Genre : Action
Release Date: January 17, 2005
To be honest, I really didn’t expect The Punisher’s video game incarnation to be anything really noteworthy. Indeed, it seemed like the game was going to be another of those “Make a movie, then make a game based on the movie” titles, which usually amount to being the same recycled characters and plot stuck to an uninspired game infrastructure. While things are definitely reminiscent of the movie in the video game adaptation of The Punisher, the game covers storylines and characters not found in the movie, and though Thomas Jane does the voiceovers for Frank Castle, the game is much truer to The Punisher’s comic book roots than to its status as a recent action film.
The Punisher is a fairly unique superhero in that he doesn’t really have any superpowers to speak of, but instead is fueled by his determination to avenge the murder of his family. Instead of supernatural powers or wonders of technology, The Punisher is simply a hero who prefers to use guns and violence against the scum found around the world. Regarding the former, The Punisher sports a fairly entertaining array of weaponry from large arms such as various assault rifles, fan favorites like grenade launchers and flamethrowers, and specialized weapons like sniper rifles and silenced submachine guns. There are also a variety of secondary weapons such as Colt .45s, revolvers, and Uzis. Both the large and small guns can be used akimbo, with the only requirement being that you have to use the same gun in each hand, which does crimp on any thoughts of mix and match but is still fun in its own right, as there are few things more powerful than alternating blasts from two 12-gauge shotguns.
As for the violence, wow. The Punisher has a variety of ways you can cause tremendous amounts of pain to the human body, from simply shooting them, to blowing limbs off, to beating them in vicious interrogations, to killing them in unique and gory ways. As for the shooting, the gunplay in game is made a bit livelier by the inclusion of a physics engine, reminiscent but not quite as good as something you’d see in Max Payne 2. When enemies get close, you can choose to grab them as human shields or simply execute them with a quick kill such as stabbing them in the face. Shooting people with powerful guns or at short range often makes you send their arms, legs, or head flying off; which is obviously detrimental to the owner’s health. Interrogating enemies is often unnecessary to progress in the game but can often give advantages such as persuading some mook to convince his buddies he killed you so they walk in completely unaware and unprotected. To do this, you can either point your gun at his forehead and press it hard, slam his face into the pavement, choke him, or punch him in the gut. The real star of interrogations are the special interrogation locations, such as a wood chipper or whirring propeller blade; you can hold their faces just close enough to the blade to hear it go “pap-pap-pap” against the sides of their faces. A certain amount of skill is required to pull off interrogations, as you have to put them close to danger to raise their stress and hold it in a predetermined zone for a few seconds, but of course you don’t want to “accidentally” pull the trigger when putting your gun to their head or to shove their face into a spinning buzzsaw. Finally, there are areas where you just can kill a single mook in a special way, such as shutting them in a casket with a live grenade or stabbing them through the heart on an Aztec sacrificial slab. There are even other ways of killing people, such as going into a rage and having time slow down as you use hunting knives to cause serious internal injuries on whoever so much as breathes at you the wrong way.
The storyline of The Punisher contains bits from the movie but is more based on the comic books than anything else. Throughout the game, the player will fight a variety of thugs, Russian mobsters, Yakuza soldiers, and guerilla fighters in locations such as a seedy New York crackhouse, a freighter ship at sea, the inside of a jungle military compound, and dockside in the middle of the night. The change in locales and enemies doesn’t affect the gameplay too much but does relieve any feelings of fighting just any old enemy inside of the same boring corridors over and over.
The graphics in the Xbox version of The Punisher are fairly comparable to the PC version overall, with clean, sharp texturing and fairly detailed environments and characters. The special effects are spot-on most of the time but occasionally are a bit iffy (such as shooting a television screen, only to leave simple bullet holes on the still-functioning screen). Gore in the game is obviously something that is seen quite a bit but has been toned down in that the cut scenes of a guy getting his head cracked open against a fountain are shown in black and white, often cutting away and focusing away from the action just before face meets blade/shark/hard object/piranha. The limb severance is fairly hard to miss but isn’t quite as realistically detailed as something you would see in other games, although that sort of excess isn’t really required, and the arm or leg blowing apart in a red mist gets the point across just fine. For the most part, character animations are done really well with the sole exemption being that of The Punisher’s diving animation which looks about 20 or so frames short of what someone would call “fluid” or “lifelike” and ends up looking like someone threw a plank of wood through the air perpendicular to gravity. True to its comic book roots, every bit of text in the game looks like it was inked using a fine tip black pen on slightly crumpled and worn white paper, and when Frank gets flashbacks in the game, brief panels from actual comic issues are displayed on screen.
The Punisher sounds pretty good though, and has a surprisingly low number of cons to its sound repertoire. Pretty much all of the weapon effects sound crisp and distinct, from the sheer blast of the pump-action shotgun to the tiny sound of the guns bolt operating as a silenced submachine gun sends another round flying towards some unaware recipient. Thomas Jane’s delivery of the voiceovers is spot-on but is thankfully not the only person on the cast that gives a worthwhile performance; even the majority of the various thugs and criminals you face have something memorable to say. Music both in-game and in the menus is done really well, with the menu music being more of a slow-moving orchestral score and the in-game music being more reliant on subdued tones or other times just using ambience, such as the sounds of the docks at night.
Overall, I wasn’t expecting too much from The Punisher given it seemed too much like an attempt to cash in on a recent movie, but as it turns out, it really isn’t the case. While the movie and the game share some of the same talent and subtleties, The Punisher stays true to its comic book roots for the most part. The gameplay is nothing revolutionary, but it is enjoyable nonetheless, as it doesn’t really do anything wrong either. The gore in the game is definitely one of the more apparent themes despite the black-and-white graphics covering the more graphic parts, but it’s not exactly like the The Punisher to surgically kill the scum that killed his family. The Punisher isn’t quite a top-notch must-own title, but is definitely worth more than a cursory glance from anyone who likes their action games to be a fun romp with big guns, large amounts of enemies, and fairly solid gameplay.
More articles about The Punisher