XBOX REVIEW: THE PUNISHER

The Amazing Spider-Man #129, featuring the first appearance of Frank Castle aka The Punisher was one of those issues that always eluded me during my comic collecting phase. It was always just out of my price range sitting around the $250 mark. I could easily buy it now even though it's gone up in price from there, but I have gotten used to the idea of not owning it. Compared to the character who has evolved into one of the most violent anti-heroes of our generation, the early comic book Punisher almost seems too innocent and is barely recognizable when compared to the antics of the Punisher of the "I'm Lovin' It" generation. The same could be said for the Volition's take on Mr. Castle. This is unlike any Punisher game you've ever played before and that is a very, very good thing.

Punisher comic writers Garth Ennis and Jimmy Palmiotti have crafted the story line so fans won't experience any bizarre embellishments like a talking cute alien that sits atop Frank's shoulder cracking wise. This is pure Marvel comic Punisher and you're sure to dig it.

How can I kill you? Let me count the ways. The big M you see on the box isn't the Marvel logo, it stands for Mature, as in "we're pushing the envelope here". The Punisher is indeed one of the most hideously violent games released, thus it makes other contenders such as San Andreas and Mortal Kombat Deception look decidely tame in comparison. But how else can you capture the essence of a character hellbent on stopping crime any way he can without featuring the over the top carnage he's known for in comics and movies? The short answer is that you cannot; go big or go home.

Volition's game is ultra violent; the kind of game Senator's site as an example why todays youth are going to hell in a handbasket. But violence is to The Punisher as webbing is to Spider-Man. You can't have one without the other. Originally the ESRB had the game pegged as AO as in Adults Only, but Volition added a Black and White filter to the more gruesome killings and for some reason this made everything A OK and the game managed to squeeze into an M.

The game doesn't bother to start you at the origin of Frank Castle's alter ego, it assumes you know what's going on and sends you right into the line of fire. You'll come up against classic Punisher villains such as the Russian as well as running into some unexpected allies...well that would be telling and I don't want to spoil it. The game is set up very straightforward and never manages to expand beyond going through each level killing everything that moves until you reach the exit point. Sure the game gets a little bogged down in repetition here and there, but you'll almost always find something that perks you up. Anyway it's not the destination but the journey that makes The Punisher more interesting and this is all due to the numerous ways you're allowed to send the bad guys to meet their maker.

An innovative interrogation mode which allows Frank to dish out punishment in various ways such as slamming heads into the floor, choking, punching etc is what sets this game apart from the norm. A special meter comes up during the interrogations and if Frank wants to get the canary to sing, you will have to make sure to keep the meter in the zone while it counts down to zero. Go over the hot zone one too many times and Frank will kill the poor S.O.B. and you won't get that hot tip you were hoping for. Some tips will offer insight into what is waiting around the corner, some might lead to a new weapon and some might be a double cross but it doesn't really matter. You're The Punisher. Do what you want after the guy talks. Sometimes Frank will encounter "special interrogations" which will lead to dispatching foes by even more violent means such as sawing them in half or feeding them to the fishes. These interrogations are all based on the environment Frank is in and can't be replicated elsewhere. As mentioned these interrogations are featured in black and white to tone down the blood and gore which didn't really bother me. Frank will also go "black and white" when he reaches the rampage zone. Pressing Y will activate this time-sensitive mode and he'll run around throwing knives at people. Each person killed during this time not only extends the rampage but also earns Frank some health.

Don't think for a moment that all of the violence has been censored in black and white. Frank can still blow people away in living color and while his clothes never seem to be caked in blood, there sure is enough of it to go around. Frank must have a Teflon coated leather jacket. You can also take the road of peace if you so desire and thoughtfully knock thugs unconscious. Just remember that It doesn't count if you use this opportunity to blow their limbs off while they're sleeping. Frank can also perform quick kills which are selected at random and dependent on which weapon is currently in use. If you're so inclined grab a human shield and use him to your benefit. When finished with him, dispatch him into the next life.

Speaking of weapons The Punisher has enough of them to go around - grenades, submachine guns, shotguns, pistols, flamethrowers - you name it. Frank can even dual wield, even managing to lift a couple of big ass weapons where most of us would have trouble lifting one. Hey, he's The Punisher.

The game controls very well and aside from learning the subtle nuances of the various interrogations, is pick up and play and um, shoot. The jumping doesn't feel very comfortable but this isn't a platformer so I'll ignore it. Frank runs a tad stilited but he gets the job done and no one seems to have the cajones to make fun of him because of it.

Visually the game is best when it's dishing out violence. Blood spatters, exposed bone, missing limbs, chewed faces....a Punisher's fan dream come true. The environments are nothing special from a detail standpoint and are really just new backdrops for more carnage. Thomas Jane voices the Punisher and does an outstanding job and other voice actors hold up their end of the show equally as well. The acting and dialogue is entertaining through out, especially the off the cuff remarks from the various thugs.

If you think about it, The Punisher succeeds where Max Payne 2 failed simply due to the violence and hands on brutality. Take it away and The Punisher is like every other run and gun shooter. Yes it gets repetitive and it's not exactly challenging, but it is fun to play through the first time. Those enamored with the character and the game will certainly enjoy repeat performances. With 16 levels of destruction ahead of you and countless ways to up the body count, what's not to like? This is what videogames and videogame violence is all about. Just remember, this isn't your dad's Punisher.

