Review: The Punisher (PS2)


Genre: Action
Platform: PS2 (Also On: Xbox, PC)
Rating: M [Mature]
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Volition, Inc.
Release Date: 01-17-05

Well, well, well. Look who it is. After a month of searching and waiting, Frank Castle finally finds his way on to my PS2. Let me just preface this review with a little note to Rogers Video in Toronto – GET MORE THAN ONE COPY OF HIGHLY POPULAR GAMES!! Another note goes to Rentalwire.com – please, when you have customers who pay for a service, don’t quote them 2-4 business days for delivery, when in fact it takes 7-10. Ok? Okay, let’s move on.

Now, the boys over at Gamespot are pissing all over the Punisher for it’s apparent shoddy attempt at putting a new spin on the action-shooter genre. After playing the game non-stop for a few nights, I have to disagree. Sure, it has it’s flaws, but this is definitely a franchise that I believe deserves further development down the road. “Max Payne without the bullet time,” my ass.

Seriously, it’s Frank Castle versus the seedy underworld of New York City. The possibilites are endless. Let’s get into the meat of this bitch, shall we?



STORY

Most of us all know some version or another of the story behind Frank Castle’s transformation into the Punisher. No matter which version you prefer – comic or movie – the simple facts remain: Castle’s family was taken out by the mob, and in the process turned him into the vigilante killing machine that he is today. This game takes place at some point after Castle has taken out his initial targets for revenge. Having avenged his family’s death, our anti-hero is presented with an all new
threat to deal with.

Your leap into the world of ultra-violence begins with a cinematic cut-scene the Punisher himself mowing down a bunch of seedy individuals, only to be arrested by the NYPD for all of his vigilante efforts.

Once in custody, Castle is interrogated by none other than Detective Soap – straight out of the comics – about the events that lead up to his arrest. Castle tells his story, and here is where your main vehicle for gameplay kicks in. You actually play through the events that Castle is describing to the 5-0.

The story leads Castle from taking out a crackhouse to get some information, to taking out the Gnucci Family – again, straight out of the comics – to an even bigger criminal/terrorist threat.

Simple and effective storyline and nothing too complicated. It’s easy for me to get behind this kind of storyline not only because I’m a Punisher fan, but also because it FITS his character. Cause and effect. The criminals cause trouble, and Frank Castle effectively kills them.

This game also gains some personal points with me for using elements and side-characters straight out of the comic books. It’s really little touches like that, that make me believe there was actual research that went into this, and that the developers weren’t just thrown into making a Punisher game.

[Rating: 8/10]



GRAPHICS

While the detail put into the enemies is kind of on the bland side, the detail on Castle is simply amazing. We’re talking Leon from RE4 level of detail here, in my opinion.


The environments are nice and gloomy and are detailed nicely, as well. There are also some interactive elements for the Punisher to use to his advantage from the standard exploding barrels to several interactive “interrogation kills” – the drill press being my favourite.

My only gripe with the graphics is actually during cut-scenes. The camera is a little jerky, as are the characters movements. Kind of annoying and takes away from the flow of those scenes, but not so much that you’d want to return the game or anything. Unless you’re a headcase, or something..

[Rating: 7/10]



SOUND

What’s gratuitous violence without a little gratuitous swearing? There’s tons of it in this game. Doesn’t do much aside from make the scenario seem a little more realistic. I think that if I were in Castle’s state of mind, I’d be using my roster of expletives quite liberally when dealing with the scum of the earth.

Seroiusly, though.. the voice acting in this title is some of the best I’ve scene in a while. Thomas Jane lends his voice as that of Frank Castle/The Punisher. Now, even though the movie wasn’t that great, I have to say that Jane does a great job of getting into the Punisher “mindset” for this role. He’s very cynical, jaded, broody, call it
what you want, he’s definitely got his work cut out for him with this role.

Aside from Jane, the rest of the voice-actors do a great job as well. Especially those whose screams of agony can be heard whenever you execute a particulary brutal interrogation kill. Good stuff, indeed.

The music isn’t anything to write home about. It’s the standard instrumental nu-metal fare, lots of orchestra-based music, plus the occaisional level-themed music thrown in there for kicks.

[Rating: 8/10]



GAMEPLAY

Normally I hate the sort of controls that are present in the Punisher. The whole one-stick for walking and one-stick for aiming your weapon thing really doesn’t mesh with me. It just makes me feel like I have TOO much control over things, which in turn makes me just go in and shoot the shit out of anything in my way without any rhyme or reason. Or maybe I just have bad coordiation?

