It was such a beautiful day. Frank Castle only wanted to enjoy it with his family. But fate had other plans. It was all a blur once the shooting began. Frank’s entire family was murdered right in front of his eyes. He could not protect them; he could not save them. They tried to kill him too. Frank took enough bullets to die. He should have passed away with his family. Perhaps then he would have known peace. Perhaps then he would have found rest. But once again, fate had other plans.
Frank Castle survived the shooting. But something had snapped inside him. Castle would never get over the terrible incident. He would go after the ones that killed his loved ones. Catching the criminals and bringing them to justice was not enough. Frank was going to make them suffer just like they made him suffer. There was no room for redemption. This scum was past rehabilitation. Frank would deliver them their long overdue punishment: death.
Castle’s crusade was not only against the ones who murdered his family either. He would hunt down criminals all over the city. Every jerk that ever hurt an innocent would learn to fear his name. In body, he had survived the shooting. But in spirit Frank Castle was long dead. He now lived to bring terror to the criminals. He lived to deliver them the only kind of justice they deserved. Frank Castle was now The Punisher™.
In my office I currently have a rather unusual stress ball shaped like a heart. My wife brought it as a souvenir from a heart walk she attended some time ago. Of course using the stress ball is supposed to simulate the pumping of a real heart and serve as a reminder of maintaining good health. Nevertheless, if you find the thought of squeezing a heart to relieve tension disturbing, THQ’s The Punisher may not be the best game for you. But if you are looking for a solid action game where you can unleash righteous fury upon unsuspecting criminals, keep reading.
The opening movie takes us to a high rise building in New York. Since Frank Castle is here, it is safe to assume the corridors and offices must be covered with the bodies of dead guards. Trying to make his way to the exit, Frank notices that he only has a single bullet left in his rifle. As a group of miscellaneous thugs walk into the corridor, Frank proves he does not necessarily need bullets to deliver punishment. Unfortunately, walking out of the building Frank sees he is surrounded by about three dozen police cars and around a hundred guns pointed in his general direction. Captured, The Punisher is taken to the Ryker Island prison.
The game tells the story of the events that lead to The Punisher’s arrest. As Frank tells two police officers about his actions, players get to go through the levels and discover the mystery that took The Punisher to the skyscraper in the opening movie. It all begins when Frank decides to cleanse a drug house close to his apartment. Several dozen dead drug dealers later, The Punisher leaves the building and is almost run over by a car. As Frank investigates the attack, he is drawn into a conspiracy involving several different gangs and New York’s top criminal organizations. The Punisher’s storyline may not be astonishingly original, but it does have what it takes to keep players interested throughout the game. There are many twists as turns as you gain a better understanding as to what is going on in New York City.
Players do not need to know anything about The Punisher comic books or movie to enjoy the game. The storyline can easily stand on its own and keep players engaged. However, familiarity with The Punisher movie and the Marvel universe in general might help players appreciate parts of the game a lot better. Several Marvel characters make guest appearances throughout the game. Only the players who are familiar with the comic books will be able to fully appreciate these parts of the story. There are also a number of scenes that will appeal better to players who have seen The Punisher movie.
The game is played from a third-person perspective. The Punisher has access to a number of guns to bring death to his enemies. At any given point, he can carry a pair of handguns and some form of larger gun. From the basic shotgun to the sniper rifle and the grenade launcher, players will have a chance to blast away their enemies with a wide variety of weapons. However, The Punisher is able to do much more than simply shooting at his enemies.
When Frank is close to his opponents, players have the option to execute a quick kill move. With the press of a button, The Punisher will either shoot his enemy in a critical spot or put them out of commission with a melee attack. The quick kills are occasionally rather gruesome. Frank can do anything from breaking his enemies’ necks with a rifle to stabbing them with his knives. Perhaps the goriest quick kill is when Frank stuffs a grenade into his opponent’s mouth. As you see the blood splatter all over the walls, you will truly appreciate how messed up Frank Castle must be.
