Preview: For those who think Manhunt is for wussies.
No matter how Volition's The Punisher turns out, one thing is for certain: it will proudly ring in 2005 as top contender for the coveted Most Violent Game of the Year crown. In fact, I can hear the hissy fits of politicians and anti-video game activists right now.
Unlike the mediocre movie of the same name, the game version will stick true to the popular Marvel comic both in looks and spirit, which is not surprising considering that Punisher alumni Garth Ennis and Jimmy Palmiotti wrote the story. For those unfamiliar with the series, the title character is really Frank Castle, an undercover FBI agent and former Marine. He performs his FBI duties a bit too well and as a result, ticks off some mobsters and is ambushed in a hit. Luckily, he survives but his wife and children are not so fortunate. Haunted by the sight of his loved ones being killed before his eyes, Frank takes a cue from Charles Bronson and uses his skills to become a blood-thirsty vigilante, and quickly becomes known for the creative and ultra-violent ways he carries out his punishment.
Needless to say, this game will not be for the kiddies. Played in the third-person view, The Punisher is a mix of Max Payne's fast-paced stylized action and Mortal Kombat's excessive, over-the-top violence and gore. Your goal is simple: kill the bad guys. To help you succeed, you will have access to about two dozen different weapons like pistols, shotguns, SMGs, assault rifles and RPGs, along with knives, pipes, wrenches and several other things that can make a bad guy go ouch. Like Halo, you will only be able to carry two weapons, a pistol and a larger weapon, along with a handful of grenades. You will start off completely unarmed, but after killing a few enemies, you will be able to pick up and use their weapons and add them to your permanent inventory (located in Frank's apartment). The best part is you can dual wield practically every gun ? including assault rifles and shotguns. John Woo would be proud.
In keeping with the spirit of the comic, there are many ways to kill your enemies ? in fact, THQ boasts that there will be over 100 ways to send people to the great beyond. Naturally, you can dispatch them by using your weapon as normal, but that's pretty boring. If you get close enough, you can press a button to perform a Quick Kill, which activates a scripted and graphic animation of Frank introducing your opponent to Mr. Death. Each Quick Kill varies depending on which weapon you're using.
If you can maneuver an enemy into special zones marked with a yellow skull, you can perform a special kill in a manner similar to the Death Traps in Mortal Kombat Deception. Unlike the Quick Kill, the special kill will be specific to that particular environment and will of course be delightfully gory.
For even more violent fun, grab enemies and use them as human shields ? or better yet, interrogate them. You can interrogate anyone, but those with a white skull magically floating above their heads will have important information you'll need to advance the story. You have to be careful when interrogating an enemy; using the thumbsticks, you can adjust the amount of stress you put on your hapless victim. You need to keep his stress level high enough to force him to talk, but if you stress him too much he'll die before giving up the information. If you successfully complete the interrogation, you get a nice health bonus and have a choice: you can either let him go, use him as a shield, or kill him (gee, I wonder if anyone will choose this last option?). Interrogation kills are the most brutal, and range from ?normal? kills to ?special? kills if you're lucky enough to be interrogating an enemy in a special kill zone. Creative variations of crushing, mangling, chopping, burning, impaling, exploding, dismembering, even being eaten alive are sure to delight gamers' blood-lust. Oh, and don't forget the always enjoyable Havok ragdoll physics to add to the festivities. But don't worry; like Mortal Kombat, the violence is so over-the-top that it will likely make you laugh more than cringe.
You gain style points depending on your gameplay, and can redeem these points to build up attributes like accuracy, armor, ammo capacity, and add weapon modifications like silencers and scopes. You can also view news stories about the carnage you left behind, and unlock bonuses like artwork, videos, cheats, and other surprises like the flashbacks enemies experience when you interrogate them.
So far, the levels include a zoo, bar, crack house, a chop shop garage, and a funeral home ? and you can imagine what special kill zone surprises will be in store in each one. You can crouch and dive a la Max Payne, but there is no bullet-time to assist you. You may not need it, though, since Frank seems to be able to take a ton of punishment.