I'm not sure why Dan put on the kid gloves when it came to his final words on The Punisher, but calling it an extremely well-designed action game is an overstatement. Action game, yes. Well-designed? No.

The main review does a good job spotlighting The Punisher's biggest holes, and I don't disagree with any of the trouble areas he mentioned. I guess I just found them to be a lot less tolerable. I thought the level design was terrible most of the time, filled with lots of empty rooms and architecture that probably wouldn't exist anywhere outside of a videogame. The crack den in level one is more like an endless crack mansion, and later aren't much better.

However, the shoddy design isn't just limited to the level design. Almost everything reeks of stale clich�s that lost their potency years ago. One of the worst examples of The Punisher's subpar substance is a short mission in which Mr. Castle has to take out a Kevlar-wearing goon holed up in the back of a bar. Frank clearly says, "It's gotta be a headshot," which makes sense. But, instead of using this scenario to implement a little strategy, the only way to get the job done is a full frontal assault. Once the entire bar has been put to death, the target goon hides behind a waist-high couch that can't be jumped over, blown up, or moved. This was already incredibly lame design highlighting a contrived situation, but to make matters worse, it takes far more than one headshot to down the goon( it was more like fifteen). Gameplay that abandons all connections to logic and the real world always leaves me absolutely cold. I simply don't derive any enjoyment from it anymore.

The gunplay itself isn't even exciting since there isn't any location-specific damage or one-hit kill headshots when mowing down the hordes of generic enemies. The game's whole bag of tricks is revealed after the first two levels, and the only real draw is its ultraviolence and torture gimmicks. I do admit that a lot of the fatalities and methods of dispatching bad guys are quite entertaining, if this is the sort of thing that floats your boat. It does for me, occasionally, but the novelty of gruesome deaths and flashy overkills lost its appeal after only an hour or so.

The game's scoring system is also completely stupid, much like Dan says. What's the point of having obscene, over-the-top executions if the game actually penalizes you for going through with them? It doesn't make any sense when you get point multipliers for unloading two shotguns into a goon lying on the floor, but you actually lose points for frying someone in a chrome plating machine. Is there some code of manslaughter ethics that I'm not aware of? I fail to see how the developers drew a line between murder methods by rewarding some actions while penalizing others. And just to be absolutely clear, my problem is not with killing people during play, it's that the game fails to adhere to any discernable logic when doing so.

Overall, The Punisher is a boring game that doesn't have anything to offer once the shock value of graphic vigilante killing wears off. Even the most shocking execution loses its punch given time. Besides the blood, it's a mostly by-the-numbers affair and might fit the bill when all that's required is some shoot 'em-up action for an afternoon or two, but I don't really see this game being worth a full priced purchase. There are plenty of other games out right now that do similar things on a much higher level. Rating: 4.5 out of 10

Brad Gallaway
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