When his family was gunned down by gangsters, Frank Castle became The Punisher. As Judge, Jury, and Executioner, The Punisher is cleaning up New York City one dead criminal at a time. However, if The Punisher can raise $500,000, he can pay off an informant for the location of the biggest criminal in Manhattan, The Kingpin. Working with a time limit and financed by The Trust, The Punisher only has a short time to complete enough missions to raise that much money.
The Punisher primarily plays from a top-down perspective, where the player moves The Punisher through the streets and alleys of New York, entering buildings and taking out enemies with a range of weaponry. The Punisher also drives to locations in his Battle Van, where the player controls the van from a first-person perspective, to the mission's address. The Punisher also has a scrolling mode when The Punisher scuba dives and knifes underwater assailants on the way to boats.
After having finished playing The Punisher about the only thing I can say to summarize the experience is that I have mixed feelings about this game. Had I not gotten off to such a rocky start (more about that later) I may have more positive feelings. The game has that old-school feel that will appeal to many old-school gamers. That is what attracted me to the game in the first place. The problems that really detracted from the fun started arising when I realized how badly the documentation was put together (unusual for MicroProse) and that I was going to have to figure out how to play this one on my own.
I always make a habit of reading through the manual at least enough to get a good handle on the gameplay characteristics before I dive in. In the case of this game I would have been better off diving right in. There are important features of the game that are described very inaccurately in the manual and there are others that are not described at all. There is a technical supplement that supersedes much of what is in the manual. You will need to pay close attention to it. Of course, you can always dive right in. :)
The objective of the game is to get revenge on the world of organized crime for killing your family when you happened to stumble across a crime being committed in New York's Central Park. Your revenge will be carried out by putting the city's crime ringleaders out of commission permanently. Staying within the law is not a big concern as long as you don't kill civilians or damage too much property. Do want you want to the criminals. It's eye for an eye time.
As the game begins you have finally come close to finding the secret whereabouts of your arch enemy The Kingpin. There is an informant willing to sell him out if you can raise a half a million dollars so that he has enough money to create a new identity for himself. Fortunately, there is a secret group of people that go by the name The Trust and they are willing to pay you some serious money to perform vigilante justice missions. That is how you will raise the cash. The game is all about completing those missions successfully and raising the money and then defeating the big cheese The Kingpin.
To carry out the missions you are equipped with a knife, an array of automatic and semi-automatic guns and grenades. Every time you knock off a villain you can take whatever weapons, cash (or drugs) he might be carrying. There is no need to take the drugs. It's not like you need them for evidence. Oh well, not that relevant. The point is that you can accumulate more weapons and ammo this way if you run out of what you were carrying.
You also have at your disposal the Battle Van. The Battle Van is you're decked out war-waging, artillery carrying ride of death. It is equipped with a mega gun, grenade launcher and smoke screen device. It is also equipped with a radio scanner eavesdropping device so that you can listen in on criminal behavior when the criminals decide to use radio frequency to coordinate their activities. That can lead to more money making opportunities.
It is too bad that riding in the van is just not that much fun. Thankfully, using the van has been made totally unnecessary due to some game modifications that were not described in the manual at all. When beginning a mission the player has the option of taking the battle van to the crime scene or getting a ride from Microchip, your high tech, gadget loving assistant. If you get a ride you simply put in the address and you are there. If you take the van you need to drive through the streets of Manhattan all the while being shot at by cars full of gangsters. Sounds fun right? It's not. It is the same thing over and over and over again and gets very boring after a while. Not only that but the van takes a beating and needs to be fixed between mission and that takes a lot of your valuable cash. The only advantage that I saw was that using the radio scanner in the van can create leads into criminal activity taking place in the city. My guess is that the game developer realized that the van was kind of lame and decided to give the player the option of not using the van at all in the game. Skipping the driving sequences makes the game easier but also keeps the pace of the game moving. Enough about that.
When The Punisher arrives at the crime scene he has the option of wearing his Punisher costume, a disguise or some scuba gear (if he needs to go underwater). The player must decide what each mission calls for. The player must also decide how much brute force to use. There are civilians mixed in with the villains and killing civilians will get the police force really upset. Upset enough to kill you. The battles are not at all flashy and not much strategy is required beyond finding the best place to attack from. They are simply heavy fire power shoot outs. The best part of the missions is the challenge of exploring the area, identifying the perpetrators, deciding which weapons to use and using the buildings and alleyways in the best way possible in the fight. That part was actually quite fun. There are people that you will talk to and the immediate environment has decent detail. Unfortunately The Punisher can't interact with very much of the environment. If the developers had created more environmental interaction including some red herrings along with the actual clues it would have made the game better.
I'll wrap this up by saying that if you enjoy the comic book style super hero action games you will like this game as well. It is certainly not flashy with graphics or sound but remember that it came out in 1990. For those of you who were gaming at that time this will take you back. For those that want to get a taste of that era with its charm and technical limitations this game will do that. I'm going to give it a 3 rating despite the very poor documentation.
To read the street addresses of the buildings, stand one step back from the doorway, face it and type E for explore. To read street signs stand one step back and do the same. When you are swimming the only weapon you can use is the knife.
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