Though many games today take elements from existing titles and try to put their own spin on them, this form of imitation isn't always a bad thing. There's something to be said for honing a concept. But the possibility that the new twist on an old formula won't actually improve the overall product certainly exists. The Punisher, a long-running Marvel Comics franchise about a vigilante trying to save the world from being overrun by scumbags, is no stranger to this concept. Back in 1993, the character appeared in an arcade game from Capcom that basically started with Final Fight as a template, and then dropped in The Punisher, Nick Fury, and so on. It wasn't so great.
Now, THQ and Volition have delivered a new game with The Punisher name. While it attempts to put its own spin on the third-person shooter genre by adding sometimes-gruesome interrogation sequences, this game is, more or less, Max Payne without the bullet time.
Well, perhaps "without the bullet time" isn't entirely accurate. The Punisher can go into "slaughter mode," which slows the game down a bit. Slaughter mode is slightly unique in that, while in it, you'll regain some of your health and drop your guns in favor of a never-ending supply of knives that you can throw into the faces of enemies with stunning accuracy. The other twist to The Punisher is that you can grab any enemy for use as a human shield. Though doing this slows down your movement so much that it's only occasionally useful, once you've grabbed an enemy, you can choose to interrogate him. This brings up a little tension minigame, in which you have to work the mouse just right to keep a line in the proper section of a meter for three seconds. Once you do this, the perp will crack and tell you what he knows, and you'll get a little health boost for your trouble. Most enemies know next to nothing, and interrogating the average bad guy will get you one of only a few phrases per level. But some enemies yield more-interesting results, and these guys are clearly marked with a skull over their head, so you'll know to deal with them dead last.
The Punisher's family was wasted by the mob, and he's out for revenge. Unless you're already a fan of the character, that's all you really have to go on at the outset of the game. The story is told via a series of flashbacks. It seems that Frank Castle's finally been caught at the end of a three-week spree of crime fighting, though the NYPD sees his vigilante tactics in a slightly different light. The game opens with The Punisher being interrogated by the authorities in a little room on Ryker's Island (not to be confused with Rikers Island, the real-life prison). They talk him through the last three weeks, fading out to gameplay at certain points. You start out merely taking on the mob, which happens to be running a crack house and a chop shop in your neighborhood. Eventually, murdering your way up the mob's chain of command leads you to a much bigger terrorist plot. Players will find somewhere between 10 and 15 hours of action here the first time through, with the variance in time largely decided by your skill at getting headshots. The game gives you medals based on your performance, and you can choose to reenter levels with specific challenges to complete, though these additions don't really provide enough reason to go back to the game after completing it.