Imagine the shocking level of gore and violence found in Manhunt and combine it with the third-person action of Max Payne and you should have a pretty good idea of what to expect with The Punisher. This is easily the best game based on The Punisher and it does a great job of staying true to the comic, but compared to other third-person shooters it leaves a lot to be desired. Fans of the comic will definitely dig it, but for everyone else The Punisher is a weekend rental at best.
All you really need to know about the story in The Punisher is that the main character, Frank Castle, is out for revenge after his family was brutally murdered. He has sworn to punish all criminals and nothing will stop him from killing every last perp and crackhead in the city.
At its heart, The Punisher plays a lot like Max Payne. It is a third-person shooter where you explore some fairly tight environments and shoot anything that moves while crossing your fingers that you arent taking out civilians. You have a variety of firearms at your disposal which include pistols, shotguns, and SMGs that you can dual wield along with bigger boomsticks such as rocket launchers. There are also a number of melee weapons such as butcher knives and crowbars that you can use. You can also switch into an over the shoulder camera angle for more refined aiming with most of the weapons, which is a helpful option. As you kill enemies, a rage meter builds and you will then be able to enter slaughter mode. In slaughter mode, your guns are replaced with an unlimited number of knives that you can use to throw at enemies or stab them from up close. The more enemies you kill, the longer you can stay in slaughter mode.
The Punisher tries to break the Max Payne mold in a couple of ways. As you are fighting enemies, a couple of options pop up on screen when you are close to them. You can press a button for a quick kill which is randomly selected based on the weapon you have equipped. Your other option is to grab an enemy and interrogate them. Standard interrogations are fairly tame, but you can also drag enemies to specially marked interrogation points within each level. These include dangling a man out of a window, putting their head in a drill press, slamming their head in a door, or shocking them with electricity among dozens and dozens of others. When you are done interrogating them, you then have the option of killing them in some spectacular fashion.
Surprisingly, several steps were taken to mellow the blood and gore. In slaughter mode and during other particularly gruesome scenes, the screen goes to black and white. Also, everything in the game is done with an over the top comic book style that isnt meant to be taken seriously. Yes, this game is violent and torture isnt cool, but it isnt realistic and that is the biggest difference between The Punisher and other murderfests such as Manhunt.
Blood and Guts Aren't Enough
Ultimately, though, all of the death and destruction and interrogations loses its luster after the first couple of times you see it. The Punisher relies entirely on the special interrogations, quick kills, and overall level of blood and violence to keep you playing so the experience feels rather hollow. Also, while it is similar to the Max Payne games, it doesnt require the same level of precision. The main problem is that the AI is so stupid and the hit detection is far too generous, so it is incredibly easy to just run and gun and not have to think too much about what you are doing. You only have to shoot in the general direction of an enemy and you will more than likely score not only a hit, but a fatal hit. Another issue is that enemy attacks dont do very much damage to you at all. Unless you are completely surrounded, you never really have to worry about the enemies too much. While you are in slaughter mode and when you complete an interrogation you gain back a little bit of health, so actually dying in this game proves to be fairly difficult.
The result of all of this is that The Punisher is far to simple and easy for its own good and the violence isnt nearly enough to keep you interested for very long.
Graphics, Sound, And The Bottom Line
Graphically, The Punisher is a nice looking game. The character models look good, particularly for The Punisher himself, and the animation is fairly well done and works well. The levels each have a distinct theme an they all look okay, but some sharper textures and more interactive details would have been very much appreciated. As it is now the levels seem kind of bland and lifeless.
The sound is also rather good. The voice acting for the main characters is excellent and the sound effects and music also fit the game perfectly.
Overall, The Punisher is fun for a while, but the blood soaked violence wears thin after a while and the gameplay underneath isnt interesting enough to keep you playing for very long. It does stand as the best game based on The Punisher we have seen so far, though, so fans of the comic will love it. If you arent already a fan, this is just another ho hum third-person shooter that are a dime a dozen these days. The Punisher is sort of a fun experience that you can enjoy during a weekend rental, but I cant recommend it for a purchase to anyone but the most hardcore Punisher fans.