"Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next" ok, so that's a quote from Gladiator, but The Punisher's Frank Castle is in pretty much the same situation. Surviving the bloody massacre of his loved ones, Frank has come back to reap vengeance on the scum who forced him into this life, and to punish those who seek to ruin the lives of others. If throwing a bad guy or two into a woodchipper on the way is the only way to fulfill this destiny then so be it.
The Punisher offers up a good slice of variety. There are many things throughout to keep you occupied, the most notable being the often violent interrogation sequences. These events can be easily triggered by grabbing a nearby enemy and tapping a single button. There are four choices of interrogation type: Face Smash, Choke, Punch, and Gun Tension. All of these are great but the real treat lies in the 'special interrogations'. These are marked throughout the game's world by white splashes on the ground. Enemies that hold information will be marked with a white skull above their head. Grab said enemy and drag him to said spot for a gruesome and sadistic action scene. Nothing beats laying a guy down on a table saw, inching ever so closely to his manhood while he squirms and pleads for mercy. Eventually the subject will break down and tell you everything he knows, then you can choose to keep him around for use as a human shield or you can plow the blade into his nether regions; not a comforting image. The result of the latter is a gruesome display of blood and guts. The screen goes shifts into a ShellShock Nam '67 styled filter and focuses on the Punisher's face; so you don't actually see the gruesome death, yet you may still ask yourself, "Should I be watching this?"
Along with these special interrogations, there are some 'special death' splashes around as well. These are marked by an orange area on the map and they usually involve some main character that the Punisher has been after. The death scenes are just as gruesome as most of the special interrogations as you generally get to see the whole thing. Some of the more memorable ones include throwing bad guys out of fifth storey windows, as well as smashing 'the Russian' head first, into a television set. Another notable feature is "slaughter mode," which is similar to Max Payne's "bullet time." While in slaughter mode, the environment around Castle slows to a sluggish pace and your health slowly refills while enemies can effortlessly be dispatched. While this feature is nifty looking, there is not much use for it except to replenish your health. There are a few boss fights that help keep the action fresh as well, and some special objectives like smashing a freight boat with a giant crane; other than that it's all your typical third-person shoot 'em up fare.
To boost the replay value there have been plenty of extras installed in Punisher. Each level will unlock new guns, newspaper clippings, and comic book storyboards for your enjoyment. The most interesting of the unlockables is the 'challenge mode' which lets you replay a level with a specific goal and a time limit in place. The challenges are usually something like completing all the special interrogations in the level within the set time. This adds to the experience and gives you a reason to come back for seconds.
Graphically it does well, it's not the best looking game ever, but it gets the job done. The best visual aspect of this game has to be the Punisher's character model, it is fantastic. The Punisher looks menacing, extremely buff, and carries his classic angry face with him the entire game, similar to that of which you would find in Max Payne. Different levels will provide different garbs for our vigilante hero; you will get everything from the white t-shirt with a trench coat, to Frank's trademark skull face paint. The levels look good as well. There is plenty of variety and it never feels as though you've been to the same place twice. Within the levels there are plenty of things to catch your eye; the occasional building on fire or the random junkie on the street. The diversity helps to keep your eyes glued to the set, but again, there is nothing 'jaw-dropping' to gawk at here.
Coupled along with the respectable graphics is some fine sound. The voice acting, with the exception of a few random characters, is pretty good. The Punisher sounds just as tortured and angry as you would expect him to, and bad guys speak with their cliched accent of choice, which while old and rehashed, seemed fitting. Everything else you expect is present, powerful explosions and good gun effects, along with some dismal background music. Again, nothing really stands out here, the sound is good, but your ears will not be astounded.
The Punisher is, without a doubt, a guilty pleasure. The gruesome effects of enemies being interrogated actually made it difficult to play sometimes. Violent video games are okay but The Punisher takes it to the level of 'Manhunt' type violence. If you are squeamish at all steer clear of this game completely, otherwise you may find yourself smiling with glee as you lower a drill bit into some unlucky punk's temple.