Let’s get one thing clear, The Punisher is about one thing; killing!

Frank Castle watched his entire family get gunned down by the mob and it was only by sheer force of will that he managed to survive the massacre himself. Disgusted with the law’s inability to bring his family’s killers to justice he armed himself to the teeth and went out to find his own brand of justice. Since then he has waged a one-man war on crime, hunting down and killing every criminal from the common street thug to the heads of mafia crime families.

The game features a pretty good storyline which is gripping enough to make you play on to the end and, as The Punisher is a Marvel comic’s character, there are a few cameos from other Marvel characters which makes things a bit more interesting. If I wanted to compare The Punisher game to anything then it would have to be Max Payne. At first glance the games are almost identical looking; dark, gloomy and oh so violent! In fact, for the first few hours of playing the game I kept reaching for the bullet-time button and getting frustrated when game play wouldn’t slow down. Once you get used to the lack of bullet-time and utilise the other features of the game everything seems to fall into place. For example, you can grab bad guys and use them as a human shield which really helps to prolong your life…well, for as long as your shield stays alive. Frank is also incredibly strong and is capable of wielding two guns in each hand. This includes shotguns, M16s and the ultimate bad guy killer, the M60!

I think I should probably mention that Frank is quite the artist when it comes to killing. The game probably has more than 50 (probably way more than 50 thinking about it) different ways to kill someone and they are all just as violent and gory as each other. When you are close to someone you can grab them and use them as either a shield, interrogate them for information or perform a quick kill on them. A quick kill is simply a move that kills your opponent in one swift move. The beauty of this is that there is a huge variety of death animations depending on where you are standing in relation to them, what weapon you are holding, the environment you are in and a number of other factors. For example, if you are both standing on stairs then Frank will pick them up and hurl them down the stairs, breaking their necks. If you are behind them with a pistol then Frank may kick them in the back of the legs, bringing them to their knees and then execute them with a bullet to the back of the head or he may choose to pull their head backwards and then slam the butt of his gun onto their forehead, breaking their necks. Did I mention this game was violent?

Oh, if Frank has any grenades handy then he may choose to force one of them down his opponent’s throat and watch them blow! Such a creative genius. There are also special kill points marked out in the game which give a nice little death scene, such as stuffing someone in a coffin and throwing a grenade in with them and then locking the casket shut.

Frank also has a ‘slaughter mode’ (as if normal mode wasn’t slaughteriffic enough) in which he puts his guns away and goes mental with a pair of knives. Aside from adding an extra dimension to the gore fest it also allows Frank to replenish some of his health as he kills people in this mode. The only other way to regain health is by saving innocents or successfully interrogating criminals. Interrogation is another important aspect to the game. In order to find out what is going on in each mission you need to find certain thugs who have the information you need and then beat the crap out of them until they spill their guts. If you beat TOO much crap out of them then they will die so you have to be careful. There are also special interrogation points, similar to the kill zones. These may involve holding the thug’s head to a drill and trying to force the information out of him that way. The special zones seem to be a little more sensitive than the normal interrogation methods so you need to be extra careful when doing it that way…although it is a lot more rewarding in terms of health and entertainment value!!

My initial impression of this game wasn’t all too good, mainly because I was comparing it to Max Payne but after a while I realised that this game was just as good, if not better. The story line may not be as gripping as that of Max Payne’s but the sheer volume of killing involved and the many, many inventive and amusing ways of dealing death to the enemy more than makes up for it. The enemy AI is also pretty nifty and the enemy will rarely take you on face to face because they are literally scared shitless of you. I mean it!! When you kick the door down they will freak out and run like children to hide behind tables or pillars and poke their guns around whatever objects they are hiding behind and fire blindly without exposing themselves too much. If things are going badly for them then they will throw their weapons down and surrender and beg for mercy…leaving you to decide at leisure how to punish them!

This game is a good laugh and doesn’t require much thought and there are enough levels to keep you busy for quite a few days and it is also worth replaying to unlock various other aspects of the game such as cheats and comic book covers.

James Coghlan

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