Comic books, as of late, have become a huge source for videogame ideas. The number of comic books that have been adapted into videogames is larger than ever, mostly due to the newfound popularity of comic book inspired films. You have to admit, they are a perfect fit as far as videogames go. Comics have action, adventure, and well-crafted stories – they are practically graphic scripts for videogames. With first and third person combat-oriented games being so popular right now, it is no surprise that THQ have opted to make Marvel’s The Punisher into a game. The Punisher is a comic book about Frank Castle, a vigilante cop who, after the murder of his entire family, violently kills as many criminals as he can find. Well, from a videogame standpoint, in most first and third-person shooters you violently kill as many bad guys as you can find – this coupling is a marriage made in heaven.
Frank Castle watched helplessly as his family was murdered by the mob, and then – cutting a long story short – he snapped and renamed himself The Punisher. Then he makes it his lifelong mission to punish any and all criminals, and by punish, of course, he really means kill violently. The game’s story follows The Punisher as he attempts to ?punish’ some big-time criminals. He starts out with some low-level mobsters and slowly works his way up the ladder of villainy. The comic version of The Punisher is one of the most violent books around, and this third-person shooter duly follows suit. In fact, it’s perhaps one of the most violent games ever released. You don’t just shoot the bad guys, you mangle them. We’ll start by covering the gore angle.
As you traverse the various warehouses, apartment buildings, and other varied environments in the game, The Punisher has the option to kill unfortunate bad guys by shooting them, or he can employ a ?Quick Kill’. A Quick Kill is basically exactly what it sounds like – you kill the enemy quickly and don’t have to worry yourself with wasting valuable ammo while chipping away at a health bar. Sometimes The Punisher will snap a neck, and sometimes, in an elevated act of aggressive, he’ll thrust a hunting knife straight down into the top of an opponent’s skull. Strangely enough, bloodstains are a common graphical detail. There are a myriad of different Quick Kills that The Punisher randomly executes; he uses his bare hands, his knife, and his guns. The Quick Kills are all fun to watch and boy are they violent?and yet, they aren’t the most violent part of the game. What could be more violent than stabbing people in the head, you ask? Well, how about pressing someone’s face against an industrial strength sander, for instance.
The Punisher can also grab and hold enemy targets instead of immediately killing them. Once he gets a firm grip he can either secure them as a human shield, or torture them for information. Initially there are only a few options for interrogating the thugs you encounter; you can punch them liberally until they talk, issue threats while pressing a gun barrel to their temples, choke them, or smash their heads against the ground. The higher your enemy’s stress level indicator rises – without you actually killing them – the closer they are to talking. After breaking, enemies give you sought information, and sometimes they unlock artwork extras from The Punisher comic books. Either way, once you’ve extracted the required information, or bonus, you can then push the torture all the way and kill the bad guy. These deaths are definitely the most violent in the game. Well, almost?
You see, there are Special Interrogation areas, areas where part of the game’s environment is used directly for interrogation purposes. So, let’s say you are in the Zoo and need to ?persuade’ a captured bad guy to cough up some info – well, there just so happens to be a piranha exhibit nearby with a handy white Punisher symbol hovering beside it. This symbol means you can use the piranha pool as an interrogation device. Grab the guy and take him to the Punisher symbol, and from there the interrogation largely plays out just like any other. In this instance, though, you dangle your hapless enemy over the pond while the piranha launch from the water and try to bite him. Lower him closer to the water to increase his stress levels. And once he talks? Well, dump him in headfirst and watch as the piranha enjoy an early dinner. There are close to one hundred different ways to torture people in this game. You can crush criminals to a pulp in car compactors, sand their faces off, drop them from high balconies, electrocute them, and smash their heads against curbs. There are so many creative ways to kill people in this game that sometimes you forget about the story and just focus on the torture. The Punisher is off the charts as far as its violent content is concerned – this one is definitely not for the kiddies.
The controls are simple enough, and resemble those used in the Max Payne series. The game runs in a third-person view, with the controller’s triggers firing your weapons. You also have a dodge button that lets you roll away evasively from onrushing bullets. The controls are simple, and don’t need too much explanation. On that same note, the actual controls don’t really add anything new to the game type, aside from the interrogations. THQ have taken an established and proven control style and adapted their game to fit it. This was a good move, as many players will already be familiar with the controls and, as a result, will get the hang of the game much quicker.
The Punisher has a closet full of weaponry at his merciless disposal, but you’ll need to collect them in game before they become accessible. Once they’re available, you will have a great deal of fun deciding which boom sticks you want to blow the bad guys away with. There are rifles, pistols, machine guns, missile launchers, and shotguns – all at your fingertips – and the list goes on. Plus, you also get to carry a two-handed weapon as well as two smaller guns, which you can dual wield. THQ have made absolutely certain that you’ll be well armed when you go out looking to issue punishment.
The graphics and sound are, by turns, one half decent, and one half great. The graphics are the decent half. While the game’s scenery is not repetitive, it isn’t the best looking example, either. It’s not bad, but certain areas look much better than others. The Zoo, for instance, looks great, but other areas just don’t come up to scratch. These environmental inconsistencies usually make themselves apparent in places like apartments and offices, which are a little plain by comparison. The game’s dark color scheme is great, and it has been adopted directly from the comic book. The characters are well crafted, although they all have seemingly frozen expressions on their faces. It’s a minor complaint, but a complaint nonetheless. The game’s sound, on the other hand, is extremely well realized. The voice acting is also great, especially on The Punisher himself. He truly sounds scary. What makes the voice acting even better is that the developers didn’t stop the quality input at the central character. Even stoners loafing on the floor of a raided crack house are well voiced, and funny. The dialogue is well implemented throughout, and – perhaps more importantly – it’s realistic. And by realistic, let’s just say that the bad guys in The Punisher all have potty mouths; each and every one of them sporting a fine pair of sugar lips. I’ve never heard so much cursing in a videogame.
The Punisher emerges as a thoroughly decent shooter. It’s fun, but after you kill a few hundred thugs it may start to grow a little boring. The huge variety of interrogation methods is really what makes this game interesting. If it weren’t for those, The Punisher wouldn’t be nearly as cool as it is. Plus, some elements of the game just don’t make sense. One of the bosses, a lowly mobster, is wearing a flak jacket, so you have to shoot him in the head – and you have to shoot him in the head a whole bunch of times before he finally decides to die. Okay, he’s an end of level boss, he should present somewhat of a gameplay challenge, but one or two successful shots to his exposed cranium should be enough to kill him. Perhaps these types of realism details could have been better implemented. But, regardless of such minor quibbles, the interrogation gameplay is an innovative system and well worth checking out. The Punisher’s savagely graphic content is likely to upset the censorship applecart, so, bearing that in mind, it’s perhaps best to try the game via rental before deciding to purchase – but only if you’re old enough to play Mature rated games. I wouldn’t want to see you receiving punishment.