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The Punisher

1 rating: 2.0
Action and Adventure video game by THQ for the Xbox

Enter the mind of the ultimate vigilante. Interrogate criminals using their own ruthless methods. Participate in non-stop, intense action ripped from the pages of Marvel's darkest stories. Where justice ends, Punishment begins!

Release Date: October, 2004
1 review about The Punisher

Punishing the player

  • Feb 3, 2005
  • by
Pros: Good music score, clever ways to kill and torture

Cons: Mediocre, linear gameplay. Bad voice-acting. No Multiplayer

The Bottom Line: If you're fan of the punisher, you'll enjoy acting out some of his comic book antics. If you're a gamer without that bias, skip it.

The Punisher for Xbox is a fast paced action game that could have been so much
more. What could have been a great action RPG turns out to be a linear shoot-em-up
that does not rise above the most average of action games.

For the uninitiated, the Punisher is based on the Marvel comics character of
the same name. Frank Castle is a man haunted by the images of his family murdered
in front of him by a mob hit. Frank's desperation and agony are displayed in
ruthless violence. Castle is a one-man judge, jury, and executioner as he deals
punishment to all who commit crime. Castle is a vigilante in a world that has
destroyed everything that was important to him.

The Punisher for Xbox is a 3rd person shooter, meaning the camera is behind
the character. The controls are rather simple so if you've ever played a game
of this type, you'll have no problem picking up the controller and beginning.
Right thumbstick to move and left thumbstick to look, fire with the triggers
and use the buttons for specific actions.

The core gameplay consists of running around and shooting bad guys. With the
click of a button, you can grab those bad guys and use them as human shields,
kill them quickly, or interrogate them. Once in interrogation mode, the left
thumbstick is used to choose among four different types of interrogation. Unfortunately,
the mechanics of all the interrogations are basically the same. An intimidation
bar appears and you massage the left thumbstick so that the bar stays in the
yellow part of the meter for 3 seconds. At that point, the "suspect"
is broken and will spill his guts. Sometimes they have important things to say,
most often not. In addition, breaking baddies recharges the health of the Punisher.
Kind of sick if you think about it. This is one of the major parts of the game
and to have the mechanics of it be the same for each type of interrogation is
a letdown. It just gets dull after a while. I found myself only interrogating
those who I knew had info (they appear with a skull over their head) and shooting
the rest.

As you play along you get style points which can be exchanged for weapons and
health upgrades. Pretty basic stuff.

The punisher has a decent arsenal of weapons and can pick up more weapons along
the way. The ability to dual wield is nice, but these days, not revolutionary.
The standard fare of grenades is also included.
Lameness Alert: When reloading dual wield shotguns, you automatically drop one
of the guns. In the midst of firefight, you often don't realize it until you
are only firing with one gun.

THQ added some interesting elements to the game. Not only do you have standard
campaign mode, but each level also has specific challenges you can play once
the main level is completed. These challenges are along the lines of "Kill
enemies with at least 6 different weapons in 2 minutes" and get progressively
hard as you go along. There are 4 different difficulty levels in the game which
manifests itself in the AI being more accurate and moving faster

This game is rated M for mature and is very appropriately rated. The big selling
point of the game is the different types of interrogations you can do to get
information. Certain locations on the ground have floating skull clouds with
indicate something heinous to do once you've grabbed a bad guy. Such interrogations
include smashing a window or coffin lid on someone's face, holding their head
over a piranha tank, or threatening their eyeballs with a drill press. And to
make the game even better for the little ones, you can actually go overboard
with these threats and kill the suspect in the same manner after the information
has been told.
Lameness Alert: THQ avoided an AO (adults only) by suddenly shifting these fatality
segments into black and white and blurring the image. This results not in the
image being less gory, but merely in black and white and blurry. The gore is
still there and nothing is left to the imagination.

The level design is adequate which consists mostly of locations with large
areas of bad guys. A garage, a funeral home, a zoo. These sets are designed
for maximum amount of unique ways to kill people. The areas are not expansive
and you don't ever get to leave the confines of the current location. This makes
the game very linear.