In addition to obliterating his enemies with guns and quick kills, Frank can also grab them to use as a human shield. When players execute this move, The Punisher will put his enemy in a choke hold in front of him. When other thugs shoot at you, their unfortunate ally will serve as an excellent body shield. During many parts of the game, using human shields will keep Frank Castle alive. When a dozen henchmen are shooting at you, it is nice to have some extra protection, as long as you don’t think too much about the fact that another human being is dying in the process.
Once you have enemies in a choke hold, you will have the option to kill them with a quick kill move. You can also interrogate enemies at this point. The interrogation interface is a nicely implemented and distinct feature of The Punisher. As soon as you hit the interrogate button, you are given a series of different ways you can pressure your opponent to give you valuable information. Different types of interrogation usually involve threatening your enemy with bodily harm or actually hurting them in some fashion. As you hurt or threaten the enemy, their stress level increases. Part of the enemy’s stress bar is colored orange. The goal is to increase the stress level to a point so it is within the orange zone. On the PC version of the game, you increase the tension with simple mouse movements. Every interrogation sequence also gives you access to a small help screen so you can learn the correct way to increase the tension without killing your enemy. Once your opponent is sufficiently tense, you need to maintain the pressure for three seconds. If you increase it too much or allow it to drop below the orange zone, the timer resets. After three seconds, the enemy breaks and gives you a piece of information.
The regular thugs typically do not have much of anything to tell The Punisher. But they might still give a little insight as to what is going on at the location you are exploring. There are also special characters that either give you critical information or help you in some way to get past an area. These special characters are marked with The Punisher’s skull symbol over their heads. Once you break them, they might tell you where you will find additional weapons and ammunition. They may also tell you how to open a locked door or even convince the enemies in the next room not to shoot at Frank.
The four basic interrogations include gun tension, punching, face smashing, and choking. But there are many areas in the game where you can apply a special interrogation technique. As you explore the levels, you will see spots with a white colored skull symbol on the ground. If you grab and bring a thug to these areas, you can initiate a special interrogation. These can include anything from dangling your enemy from a really high area to threatening to fry them under intense heat. Some of the torture methods are truly gruesome. You can also watch some really horrible deaths if you apply the interrogation so intensively that the thug cannot survive it.
In addition to the special interrogation zones, players will also encounter areas marked with a gold skull symbol. If you drag enemies to these areas, Frank can execute a special kill. The developers have certainly thought of many terrifying ways to die. And seeing The Punisher obliterate his enemies in his cold, indifferent manner further intensifies the effect.
An interesting feature of The Punisher is that players cannot regain health the traditional way by finding items spread around the levels. Instead, Frank regains health by interrogating his enemies or rescuing hostages. If the thug has a critical piece of information, The Punisher will regain a considerable amount of health. But even interrogating regular enemies helps Frank recover some energy. As such, players are encouraged to utilize the interrogation system fairly often. If the Punisher’s health drops to a very low level, it automatically regenerates up to a certain point. If players can catch a few calm moments, they might be able to regain just enough energy to complete the level.
If all the carnage that comes through The Punisher’s regular weapons, quick kills, or interrogation techniques is not enough, players can also try the slaughter mode. A blue bar under the health bar indicates Frank’s slaughter mode meter. As long as part of the meter is filled, players can enter the slaughter mode with the touch of a button. During this mode, the environment turns black and white as Frank goes into a rage. The Punisher takes significantly less damage and regenerates health during the slaughter mode. But more importantly, Frank also becomes very fast and incredibly powerful. Players can charge up to their opponents and finish them with quick kill moves with great efficiency. Frank also automatically targets his enemies with throwing knives. Players can bring down many enemies very easily with the throwing knives before the opponents even have a chance to open fire. Once the blue meter is depleted, the slaughter mode ends. Players have to wait for the meter to recharge as they defeat enemies before The Punisher can go into another frenzy.
