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Games time forgot: The Punisher (3rd person shooter)

6:31 PM on 09.02.2008 // Anthony Burch

Last week, I highlighted the 2D beatemup. This week, due to the few comments asking about it and my own laziness, I'll talk about the more recent 3rd-person shooter.

Though Manhunt 2 immediately comes to mind when phrases like "censored kills" and "brutal torture sequences" are thrown around, don't forget that Frank Castle, aka The Punisher, was doing the same stuff more than a year earlier than Rockstar's abysmal stealth-horror game.

Censored upon initial release due to its hilariously violent interrogation minigames, The Punisher remains a somewhat unplayed Max Payne ripoff, deriving most of its entertainment value from the sheer violence Frank Castle inflicts on his victims. It's not that bad, surprisingly -- it's only worth playing for maybe an hour, and is essentially worthless to anyone looking for deep gameplay or a meaningful play experience, but it's got stupidly graphic violence (as you can see from the above video) and goofy, grindhouse gameplay.

Hit the jump to read more about the game, and see a few more videos of those unfairly entertaining death sequences.

Story:

The story is essentially a tweaked, less-good version of Garth Ennis's Welcome Back Frank, perhaps the best Punisher miniseries ever written. Though the game lacks the presence of Daredevil and Mr. Bumpo, most of the other main characters (Joan, Spacker Dave, Ma Gnucci, The Russian, Molly and Soap) appear in reasonably similar situations as those depicted in Welcome Back Frank.

If the 2D brawler was an interesting piece of evidence from the naive "any hero who kills bad guys is super awesome and the Punisher kills bad guys without making it too bloody so he's super awesome" 90's, then the 3rd-person shooter Punisher delivers on the nihilistic, gorehound, "anti-hero" badassery which seems to be all the rage these days.

This is a Frank Castle more similar to the one portrayed in the comics, but at certain moments the guy almost becomes a parody of himself. Voiced by Thomas Jane (from the almost-good film adaptation), Frank spouts so many forced, "hard-bitten" one-liners that the game involuntarily becomes a critique of himself. The Punisher, as a character, is always most interesting when his morals are taken to their natural conclusion: like in The End, Civil War, or the darker moments of Welcome Back Frank, Frank Castle is a man incapable of remorse who kills and tortures criminals not to make the world a better place, but simply because he hates them.

So, when the player shoves an unarmed car thief (who has not killed anyone) into a belt sander face-first, then mutters "He was a good worker...kept his nose to the grindstone", one can't help but be taken aback, a little. It's consistent with the Punisher's views, and the game inefficiently tries to convince the player that all the people Castle kills "deserve" death, but Christ -- Frank Castle is a sadistic son of a bitch and, for better or for worse, that comes out in the gameplay and the goofy-ass one-liners.

 

Gameplay:

Take Max Payne and Total Overdose, take away the good hit detection and bullet time and add a "quick kill" system and the ability to kick open doors and interrogate people, and that's The Punisher. Oh, and bullet entry wounds. Can't forget those.

You can run up to people and, with a single button press, jam a knife downward into the top of their skull. By grabbing an enemy and punching him enough times to keep his stress bar within a small red zone for three seconds, you can force him to give up information. If you want to take advantage of the special interrogations and kills -- and there's really no reason why you wouldn't -- you can use aspects of the environment to dispatch your foes.

The game also has a scoring system and, oddly, it actually deducts points if you kill the person you're interrogating even after you've gotten information out of them. It's almost as if whomever programmed the score system didn't understand Frank Castle's philosophy: he'll torture you and say he'll let you go, yeah, but he's going to kill you no matter what. That's his job. The skull on his chest isn't just for show, you know.

The game has just enough interesting things like the quick kills, torture sequences, and optional flashbacks  to make it fun for a few hours, but repetition and horrible 3rd-person shooter cliches (a jungle level, a sniping sequence on a ski lift, the most horrendously designed final boss I've ever played) make the game pretty much pointless after you've gotten used to the standard combat mechanics.

Oh, I forgot to mention the optional flashbacks: they're essentially meaningless, but pretty damn cool. If you interrogate a guy you don't need to interrogate, he may shout something like "there's an ambush ahead!" The word "ambush" will echo over and over in Frank's head, and the entire screen will fill with a huge panel taken from a real Punisher comic -- in this case, Frank bloody and wounded in Vietnam, the bodies of his enemies and comrades surrounding him. I noticed at least one panel from The End and a few others I couldn't place, but yeah -- the optional flashbacks add a neat little layer of fan service into the interrogation gameplay.

 

Why you're probably not playing it:

Well, the initial release had all the torture kills censored: the screen would go blurry and grainy and black and white and, though you got to see the aftermath and likely had a general understanding of what happened, the actual fruits of your violent labors were denied you. Upon hearing this, some of this game's target demographic ignored it, waiting for a gore patch.

Thankfully, there are now an assload of gore patches. You have to get them from some...disreputable sites where one might download NOT games and NOT movies, but they work. You can play The Punisher the way it's meant to be played, which is more than one can say for Manhunt 2.

That said, don't bother playing it for very long, and don't spend too much money on it: it's entertaining just for the gore value and the Seagal one-liners, but the actual game itself gets really repetitive and derivative (repederivative) after the first few missions.




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