is fitting for any game that features Frank Castle since he would probably want it that way. Weapons look fine, and the gory details, though “edited out” somewhat by the designers’ use of post-process effects for the sake of actually getting the game released, appear in spades, from splattered blood to decapitations. The sound is fine. Weapons occasionally sound a little muted, but that’s probably so the player can hear the bad-guys begging for their lives and Frank’s natty one-liners, which are all very well voice acted.
Unfortunately, this game features two things that feel like cheap shortcuts: repetition of levels and ridiculous boss-fights. First, the player has to replay a few levels again, and it feels a bit like padding, but thankfully there are enough differences to play on through. Next, while I have no problem with some of the boss fights since this is a super-hero game at its core, others seem to be included for no reason than to exercise the gamer’s patience. The first fight with The Russian is a wonderful sequence and plays well, but the multitude of crappy slug-outs with a mafiosi who takes more rounds to the face than Tony Montana and yet keeps running around just serve to embitter the player. It’s great to have boss-fights against the likes of Bullseye, Jigsaw and a helicopter gunship packed full of cyber-ninjas, but the rest feel like another stalling tactic by the developers to try and make the game more “challenging.”
The unlockable features in The Punisher are added bonuses and feel like they are rewards to strive towards, not things that should have been in the game that are a chore to unlock. The concept art, comic book covers and hilarious newspaper articles about your exploits make it interesting to look around your apartment after each mission to see what new stuff you have acquired.
Overall, while The Punisher is not a nice game – it’s bloody, violent and certainly not for the kids – and it’s not exceptionally designed, as licenses go, it’s one of the best. The Punisher shows you just how over-the-top violence, mayhem and destruction can be, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that at all.