Marvel Characters are getting more and more games recently and along with this more films. The Punisher was released as a film but trashed by the critics so rather than create a bad game from a bad movie, THQ decided that the comic was a better platform to begin with and thus the game was born. Coming from Volition of Red Faction fame, you knew that explosions were going to be part of the deal. The Punisher on Xbox was quite a moderate game but surprisingly the PS2 version appears to be the superior one with more fluid movement and just plain feels like the console it should be played on.
The game features three branching storylines, and one overall storyline. The overall storyline is made from the one which pushes the comic along each month and that is The Punisher is out to avenge those who killed his family, whatever it takes. Punisher plays out retrospectively. Castle is sitting in a police station being interrogated, recalling the past 48 hours and as you progressively play through what he divulges, you become closer to catching up to real time and the end mission. The storylines revolve around avenging your family, stopping a nuclear submarine and one more task which will remain nameless as it would give away the ending. The storyline is quite weak overall but it is kind of interesting that all three storylines do end up intertwined by the end. However fans of the comic will relate to the game quite well considering the actual author of the comic book penned it.
Castle is controlled in a third person format and he reminds us very much of a certain character named Payne, but on steroids. Your aim in each mission is to progressively get closer and closer to the boss of the level and take them down before moving on. However during this time you have to use the special features of the Punisher well or end up at a major disadvantage. All enemies can be punished in one way or another via punching or slamming their face, but there are context punishments as well such as dangling a man over the side of the building. Going all the way with a punishment loses points, and these points are used to buy new weapons etc so it's not an idea to do this.
The problem with the game is that it never really strays from this gameplay. There is no puzzle solving at all and towards the end of the game it can become repetitive. There are a few things that do keep the game going; the three missions of the game, the different environments which offer different challenges and abilities and a secret that the developers have included. There is also an extremely hilarious Half-Life spoof towards the end of the game, quite funny really - perhaps the most violent Marvel game ever made, making fun of the best FPS ever made. The Punishments also keep the game going, and change each level but really are more of a gimmick than something which makes you want to keep playing. They don't seem as fleshed out as they could have been but the varying levels of 'break' bar (break is when the character spills their guts to you) does add a challenge as some characters are intensely hard to break down, especially one particular boss who must give away some incredible information as he has the smallest bar in the game.
There is not much variety in the enemy forces with the game only occasionally differing from the punk kid style enemy. They also don't have much brains to speak of as they will stand and shoot even if they can see you have a superior weapon or are bearing down on them. One of the more interesting aspects of the game is the extras the developers have included. They have included covers from the comic books to find, newspaper articles about the havoc Castle is causing and a lot of nostalgic style things for those who aren't just playing the game and actually follow the comic. It's the most violent Marvel game but doesn't have the depth of games such as Spiderman 2 or X-Men Legends which makes you come back for more and more. The game is also quite linear which is always a problem.
Where the PS2 version of the game really stands out is general gameplay. It is astounding how close to the Xbox version in graphics the game is. The Xbox version may have more realistic textures but the PS2 version with its comic style just seems a better fit for a marvel game. Running around with castle just seems so much better on the PS2 and the movement and controller just feels a lot more fluid. It's hard to say why, but it could be that the PS2 was the native development with the Xbox being a port.
The game does excel in its level design despite the linearity. You're not just continuously fighting in urban areas or buildings, visiting such places such as a zoo, docks, nature pack etc which helps keep the game fresh. The levels are highly detailed and all play into the storyline. There are some goals at times such as having to clear out enemies before a guard will let you through and the levels are quite destructible with shattering glass and other objects being breakable.
The visuals of the game are detailed such as Castles character model (he changes clothes during the game as well), non-player characters and of course the levels themselves. There is no popup to speak of and you will notice small detail features such as ragdoll technology from Havok. There have been some changes since the very first builds but it has made the game more stylized. The black and white Tarantino style sequences for cut scenes add rather than detract from the game and the same occurs during the adrenaline style mode. Voice acting is done rather well especially the detectives and Castle himself while the enemies sometimes utter things, particularly during the interrogations where their fear is very apparent both from expression of character model and voice acting.
The Punisher may not have turned out as well as some may have hoped, but the PS2 version is definitely the one to pick up. It is still a very solid third person game. It does become repetitive but the level design, mission structure and small variety of missions makes it easier to swallow, creating an overall decent third person action game for the fans.