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The Punisher (Xbox) artwork

The Punisher (Xbox) review


"On a wave of blood and bodies, The Punisher hauls the limp corpse of manly gaming back from the brink. Every knife to the eyeballs, every shotgun blast to the face, every circular saw through a criminal's crotch is another CPR thrust to the chest of the old dream of shooting gameplay. The Punisher is a simple game. The Punisher is a God-send of a refreshing game. "



On a wave of blood and bodies, The Punisher hauls the limp corpse of manly gaming back from the brink. Every knife to the eyeballs, every shotgun blast to the face, every circular saw through a criminal's crotch is another CPR thrust to the chest of the old dream of shooting gameplay. The Punisher is a simple game. The Punisher is a God-send of a refreshing game.

Where it rises and succeeds so absolutely is its lack of complication coupled with its lack of restraint. The Punisher's loose story gives way to the most brutal and visceral shooting a game has ever seen. Enemies encroach from all sides of the levels, waiting around every corner and ambushing from every obscurity. There is hardly a moment of relent for Frank Castle, the eponymous punisher of violent crime. There is only swift, decisive justice.

As the thugs and cronies pour in, Castle is incessant. He grabs one man as a shield, laying down Uzi fire at the two mobsters ducking behind pillars. After his bullet shield has succumbed, he picks up a second shotgun, running forward to blast men to his left or right, timing the shots so as to offer a constant volley of head-disintegrating shells. Four gangsters at a reasonable distance kick down the door and Frank jumps behind a desk, remains ducking, switches to a rifle, and begins picking off mafiosos at a distance as a couple more flank him. The luckier of these men will get a knife to his throat. The other will be truly unfortunate, for the only time The Punisher ever stops killing in this game is when he tortures someone.

The Punisher can cease from his rampage long enough to choke answers out of someone. If that person knows useful information, "breaking" him will coax it out. If there's a power drill, or oven, or wood chipper nearby, chances are Castle can drill, bake, or chip the goon enough to make him spill the beans. And it's here that The Punisher shows the only sign of hesitation throughout the whole game experience: if you press that drill down too far or hold him too close to the fire, he dies, and the screen goes colorless for the carnage, almost hinting at the blacking out a man like Castle must feel as he kills so many people. This killing of a suspect in interrogation costs you points.

As you murder and torture your way through the game, you'll accumulate these points which can be spent on upgrades for the Punisher, such as more body armor or greater ammo capacity. As bloodthirst-quenching as finishing every thug you interrogate is, it's even more rewarding if a cooler head prevails. Levels can also be replayed in various challenge modes for their own bonuses as well as more points; rarely does a game so basic in concept get such a boost in reward for repetition. Playing The Punisher, as savagely fun as it already is, rewards you tangibly as well. It is, however, not perfect.

The Punisher is almost lacking at first blush. It is missing the shoot-dodging of its contemporaries Max Payne and Dead to Rights. It has no wall-springing and its screen-bleeding Punishment mode is no equal to the slow-motion harmony of bullet time. To be fair, The Punisher is such a fast game that it easily conquers this setback, but the feature set is undeniably lacking.

The visual appeal of The Punisher also takes a small hit. While sporting good, if average by modern standards, graphics, Pun is too comic. The aesthetic of Max Payne would be far more fitting than the everyman Renderware-type graphics engine they went with. The violence and seriousness with which the Punisher offers it begs for a comparably serious vision.

But such are minor complaints given the triumph that The Punisher truly is: it's a game that both recalls the old premise of non-stop run 'n gun gameplay and takes it down a more destructive and evil path than it's ever been before. Frank Castle becomes the type of gorilla-chested war machine we should have seen a long time ago. The Punisher is a game for anyone who is ready to shoot criminals and love it enough to not ask for anything more; if that's not you, be more scared of Frank Castle when he stops killing than when he is killing.

Rating: 8/10

nick_evil's avatar
Community review by nick_evil (October 03, 2005)

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