The Punisher

Controversially, despite your informants' protestations or offers to help out further into the level, there's no reason why the Punisher can't simply perform the execution having garnered the information he wants anyway. There's nothing and no-one to stop you.

Frank Castle (the Punisher's real name) has a story that would tug at the stoniest of heartstrings - his family's murder at the hands of mobsters compelled him to put aside his disillusionment with the world's justice institutions and put his military experience to use as a professional vigilante against the criminal scum of the world.

Whether or not this sets him up to be the first to summit the moral high-ground is still highly debatable. The game has few hooks besides the violence and make no mistake about its intensity - this is full-on, meat cleavers to the face, impaling men on anything and everything and blowing them to pieces action that would make even Soldier of Fortune II think twice before asking Punisher to step outside.

There is some interesting depth to the gameplay but it arises solely from the dynamic of violence. For instance, the interrogations are not mere gimmicks: they can be performed on anyone, causing them to spill it (sorry - again) with a gun to the head or painful chokehold. Anyone could be hiding something.

Despite the slightly disappointing lack of a hand-to-hand or melee combat system, it is refreshingly easy to grab enemies and use them as human shields (which works superbly in conjunction with the zoomed views), not to mention inspired touches such as the ability to push your one-time shield through a doorway before you, letting him soak up all the lead before you stroll in guns blazing as those inside are busy reloading/recoiling in horror at what they've just done.

Despite the intended coinciding release of the forthcoming movie, this game is in fact focussed more on the comics and its own original plot, with the exception of one or two copied scenes. Fans will no doubt love the chance to play the Punisher, get inside his head and fight alongside legendary characters such as Black Widow and Nick Fury. As for the rest of us, we're going to need slightly more convincing that this is a legitimate breakthrough in action gaming before we come out of the shadows.

The plain fact is that, while it has the potential to sell bucketloads based on the licence and the themes of pure, unadulterated carnage, we still worry that turning the soul shattering kerb-stamp scene from American History X into nothing more than a simple game move is erring uncomfortably on to the wrong side of the senseless and, more importantly, may be an unwitting leap in the wrong direction for the whole industry.

The Punisher is released for PC, PS2 and Xbox in spring 2005