The Punisher Game Preview

Frank Castle comes to the PS2 and Xbox with plenty of wood-chipping, gun-slinging fun.
For many people, Marvel Comics' The Punisher is a landmark in their limited to gargantuan comic book collection. For others, the character represents the most ruthless anti-hero ever to grace literature and the big-screen. Now, after a slew of different variations on the story and two feature films, Frank Castle is making yet another crossover to the world of interactive entertainment in THQ and Volition's The Punisher.

Loosely based on the Garth Ennis comics (much like the recent blockbuster), The Punisher puts players in the shoes of the dark "hero" himself and arms them with an array of guns, knives, interrogation methods, and a bad attitude. Quick side-note, Garth Ennis and Jimmy Palmiotti are helping with the development of the title, with Ennis writing the game's all-new and original storyline with Palmiotti leading up the project's art direction. Sounds like a winner to me, and it plays like one, too.

The demo level started outside a zoo, where we came face to face with a few measly thugs. After dispatching two of the bastards with Castle's trademark .45s, the poor curr left standing quickly dropped his weapons and threw his hands in the air. This is where the fun really begins. As you grab the enemy, you are given 2 options: release him or "Interrogate."

Although the sheer brutality used in the melee interrogations is great to watch (such as slamming the thug's face into the concrete until he talks and then continuing until he's dead), you can carry the guy over to a conveniently located wood chipper, which causes a third option to appear: "Special Interrogation". You can control the intensity of the interrogation by adjusting the analog controls up or down. For example, the harder you push up, the closer the scum sucker slides to his demise, while pulling back on the analog stick eases off. Anyway, after I got the random tidbits of information I needed, I shoved the bastard in and I'm pleased to say that I've never seen a more graphic bloodbath in a videogame. Of course, that all changed when I figured out that the interrogations didn't end there. Hell, you can even hold one jerk over a piranha tank, stick his head in, and pull it out, only to come face to face with the punk's skull stripped of all flesh, save for the meat strips that loosely dangle about.

As for the core gameplay of the game itself, The Punisher's controls are very solid, which is a good sign for a game this early in development. Best compared to games like Max Payne or The Suffering, The Punisher uses both analog sticks in conjunction to move and aim. There's not much emphasis on stealth, which is a good thing if your a fan of the comics, for others looking for another run-of-the-mill "action experience", you'd be happier looking somewhere along the lines of Hitman 2: Silent Assassin or the Splinter Cell games. This game puts the emphasis on combat, pure and simple. However, don't think you can just run n' gun through the game, because unlike most comic book heroes, Frank Castle is just a man (which is why he's such an appealing character to most of us). Ducking for cover is the name of the game, and it doesn't get repetitive either, because of the variety of different ways to dispatch your foes. Shooting is always nice, but firing off some rounds and then shoving a nearby meat cleaver into some poor bastard's face in the midst of the chaos is so damn satisfying.

As with most action games of its caliber, though, The Punisher suffers from what I've come to call BTS, or Bullet-Time Syndrome. Sad as it may seem, Volition must have felt the need to make a perfectly great game into something it should never be: a mainstream cash crop. Then again, with video gaming being a business, there's not much room for us purists in high society. However, negatively as though I may feel toward this endeavor, the bullet-time-esque mode in the game DOES serve a purpose, unlike those "other" jokers. In fact, it feels so natural that I probably shouldn't complain at all. After activating the slowdown mode (or whatever the hell they're calling it) it becomes easier to lock onto multiple targets and let loose with a firestorm of death by hot lead, and it's usually over before you know it.

All in all, it's safe to say that Volition's got a title with Triple-A written all over it. Stay tuned for more information on this spectacular-looking title in the coming months leading up to its early 2005 release date.
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UGO - John Pippin