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The Punisher review

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What's a minor thug to do? You're on the bottom rung of your criminal gang, overlooked and underpaid. Consequently, while on some shady activity at the, erm, zoo, you don't feel bad about sneaking off for a look at the piranha fish.

You're just admiring the flesh-eating beasts when, suddenly, a psycho in a big trenchcoat grabs you, mutters something about "information" and then, without waiting even a microsecond for a response, plunges your head into the water and stands impassively as the ravenous creatures tear your face off.

You see, crime doesn't pay. Unless you're a piranha.

This is the world of the Punisher, the bleakest character on the Marvel comics' roster. In paper form, he's intense, menacing, brooding and utterly sadistic.

As a game character, though, he's rubbish, lacking any semblance of charisma and as wooden as the rainforest. But that's (surprisingly) a good thing - it makes him a useful blank canvas for you to paint your sadistic desires on.

There's a plot, but we won't get into that because a) it'd spoil it and b) it's crap. Anyway, Mr Punisher is an excuse to go around mowing loads of blokes down with big guns - and, of course, to indulge in The Punisher's much-vaunted torture sequences.

Any character can be tortured in any one of four basic ways (choking, punching, slamming their head into the floor or threatening to shoot them). However, any blokes with a big Punisher logo above their heads are the ones who have supposedly vital information.

Grab one of these unfortunates, guide him to the nearest torture point (signified by another Punisher logo), get any info you might require (except you won't need it - more on this soon) with a few waggles of the stick and then indulge in the nasty stuff.

Impale him on the razor-sharp tusk of a wall-mounted elephant's head. Crush his skull against a toilet bowl. Drop a frikkin' skip on his head. Or simply chuck him out the window. It's bloodthirsty, it's obscene. It's fantastic.

Yet the torture raises a few issues. Firstly - at no point do you ever need the information that's on offer. Any problem can be resolved by merely barging in, all guns blazing.

Secondly - you're actually docked points for killing people once you've made them crack and tell you what they know.

As you buy upgraded equipment with points, it's a bit annoying - you're basically being forced to choose between upgrading or watching the unfolding brutality.

They're actually encouraging you to ignore the game's major selling point. It's like going into a pet shop and being palmed off with a sickly hamster instead of the big, bounding Dalmatian you'd set your heart on.

Thirdly, and finally, torturing someone gains you extra energy. All well and good, but it's quite difficult to die in The Punisher anyway.

Punny can take a whole heap of, well, punishment, so you've got to be majorly cack to actually cark it. And the levels are so short and save points so frequent, you end up gliding through the game with ease.

Still, a little easy it may be, but that doesn't stop The Punisher from being tremendous, if mindless, fun.

As you know you're almost certainly not going to die, you can just wade into gunfights and whirl around like a tornado of death until the room is a mess of mangled bodies. Unchallenging, yes, but certainly satisfying.

And there's a refreshing variety to the levels as well (including a car repair shop, zoo, a huge liner and a terrific one set in a funeral parlour which begins with the Punisher leaping out of a coffin and mowing down startled mourners).

Though you'll sail through the main game, you've got Challenge mode (with objectives like 'finish a level in two minutes' or 'torture six people in 90 seconds') and Punishment mode (kill a constant stream of baddies and rack up a record score) to keep you going.

Behind the gore, The Punisher does nothing new. But what it does, it does very well and it'll keep you going until you finish it simply because won't want to miss out on any of the spectacular torture set-pieces.

Yes, you've played thousands of 'man-in-flowing-coat' games and, yes, this dishes up the same 'third-person-room-clearing' gameplay but that doesn't mean it's not fun. In an exquisitely brutal, 18-rated certificate kind of way, of course.

The Punisher is out for PS2, Xbox and PC on 24 March

More violent than San Andreas? Yep. More violent than Manhunt? Maybe. But this isn't just about the gore - it's solid fun. Capital punishment indeed

More Info

Release date: Jan 17 2005 - Xbox, PS2, PC (US)
Available Platforms: Xbox, PS2, PC
Genre: Action
Published by: THQ
Developed by: Volition
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Strong Language

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