Preview By Chris
Hands On: Vaughn had to beat me to the punch when it came to the first preview of the upcoming Punisher game. Now I don't blame him at all as many of you know we both love comic books and games that feature our heroes. If anyone would come up to me and call The Punisher a Superhero, I would laugh and probably go into my comic book 101 speech. Frank Castle is not a superhero. Although he can be the hero of the day. Usually Frank only cares about one thing: revenge! I always liked the fact that even readers of the comics were confused when it came to The Punisher. He can be the hero and at the same time the law wants him caught dead or alive. He lives in a constant torment and when it comes to doing things by the book, Frank is the first to tell you to screw the rules. Now there have been two Hollywood movies based on The Punisher. The first one starred Dolph Lundgren as Frank Castle. I sort of like the way the director went with the character but to be honest I could have done without the nude scenes of The Punisher kneeling before a self-made alter and talking to himself. Then this year there was a new Punisher and they nailed him perfectly. Although the supporting cast could have been better, it did show the real Frank Castle. The DVD of this movie finally gave some background info on the real Punisher and explained why he was created and how he breaks the mold when it comes to other Marvel characters.

I looked very closely at the screen shots of the upcoming game. My first thought was "man please let them make it right and not play like crap!" Well, I got a playable demo and popped it in. Now you can make fun of me, but I was not only trying to see if the game had potential. I was actually excited to play as Frank. I have to admit from the intro of the game to every step of the way they nailed the look and feel of the world of The Punisher. The Punisher loves to rush in and not care about his own health or anyone else's except the innocent (in the mind of Frank that is). The game pulls this off brilliantly and the first few minutes you are pulled into his mind very easily. Now it is not as simple as running around and taking out the bad guys. You will have to grab a few and interrogate them. At first I pushed too hard and wound up killing those who I was trying to get to talk. You will use the left joystick to toggle how close to danger the person is in and how close he is to talking. It will take a few times to learn how far you can push someone or when to stop and they will cough up some useful info.

The game also captures the humor of The Punisher. After someone talks, he grabs them and using them as a human shield. The controls are perfectly set up for a game like this. Left joystick moves Frank around and the right is to look around or to aim. He can grab any weapon and has total knowledge of every weapon lying around.
The even added a "Punisher Mode" which is sort of like bullet time from Max Payne. While Max would slow down, Frank goes high speed and into a wild rage. The screen goes from color to a black and white view. The effect is awesome since you are playing in a third-person view. The aiming is dead on and the triggers respond great. Frank can use two weapons at once except when dragging a thug along. He has several moves other than shooting to kill the bad guys including a knife throw or a simple throat slit. He can also throw a weapon for an enemy to catch causing the poor lug to be distracted and then take him out. They were able to capture his movement down and you will hear him speak and think out loud.

The graphics are dark yet gives off plenty of details in this dark world of The Punisher. The game is graphic and there is blood yet, they did not overdo the effect. I liked this. I hate it when a game goes crazy to show off the violent nature of a game. The games camera is almost perfect and allows Frank to back off and make shots around corners and in tight places. It did seem a little off at a few places but for a demo I was impressed. The sounds are realistic and the voice- over actors did a great job. Also the music and other sounds help create the world you're playing in. Now the million-dollar question is will the game be worth the price? If the game is as good as the early demo, yes! It will please any fan of the comic series as well as those who have never read the series. It has some great added touches and when it was over, I was disappointed. I can't wait to get my hands on the full version next moth and if I sound like a comic book geek, I will take that as a compliment! It looks like Volition and THQ have a hit on there hands this coming January.

Preview By Vaughn

Enter the mind of The Punisher, a vigilante driven by more than just revenge.

Driven by a hatred of crime bordering on insanity, Frank Castle became The Punisher, a lone vigilante whose mission goes far beyond revenge. Taking on the city's high-powered crime lords, he wreaks havoc on the corrupt with methods normally reserved for those on the wrong side of the law.

Ripped from the pages of the darkest stories in the Marvel Comics' universe, embrace the world of The Punisher!

Features:

  • Punisher War Zone! Act out The Punisher's frustrations in some of the most intense, visceral action ever to come to video games!
  • For the first time ever in a game, manipulate highly interactive environments with over 100 custom 'hot spots' to interrogate and kill criminals using their own ruthless methods!
  • Interrogation mode! Use a never-before seen combination of physical force, character interaction, and the environment to coerce criminals into coughing up valuable information!
  • Punisher Armoury! Collect and upgrade an arsenal of realistic weapons!
  • Punisher War Journal! Relive special Punisher in-game moments, collect items from Marvel's Punisher history, unlock bonus DVD footage, and much more!
Click For Media
System: PS2, X
Dev: Volition
Pub: THQ
Release: Jan 2005
Players: 1
Review by Vaughn
RATING (OUT OF 5)
OVERALL
4.5
GRAPHICS
4.0
CONTROL
4.5
MUSIC/FX
5.0
VALUE
4.0