Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
The Punisher is probably one of the coolest characters created by Marvel comics. A pure, natural human pretty much born and made for combat, being a part of the military special forces and whatnot for some time in his life. What's uncool though, is movie licensed games. Most movie licensed games are utterly crap (it's true, look at the most recent Spider-Man 3 on the next-gen consoles). The Punisher however, despite being a game coming onto being three years old now, is not actually that bad.
Players take on the role of the anti-hero vigilante Frank Castle, who's entire family was massacred in a mob hit and he was left as their lone survive. After his recovery and preparation, Frank Castle donned the alias "The Punisher" and put his military training and experience to further use and destroyed the Saints mob family, avenging his family and becoming a very controversial crime fighter. The game's storyline kicks off with Frank being very well known in the criminal underworld as "The Punisher", and he's been arrested by the police. Now in prison, players will go through the game level by level as Frank retells his story to two police officers interrogating him.
The game's control scheme is easy to grasp. Players move around with the left analog stick, and look around with the right. Players fire with R1, and can perform actions with square and triangle. The Punisher can also bust out Max Payne-esque jumps, dives and rolls to evade incoming gunfire. He even has a "slaughter mode", where the screen turns black and white (except for himself and enemies) and he runs at an insane speed, slaughtering his enemies with a seemingly endless amount of knives.
The action can get extremely difficult at times, where the Punisher will be surrounded by a lot of gunfire and things will just get pretty damn hectic. But luckily for you, you're able to defend yourself with more than just the R1 button. Should an unfortunate enemy fall close to you, you can grab them and use them as a human shield, and then kill them straight afterwards. Or, you can use the "quick kill" feature, by using a melee attack of some kind or a point blank bullet to the head, instantly killing your enemies. Some of the instant kill animations are really cool, but at times this can make the game a bit too easy.
Throughout each level the player can score points by killing enemies and just doing cool things. At the end of each level, the player is further rewarded with points, which they can use to buy special upgrades for the Punisher. Longer slaughter mode time, more health, more ammunition, grenades etc. What's unfortunate though regarding points, is earning them through the interrogation system.
When you grab an enemy, you can interrogate them on the spot in various manners. Sticking a gun to the guy's face, punching him, choking him, or even bashing his face into the ground. Sometimes, you'll get special interrogation locations, like slamming a door on someone's head repeatedly, to throwing them in a giant furnace, the list goes on (there is some VERY gruesome stuff). Anyway, about interrogation.. If you push too hard, you might kill your enemy and get no information, but once they spill it should be okay to kill them, I mean you're the Punisher, right? Wrong. Should you kill them while in the.. let's call it "interrogation mode" - you actually lose points. But, if you release the enemy and grab them normally like a shield, and THEN kill them, you earn points. It makes no sense? It's honestly stupid. They're going to die anyway and yet by losing points by killing in special interrogations, it's as if there is no point killing people once they've spilled. It's just an annoying, and confusing aspect of the game.
Let's move on. The game's levels take the form of missions, having various areas and whatnot and being divided by checkpoints and loading times. It's unfortunate though that the levels are very linear, and just have Frank going from point A to point B, shooting anyone he deems a threat. The graphics aren't too bad, but they can get quite poor in the outside environments. At the end of each area there is generally a boss fight of some kind, which aren't too thrilling or inspiring. It's just an insanely tough enemy that runs around in the same circuit, or an enemy who has to be killed in a special, repetitious manner.
The graphics itself is alright, but it tends to vary. The Punisher player model looks pretty sweet, especially his really mean, gritty face, and some of his animations are really cool (except for his regular running, it looks really.. er, not tough). The enemies also tend to vary, generic thugs and whatnot, while the same models are used don't look too bad, but when you start facing off against tougher enemies clad in body armor suits and whatnot, they begin to look a little dodgy.
The game itself is about ten to twelve hours in length, with various difficulty modes, unlockables and "medals" to collect. The problem is, due to how the game's levels are designed, how the AI works, and the somewhat dodgy interrogations, would you really want to replay through this game? The game is not bad, but unfortunately it just offers little to no replayability.
So overall, The Punisher video game isn't bad, but it's not great. It's worth a rental or even purchasing now that it's a pretty cheap game on the PS2 (and PC, especially PC). There is much room for improvement: the levels could of been bigger with more freedom, boss battles could be more interesting, animation needs work, graphics should be kicked up a notch, and more actions should be available (jumping over rails, tables etc).
So the next Punisher movie, "The Punisher: Warzone" is in the works apparently. It's inevitable they're going to make a game out of it, so fingers crossed that they'll improve on this. They're looking in the right direction but, are they walking down this said right direction? We'll find out.