Anyway, the Punisher uses this scheme very effectively. Perhaps it’s because the right-analog [used for aiming] isn’t as sensitive as say Hitman or Splinter Cell. I found it much easier to control where the cross-hairs were going in the Punisher.

Aside from walking and aiming, you’re also given ample other actions to perform.

The ability to dive out of the way of oncoming fire AND shoot back at the same time is a nice touch, as is the ability to use this feature as a jump of sorts. The standard crouch is also in there as well, though there’s no stealth associated with it. You can also zoom in from over the Punisher’s shoulder for those kills that require a more refined touch at aiming.

You’re also given a cool little feature where you can instant-kill an enemy once you close in on him. Very handy in situations where you’re both cornered and out-numbered. This feature also has SEVERAL variations that can also be interactive with specific aspects of the environment.


Another feature – dubbed ‘Slaughter Mode’ – is activated with the press of a button. The action turns slow-mo and black & white. Castle is then given the ability to mow through a series of enemies with his trustly hunting knives. The mode stays active the more the bodies pile up, but actually shortens with the more damage you take. A very cool aspect to gameplay, regardless.

The real meat of the action is in ‘Interrogation Mode’. Disarm an enemy, or simply run up to him, and grab him. From there you can either use him as a shield or interrogate him. The standard interrogations are as simple as beating the crap out of your hostage.. but otherwise you can also use weapons and environments to carry out some pretty brutal death sentences. Some of the more gore-filled scenes are given a black and white treatment, which I hear was an order handed down from the ESRB themselves. It doesn’t take away from the fun… much.

A single gripe – the camera is damn fickle. It gets very tough to control in sticky situations and doesn’t necessarily stay where you want it to stay. A small price to pay, however.

[Rating: 7.5/10]



BALANCE

It all depends on the difficulty. Easy. Normal. Hard. Obviously those three explain themselves.

Most of my time was spent on Normal, and even then the action was particularly intense. Enemies will chase you. Open doors to get at you. Fire at you from around corners or behind boxes, and then duck back behind them to reload their weapons. Or they’ll simply just come at you kamikaze style in an attempt to take you out. Either way, the AI is pretty competent.

That doesn’t mean that taking them out easily is impossible. If you can master the head-shot, you’ll be going through these chumps like cheap hooker through her daily coke fix.

[Rating: 7/10]



REPLAYBILITY

Unfortunately, unless you’re REALLY into the executions, there isn’t really much reason to come back to the game once you’ve gone through it, other than to complete it on various difficulty levels. The levels don’t change, nor does enemy placement, etc.


You can go back into previously completed levels to get a higher scoring, which in turn unlocks extras, as well as “challenge modes” which involve completeing a task specific to each level.

No, unfortunately, once you run through this game once, there isn’t much to see a second time around unless you’re just looking for some more crazy action.

[Rating: 5/10]



ORIGINIALITY

Really, now, what third-person shooter IS original nowadays? The Punisher scores points for it’s awesome executions/interrogation kills. It also scores points for being the first GOOD video game that Frank Castle has been involved in.

[Rating: 5/10]



ADDICTIVENESS

The first time through? Definitely. I couldn’t put the controller down. “One more level, then I’ll go to bed.”

The game definitely pulls you in and makes you want to run straight through from start to finish in one sitting.

But after you’re done that, much like the replayability, it loses points for being a bit repetative. But hey, it’s not like the gameworld is the size of San Andreas, or anything. No biggie.

[Rating: 6/10]



APPEAL

Anyone who is a fan of the Punisher will probably love this game. Hell, it even has the Russian!

I’d have to say that if you’re a fan of this genre, then you should definitely give this game a go. It offers a lot of the same experience that every other game in the genre as well, but it also puts its own twist on a lot of aspects that are sure to add some freshness to your gaming experience.

[Rating: 7.5/10]



MICELLANEOUS

TONS of unlockables in this game. Concept art, cheats, covers from past issues of the Punisher, videos/trailers and even a cool in-game feature that unlocks comicbook art everytime an enemy utters a sentence that reminds Castle of his past. Very cool features, indeed.


I didn’t think that this fit under any other category, but it deserves mentioning. Castles outfits change as the game progresses. At one point, he dawns a very cool looking garb that consits of “punisher skull” facepaint.

[Rating: 8/10]



RATINGS:

STORY: 8
GRAPHICS: 7
SOUND: 8
GAMEPLAY: 7.5
BALANCE: 7
REPLAYBILITY: 5
ORIGINIALITY: 5
ADDICTIVENESS: 6
APPEAL: 7.5
MICELLANEOUS: 8

OVERALL SCORE: 69/100
FINAL SCORE: 7.0/10 (GOOD)