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Game Review

“My whole family died in a mob hit. I should have died, too. But I lived. I finally figured out why: The ones who killed my family, they’ve given me a reason to live. I’m back. And it’s their turn to die. Every muzzle flash means one more monster gone. There’s nothing to help you when the darkness falls. Now it’s my turn.”

Those words from Frank Castle, aka The Punisher, usher us into his world of wrath. It’s judgment day for thugs who confront the man whose broad chest bears a smirking skull—the last thing they’ll ever see.

Though The Punisher made his video game entrée recently, he's been taking out criminals since 1974, when Frank Castle and his doomed family made their first appearance in issue #129 of Marvel Comics' Amazing Spider-Man. In 2004, Castle's story was adapted for the big screen, from which this game draws visual inspiration.

The Angel of Death
The Punisher's crusade begins against low-level lackeys in places like the Chop Shop and Lucky's Bar. But Castle quickly moves on to his real targets, the mob family known as the Gnuccis and the Russian mafia.

Armed with an impressive arsenal, The Punisher wades into New York City's underbelly as an angel of death. Many violent video games litter the ground with corpses, and in that regard The Punisher is no different. Step up to a Russian mafioso with a shotgun and you can blow off his arm, leg or head (though you can turn off the gore if you want to). When normal firepower isn't sufficient, The Punisher can shift into "Slaughter Mode," briefly hurling an unlimited supply of knives against opponents.

What sets The Punisher apart from its comrades is its emphasis on interrogation. To obtain the info he needs to progress, The Punisher utilizes torture to "persuade" bad guys to cough up secrets. Four basic interrogation modes include choking, face smashing, punching and threatening to shoot someone. The goal is to beat an enemy enough to make him sing without killing him. In addition to squeezing out much-needed information, torture elevates The Punisher's health points, too.

If the basics don't get the job done, you can turn to "special" interrogations. Assorted industrial implements and environmental hazards—more than 100—become tools for "punishing" crime. A drill press, an acid bath, a forklift, an airplane propeller, piranhas and sharks all play supporting roles in helping certain hooligans understand their place in the food chain.

The Punisher glorifies death other ways as well. It encourages you to take "human shields," holding enemies captive so that they take incoming gunfire. Special kills—cinematic scenes portraying the demise of particularly nasty dudes—come courtesy of a wood chipper, an incinerator and electric eels.

Stir in non-stop profanity (including frequent s- and f-words), a level full of crack-heads ("Man, I'm so high I'm seein' big dudes in trenchcoats") and a storyline that includes Russian mafia forcing women into prostitution (whom The Punisher liberates, to his credit), and you've got a foul stew indeed.

Now Serving Revenge
Revenge, it has been said, is best served cold. But if The Punisher is any indication, it's a steaming meal our culture loves to consume. Just like the heroes in Lethal Weapon and Die Hard, Frank Castle's rage is supposedly justifiable. The punishment he metes out is allegedly proportional to his targets' wickedness. Police questioning Castle's vigilantism are depicted as dolts who don't understand the mean streets of the urban underworld—a place where only The Punisher has the will to establish his version of justice.

The game's exaltation of vigilante justice is bad enough. But the way The Punisher celebrates sadism is astonishing. This game doesn't just invite you to participate in bloodshed, it incites you to enjoy torturing your victims, revving up gruesome curiosity in the minds of its players. Will we see the drill press penetrate a squirming man's skull? (No.) Will we see a gangster's face after piranhas have gnawed on it? (Yes.) And because the game requires abusing criminals to within an inch of their lives to increase Castle's health, it turns him into a sick kind of life-force vampire to boot.

While Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has gotten more attention, this M-rated bloodfest offers to take us places even that infamous game doesn't.

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Xbox, PlayStation 2, PC




On Video

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Adam R. Holz Kevin Simpson

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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