Frank Castle has not had an easy life. He fought in ‘Nam, and his reward upon returning home was the death of his wife and children at the hands of the mob. On that fateful day in Central Park, Frank lost everything. He had nothing left to lose and everything to gain. From that day on, he became the one man war on crime that haunts the criminal underworld of New York City. Frank Castle became the Punisher, a character that can stand among heroes like Daredevil and Black Panther as everyone’s favorite B-list heroes.
All jokes aside, the Punisher was actually quite popular in the gritty comic book scene of the 90s. Yet despite the massive amounts of publications Frank had going on, he never really got a game to call his own. Sure, there was an admittedly fantastic beat ’em up, but he had to share that with Nick Fury and it was hampered by a serious lack of assault weapons. No, the real game that captured the spirit of the trigger happy antihero was Volition’s 6th generation 3rd person shooter simply titled The Punisher.
The Punisher is somewhat of a strange game, because it’s honestly just kind of a middle of the road shooter. If you stripped it down to its bare mechanics and had a blank avatar shooting blank enemies, you probably wouldn’t have much fun. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, but combat lacks the impact or cinematic flair of titles like Max Payne 2, which it obviously took much of its inspiration from. You can run around, shoot people, and take human shields. Nothing too special there.
But still, there’s something completely different that makes me love this game, and that’s the way that it captures the feel of Frank Castle and his comics so perfectly. The main way the game pulls this off is with an interrogation system that can get more than a little graphic most of the time. Once you grab an enemy, you can interrogate them by moving the stick into a sensitive “sweet spot” long enough until they crack under pressure. Interrogations usually reveal information on weapons, mission info, or simply just get them to beg for their life. But anyone can point a gun at a criminal’s head until he squeals or press a knife against throats until they get what they want. Frank Castle isn’t just anyone.
Windows. Sanders. Jet engines. You can drag enemies over to all sorts of specially marked objects to begin special interrogations. Of course, this being the Marvel universe, you can get even crazier than that. Frank can hold a mobster in front of a charging rhino until he spills the beans, or simply just get dangerously close with a laser at Stark Tower. Of course, once an interrogation is complete, you can simply finish an enemy off. The executions were censored with a terrible black and white filter to avoid the dreaded Adults Only rating, but there are still ways to find the complete scenes. Sure, executing enemies once they’ve already confessed makes you lose points, but you do gain some amazing scenes instead.
Another thing The Punisher has going for it is its shared universe. Sure, you get your average slew of Punisher baddies like Kingpin, Jigsaw, and Russian, but so many more characters from the Marvel universe show up. Nick Fury, Black Widow, and Matthew Murdock stop in for the story, and as mentioned earlier, one of the game’s later levels takes place in Stark Tower, complete with suits of Iron Man armor.
The Punisher may not be the greatest shooter on the Playstation 2. It may not even be the greatest comic book game on the console either, with the stiff competition of Spiderman 2. But the game is just jam-packed with so much love and respect for the comics that I just can’t ignore it. They even got Thomas Jane back to reprise his role as the the Punisher himself, salvaging literally the only good thing from that entire movie. So while many have given The Punisher a pass, I sincerely recommend those interested in Marvel to check it out, because behind the forgettable gameplay is a real love letter to the fans.