There was a time when good licensed games were rarely released. If you ever saw a Superman game or a Batman game chances are that buying it would end in disappointment. In the mid 2000’s things began to look better for games based on superheroes and Volition Studios’ The Punisher was one of the first. You might know Volition Studios from Saints Row and Red Faction, so their name does have some heft to it. Volition did not make this Marvel title a throwaway one. They brought everything they had to it for the time and knocked this license game out of the park. It was a good time to be a Punisher fan in 2004.
The game takes place in the Marvel Universe with some nods to the film that came out a few years prior. Thomas Jane reprises his role one last time as the voice of Frank Castle, which adds a nice touch to the game, even if Frank looks nothing like Thomas. The story follows the greatest Punisher storyline in my opinion, Welcome Back Frank. Garth Ennis who penned the story also helped write the game, which is what made it so violent and perfect. You begin your tale in Ryker’s prison telling your tale to Molly Van Richtofen and Martin Soap, who plays a big part in the movie The Punisher: War Zone. Each chapter is broken up with cut scenes from the prison and from your hideout where you spend money and upgrade your weapons, health, armor and the like. Personally I loved playing through a storyline that was actually in the comic book; I’ve been reading comic books since I was eight years old and finally getting to live through one was a blast, both figuratively and realistically.
This game did come out in 2004 though and its age is especially visible in the controls department. The developers chose good button placement overall but but the shooting mechanics were not done very well. No Punisher story is without its weapons, and when you see one on the ground you can press Circle to pick it up. You can carry a few weapons and the D-pad is the way to switch to the most optimal killing machine. R1 fires your weapons and R3 activates your iron sights. This is where I got messed up some just from being used to modern shooters. Once you get acclimated to controlling Frank you’ll be mowing down scum in no time. When you find yourself low on ammo simply press X and Frank takes care of the rest for you. Obviously some of these bottom feeders will shoot back at you so you can crouch but you have to hold down L2 to stay down. This was incredibly annoying. Being able to toggle crouch would have been much better and made for a much more enjoyable experience. As you slaughter these lawbreakers you’ll build up your Slaughter meter. Once it’s full you can hit Triangle to enter Slaughter Mode. This mode not only lets you kill criminals even more easily but it also builds your health back up should you be close to death. Back in the day it was very unusual to have the ability to duel-weld. However in The Punisher not only could you do it, but you could also do it with two pump action shotguns. Cut a drug dealer in half easy with this combo!
The interrogations are some of the best parts of this game. If you want to grab a degenerate you just hit X. If he has an icon above his head he has information for your mission so you can interrogate him by pressing X again. Since most criminals are useless and you don’t feel like letting him go you can just press Square for a quick kill and get that garbage off the street. To interrogate you must keep the prep stressed with the left analog stick until he finally breaks and spills the beans. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you get it down everyone will be telling you their life story in no time at all. In most of the interrogations you can punch them, squeeze their head, point a gun at them and that’s just the beginning. However hidden around the level are special interrogation and kill areas; you can find them because they have a glowing skull above them. Finding these and successfully pulling them off in level not only gives you a nice feeling of satisfaction, it ups your score/money which helps with upgrades in between levels.
The Punisher is 13 years old and its age is very evident in many different areas but the graphics especially reflect the age. Volition still did a great job in developing this Punisher experience though. They kept the feel of the comic book as they crafted both the characters and the world. Frank Castle actually LOOKS like Frank Castle from the comic book. They didn’t just scan Thomas Jane into the game. They kept the look proper. Thomas Jane did voice this version of the Punisher and he did a great job as it. The proper tone of his gruff and sinister attitude are portrayed very well and yet the sadness at the life he was robbed of boils to the surface with just as much ease. The funniest part of the game are the random voice overs you hear when you kick a door in and start blasting. Drugged out criminals utter their last words and are usually so funny and random you can’t help but stop and giggle for a second. Volition also made New York a seedy, dangerous city for Castle to clean up. I know I wouldn’t want to take a vacation in this world unless he was patrolling the streets. The alleys are dark and dingy, the crack houses are dilapidated and in definite need of a fixer-upper.
This is a great game. It makes me wish that Agents of Mayhem wasn’t the next release for Volition Studios. I’d much rather play another great Punisher title. It has everything a comic book fan wants: to be able to play a grizzly Punisher storyline written by Garth Ennis. And it has everything an action fan wants: over the top kills, upgradeable guns and special areas for better kills and torture. Thankfully during this era we still have the Arkham games, but the only licensed comic book game on the horizon is The Avengers game that we know very little about from Square-Enix, Spider-Man from Insomniac and the recent release of Injustice 2. Three isn’t too many, and considering the wealth of characters that are out there and the amazing story-lines to be culled from, I don’t see why we don’t have more amazing comic book video games. Here’s hoping that we get more in the future! For now you can always go back and have a great time with The Punisher from Volition Studios–I know I did.