The Story is told in a series of flashbacks while Frank Castle is being interrogated
for some gangland killings. Each mission is a flashback to a previous time in
the story and each mission is linked by more exposition from various characters
in the story. It's an interesting way to bring the campaign into the story.
But that's about all that's interesting to the story. It is a confusing mess
of gangs from different parts of the country. Honestly, I lost track of the
story because I didn't care. There was no back-story on who Frank Castle was
or why he was doing what he was doing. The assumption is that only Punisher
fans would play the game. But even those of who liked the comics will find little
to enjoy here. While the story credits go to Garth Ennis and Jimmy Palmiotti,
it is obvious these two comic writers phoned it in. The dialog is lame and each
special kill is punctuated with a Schwarzenegger-like zinger. Most of them are
dumb. What's more, they don't fit Frank Castle's character. This guy has no
sense of humor, he's deadly serious about his business and the jokes are out
of place.

Graphics This is one area I've been struggling with. At times, good,
other times bad. The cinematic scenes that are pre-rendered are fantastic. Moody,
dark and violent. However, there's only a few of them. The rest are rendered
in-game so naturally they aren't as high quality. The model of Frank Castle
stands out as being quite good. His black leather jacket and gloves are highly
detailed. The animations are smooth and the transitions clean. The swaying of
his jacket as he walks looks impressive. The dour look on his face doesn't change,
nor does it really need to - He's always angry. Of note is the games support
for 480p for those with Hi def TVs (though 480p is not hi-def, that's a conversation
for another day)

The environments are well designed without too much backtracking. I noticed
quite bit of texture and object reuse which is forgivable if there are still
a wide variety of art assets. One thing that could have set it apart is the
use of bump mapping. I saw none to speak of which tells me this is almost a
direct port of the Playsatation2 version. And this is disappointing because
the Xbox is much more powerful. Other games such as GTA3 on Xbox have made good
use of the extra oomph of the box and its shame that the rush to market didn't
allow this game to as well
Lameness Alert: Some of the environments (the zoo) are much darker than they
need to be. I found myself adjusting the brightness in the game just so I could
see The Punisher in the dark. C'mon folks, lighting in shadows does not need
to be black.

Much like the graphics, there is good and bad to the audio. First the bad. The
voice acting is quite atrocious from everyone except Thomas Jane who reprises
his role as the Punisher from the movie. This was a daring choice since the
movie was such an atrocious failure. But he performs the role well though it's
not a very dynamic performance since most of the lines are basically angry grumbles.
The rest of the cast is your basic over-the-top stereotypes. Why does every
New York Cop have to be a bad imitation of Dennis Franz? The video game industry
has yet to realize that they need true voice talent directors. Instead it's
usually the lead Designer or the Producer "directing" the talent and
as a result they get over-inflated performances with no subtlety. The Punisher
is a prime example of this.

What's good is the score. I suspect the score is the same one used in the movie
and I always appreciate symphonic scores in games. Halo and halo2 are good examples.
The Punisher also uses music to set the dark mood. Thankfully it doesn't employ
a hard rock score that so many games use to beat the statement of "This
is an *action* game!" into the heads of players. The music in the Punisher
is subtle and varied. It works well with the content of the game

The effects are decent, nothing to write home about. The weapons fire is taken
from the actual weapons. This is always a plus and gives some realism to the
game. Other than that, nothing stands out one way or the other.

Other stuff
There are some goodies in the game, mostly in the form of unlockables. Some
of these are comic book covers, concept art and flashbacks. While I don't like
to have to beat certain levels on certain difficulties to unlock everything
(I bought the game, give me everything), I understand that some people like
to be rewarded for a job well done. Plus it gives the game some replayability.

There is no Multiplayer support for The Punisher, not even split screen or System
Link. The game is Live aware however, which means you will appear online to
all of your friends and they'll know what you're playing. Could be embarrassing....

This game could have been great. If there ever was a character that deserved
to have GTA3 style of nonlinear game, Frank Castle is it. Unfortunately, the
game is not like GTA3, so we're stuck with mediocre level design, linear gameplay
and no multiplayer support. The few bright spots are the decent animations at
times, the clever (albeit gory) ways to kill people, and the ability to play
a time-honored character. For true fans only.


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