While Frank’s regular aim will be more than enough to get you through most situations, players will sometimes have to utilize the fine aiming mode. The fine aiming mode gives players more of a first-person perspective. You will be able to move the mouse with far more accuracy and carefully target your enemies. It is possible to attach a scope to certain weapons, which gives you great accuracy across a large distance. If you have to save a hostage at gunpoint or take out a few enemies from a distance, the fine aiming mode is extremely useful.
Throughout the game, Frank gets to visit a variety of locations across New York. From run-down apartment buildings to high-tech corporate offices, from the docks to night clubs, The Punisher leaves behind quite a number of dead bodies as he tries to understand what the New York gangs are trying to accomplish. The levels in The Punisher feature a mix of small, confined areas and plenty of large open spaces. The design of the levels and the game play mechanics do bring some strategy into the fighting. Sometimes it is best to stay behind a wall and let the enemies make their way to you one or two at a time. At other times, you can be very successful charging headlong into a room and grabbing the first enemy you run into as a human shield. The game also features a number of boss fights that require a certain degree of strategy and careful aiming.
Each level in The Punisher is divided into multiple sections. Upon completing a given section or the entire level, the game saves automatically. Players are not allowed to save the game on their own during the level. If Frank dies, players can resume the level from the beginning of the section they were attempting. For the most part, the sections are small enough that having to replay them should not be too much of a problem. It also helps that Frank can withstand a fair amount of damage before he dies.
Between the levels players will have a chance to visit Frank’s apartment. Here they can get additional information about The Punisher’s weapons or view newspaper clippings related to the levels they have already completed. Most importantly, players can unlock various upgrades that provide significant bonuses during the game. As he defeats his enemies and successfully completes interrogations, Frank gains style points. These style points can be used to buy upgrades like increased health, longer slaughter mode, increased accuracy, or the ability to carry more ammunition. If you can rack up a mighty four hundred thousand points, you can also go for the ultimate upgrade which allows Frank to regain health each time he kills an enemy.
While The Punisher is overall a very solid action game, it does have a few problems that detract from the game play experience. The first problem is with the interrogation system. Using the interrogation system for the first few times, players will probably greatly appreciate its novelty. During the first few levels the interrogations are also extremely easy to perform. However, as you proceed through the game, the novelty quickly wears off as successfully completing the interrogations becomes increasingly difficult. Your enemies become more tolerant to pressure and the zone at which you have to maintain their stress levels becomes smaller. As such, it starts taking a little too long to complete each interrogation. Since this is also your primary means of regaining health, the problem is compounded and players end up spending too much time just repeating the same interrogation processes.
The action also starts to get a bit repetitive by the time you reach the end of the game. Once you get the hang of the core game play mechanics, the levels should not pose too much of a challenge. Just like the interrogation system, taking human shields, executing quick kills, or entering slaughter mode is great at the beginning. But by the time you reach the end of the game, you may feel you have seen enough of these features.
Some parts of the storyline also feel a bit forced. For the most part, the Marvel characters that make guest appearances fit into the storyline. But a couple of them especially feel as though they were thrown into the game for the sole purpose of appeasing comic book fans. Players not engaging in too many interrogations might also miss out on a few important clues. Most importantly, during a few sections of the game, it is not entirely clear how Frank knows exactly where to proceed with his investigation as the player is not shown all the details. However, these are very minor problems and thankfully do not greatly take away from the storyline that should otherwise keep players interested.
Overall, The Punisher is a good action game with a great deal of style. If you are not bothered by intense video game violence, controlling Frank Castle on his self-righteous crusade can be a great experience. The game captures the dark tone of The Punisher and incorporates many interesting features to bring the experience to life. The Punisher may not open a bold new chapter in action gaming. However, much of what the game has to offer is delivered effectively. The Punisher manages to rise above the average comic book-based video game. If you are looking for a decent action game that does not take too many chances, do not miss The Punisher.