The Punisher is the type of game that right-wing commentators love to blame the 'decline' of society on. Dozens of deaths, callous gangland style executions, explicit bloody violence - and that's just in the first cutscene. When The Punisher really starts to hit his stride in this game, the body count piles up quicker than Fred Nile can say 'moral majority'.
The extreme violence befits the game's central character, who is one of the many Marvel superheroes going through a recent renaissance. Frank Castle, otherwise known as The Punisher, becomes a one-man vigilante army after mobsters kill his family. In this game, The Punisher is once again out to rid the streets of criminal scum, he but soon gets involved in an evil terrorist plot. Lots of gruesome killings follow.
Players control Castle via a third person perspective, using the left analog stick to move and the right to look. Castle has plenty of firepower at his disposal, with the R1 button serving as the trigger (L1 as well if he has two guns at once). Pressing down on the right analog stick makes Castle go into an aiming mode, but he moves painfully slowly while in this view and becomes too much of a sitting duck to be useful in most situations.
As well as running around and shooting indiscriminately, Castle can also grab opponents and use them as human shields against enemy fire. Grabbing an enemy is relatively easy, and you'll find that you'll be regularly taking them hostage to take the hits for you. You can also interrogate any enemy you've grabbed, which is where most of the gore in The Punisher comes from.
These interrogations require you to skillfully manipulate the left joystick button in an effort to break the enemy's will. Pushing him too hard, however, will result in your hostage's death. 'Broken' enemies will sometimes yield useful information such as hidden weapons caches, while some will actually help you by distracting other guards. But with every successful interrogation giving The Punisher back some health as a reward, it quickly becomes a prerequisite for every level.
The gore comes in the numerous special interrogation spots scattered throughout every level that, if you drag an enemy to, will result in an environment specific cutscene. For example, early in the game you'll find a drill press with a special interrogation symbol. Take an enemy there and The Punisher will place his head in the machine and menacingly lower the drill close to his eye until he breaks. Once he's given up the info, you are then free to finish the job, so to speak, using the drill. The game usually shows you this in a sepia, but it can still be confronting. And the drill is one of the tamer special interrogations you'll find - holding crims over a piranha tank, pushing their head into some molten metal, dangling them over tree chippers, the list goes on.
Experienced action gamers won't find The Punisher's normal levels too much of a challenge, because despite Castle being only a human (as opposed to someone with superpowers), he seems to have the constitution of Superman as he can take bullet after bullet without any serious threat to his health. He also has a special Slaughter Mode which can be entered occasionally, which sees him moving faster, invulnerable to damage and regaining some health. What makes it even easier is that most of the enemies you'll come across don't exactly exhibit Halo 2-like intelligence, instead preferring to stand in the open all guns blazing.
The graphics in the game are generally strong, with The Punisher himself animated with plenty of detail. The various goons you come against, however, all end up having a same-ish feel about them. The camera can also be a worry at times, as it won't always track Castle's movements accurately.
With its extreme violence, The Punisher is obviously not the type of game you'll want your young children to play. Unfortunately, its extreme gore is the only thing that's makes The Punisher stand out. Otherwise, it's fairly stock standard action all the way.
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