The Punisher

The Punisher

Chris Baker

“None” or “high.” These are your options for the gore level in THQ’s sermon on brutality The Punisher. Regardless of the option selected, you’re still playing one of the most violent titles on the market. In other words, it’s exactly the sort of visceral, no-holds-barred experience you’d want out of a Punisher game.

At first glance, you might think you’re playing Rockstar’s Max Payne 3, as your gruff-voiced, trench-coat-wearing Marvel Comics vigilante shoots the hell out of anyone who crosses his path. But then it hits you: Isn’t Max Payne just a wannabe Frank Castle anyway?

You really can’t expect the game to be much of anything else than what it is, but at least interrogations—where the hardcore violence really comes into play—build effectively upon Payne’s run-and-gun mechanic. Nothing helps Castle’s health more than causing thugs to squeal with the likes of a good choke hold or gun to the head. At numerous designated spots, he might creatively play Fargo with a wood chipper or perhaps lower a foe’s head toward a piranha pool. Once he gets the info, your sadistic mind chooses what happens next. THQ flirted with an AO (Adults Only) rating from the ESRB for this game, and it shows in every blood-drenching, gore-filled moment.

Shock value only takes the game so far, though. What really keeps you playing to the end is Punisher scribe Garth Ennis’ excellent script. As gritty as it is funny, it easily ranks among the best comic-game stories ever. Ennis flawlessly includes several Punisher nemeses (the Gnuccis, Kingpin, Bullseye, the Russian, and more) and friends (Matt Murdock, Nick Fury, Iron Man, etc.) in ways that never seem like a forced cameos. He turns an otherwise typical, if excessively over-the-top third-person shooter into a must play for any Marvel Comics fan.

07 Out of ten

PUBLISHER: THQ // DEVELOPER: Volition // PLAYERS: 1 // LIVE: NO // MSRP: $49.99 // ESRB: M

Copyright © 2005 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Xbox Nation.