Six million ways to die, and instead of choosing one, The Punisher goes über-vigilante and shows off more than 100 macabre slaughters capable of bloodying up the little screen. But instead of erring on the side of violence-for-arousing-politicians'-ire sake, this faithful comic-book adaptation offers up executions with purpose. Frank Castle–The Punisher–goes on a kill-spree after his family gets mangled in gangster crossfire. Castle loses it. Death ensues. Castle cleans up crack houses, shoots dime-store criminals, and carves up the Mafia, alternating between present-day action and playable flashbacks. Eventually, the past catches up with the present, and the body count escalates.
A grim curiosity to see the next fatality fuels the entire experience. Digging up dirt on a crime boss' whereabouts allows for chilling interrogations where you'll pin guns to delinquents' temples, gut-punch them 'til they squeal, or dole out an old-fashioned choking. But if you're careless with your grilling, you could accidentally pull the trigger, punch the victim into a coma, or crush his esophagus. While these homicides sound grisly, they're mild compared to the more sophisticated slayings. The option to dole out an American History X-style curbing is trumped by the option of holding a felon's head under water while piranhas have at his face, which is trumped in turn by baking a crook to a crisp in a cremation chamber. While players might experience some early hesitance about mutilating the enemy, it'll likely pass as they adjust to Castle's murderous mindset.
The game's prime shortcoming is The Punisher's comic-book invincibility. Killing's a breeze, but dying takes effort. Everyone appreciates a psychotic, bloodthirsty protagonist, but with only a rare need to be stealthy, the game suffers with its overly macho tough-guy routine. It's harder to swallow, knowing that Castle is no superhero, just a bitter dude with anger-management issues and a closet full of artillery.
Beyond the gameplay: The story, a collaborative effort by Punisher co-writers Garth Ennis and Jimmy Palmiotti, is packed with the same pinpoint dialogue and violent pyrotechnics as the comic.
Worth playing for: The Punisher kill-ride rounds out its comic geekery with Marvel cameos from Iron Man, Nick Fury, Kingpin, Bullseye, and Daredevil alter ego Matt Murdock.
Frustration sets in when: If a thug hides behind shrubbery, don't waste bullets–mysteriously, they won't penetrate the foliage.
Final judgment: It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you kill off the evildoers. This brutal adaptation looks great, and the story somehow justifies the outrageous murder toll.