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The Punisher (PlayStation 2) artwork

The Punisher (PlayStation 2) review

"Max Payne and Spider-man were two flagships from completely different genres. One introduced bullet time and showed us a different but entertaing side to Third Person Shooters. The other proved that decent games could be made for comic book characters. Marvel has decided to combine these two masters of painstaking evolution and introduce The Punisher: A violent, grungy look into one of comics most disturbed residents, producing an effort that oozes insidious majesty. "

Max Payne and Spider-man were two flagships from completely different genres. One introduced bullet time and showed us a different but entertaing side to Third Person Shooters. The other proved that decent games could be made for comic book characters. Marvel has decided to combine these two masters of painstaking evolution and introduce The Punisher: A violent, grungy look into one of comics most disturbed residents, producing an effort that oozes insidious majesty.

Like any Third person shooter, the story line is crucial and Punisher continues with that prerequisite. It starts out with Frank Castle being interrogated on Rykers Island. The game takes on a sort of flash back tone to it, Frank (Punisher) regurgitating to the cops how he came to be where he is now. The game play takes over from there, depicting the flash back with present time aspects and allowing you to step behind the skull. The Marvel staff wrote the entire plot and it bounces between the movie and the comic books seamlessly. What really makes this story is the abundance of characters from good guys like Iron Man and Nick Fury to wretched ones like Bullseye and Wilson Fisk—even Matt Murdock makes a guest appearance as Castle’s lawyer, but Punisher gets rid of him.

But are we playing this strictly for the story alone? I wasn’t. Shooters mean I'm mesmerized in insane gun battles and I get to kill people—a lot of people. I want to make them have to carry the bodies out in garbage trucks. Punisher doesn’t disappoint me. The mechanics behind the actual gunfights are above par, way beyond Dead To Rights. There is no lock-on targeting system here and I wouldn’t have it any other way. This makes a game too easy in my opinion. Punisher actually takes some thought and some skill. An element of stealth and recon is needed to play this. You can’t run around, target people and blast them as you run by the door. The left analog stick moves Punisher and the right moves his cross hairs so aiming is left strictly up to you. You have to duck down behind objects, poke your head around corners and take human shields.

Ah, the human shields. While punisher may come across as a typical Third Person Shooter in most aspects, the interrogations are a brand new trend setting development I haven’t seen since bullet time. Get close enough to someone and you can either quick kill them or grab them as a human shield. Once you have a good grip you can force them to tell you things they wouldn’t normally. There are two kinds of interrogations: Regular and special. The regular ones—punch, choke, face smash and gun tension--you can do anytime, anywhere. The special interogations, however, need a required environmental object which is indicated with a white splash and punishers skull above it. The object is simple, but the finesse is a different story. Sometimes it’s easier to please a woman then finagle that analog stick to do what you want.

When the command to interogate is entered a yellow bar appears under the enemy’s life bar and has a red square somewhere near the end. I say somewhere because they are all different in size. Some of the harder enemies have a much smaller square, making it that much more difficult to interrogate them. Basically you have to move the analog stick in accordance with what you’re doing. If you’re doing the face smash you have to raise it up and push it back down, teetering the gauge within the red bar as the count starts from 3 to zero. After that, they’re broken and tell you what you were looking for as well as refilling your life.

Some enemies have special info indicated again by a white skull above their head. At times it can be just useful information, other times they will hand over a key or a passcode to a much needed armory.

The special interrogations are much harder to find, but well worth it with pirahanas, rhinos, lasers, drills and so many more at your disposal. The only downsides to these are: You lose points if you finish him off with the interrogation and if you do kill them some of the more brutal ones go black and white. It seems like it’s done for a dramatic effect, but it just tones down the violence. Mind you, it isn't necassary to end the interrogation in a violent way but part of The Punishers luster comes from cutting a scum bag in half with a laser, impaling him with a waiting rhino or feeding his face to hungry fish.

A few more things break up the constant gun battles along with the interrogations. Quick kills are an effective way to dispose of an enemy who’s brave enough to close the gap. With one button the punisher dispatches of his enemy in a variety of ways, depending on the gun he’s holding. Sometimes he’ll toss the gun at them as they instinctually catch it he will stab them in the head with his knife. Other times he'll cram a grenade down someones throat and watch insidiously as he tries and fails to remove it from his mouth. Special kills also provide a moment of demented entertainment. Much like the special interrogations, you use the environment to your advantage—forcing a foe to plunge onto concrete or impaling mouthy gangsters on a metal fence.

All of these things are pulled off with flesh searing graphics. This game does the comics justice, as nearly every character designed makes me feel like I’m watching a moving graphic novel. The Punisher’s grim, intolerant facial expressions are displayed with brilliance and the environments are drafted incredibly well. The dark, decrepit Hell's Kitchen gets a morbid face lift and the cities sickning addicts lurk in every murky corner. The sound is lacking in the sense of a decent score, but Thomas Jane doing the voice-over for Castle makes you forget all about the missing music. Five minutes in and I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing the part. The enemies add some humor with sayings like "I wish Daredevil was here, he wouldn't kill us" or "Hey... it's that finisher dude." The controls can be somewhat touchy at times, especially during interrogations or when you’re trying to zero in on someone’s head. Those moments aside, though, the controls are tighter then the eye of a needle. The game play itself is stellar, with so many special kills and interrogations it's hard to get bored. The only draining aspect is repeating the same level several times to get the gold medal.

The Punisher has few problems, if any. The levels are massive but can sometimes seem long and arduos. The enemies are abundant but they can be repetitive. These aren't things that make the game unplayable by any means, but mini-games or even more cutscenes would do nicely sometimes.

With a sequel to the movie on the way and a fairly respectable game under his belt, The Punisher could very well be pushed to mainstream status. Marvel has proven that it can produce stellar video games along with rupturing movies and this game is just one more notch for the Goliath company. Punisher may only be mid-level now, but that doesn't stop him from leaving most of the competition dead where they lie.

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Community review by True (May 10, 2005)

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