The Punisher's action is very standard, fitting right into the third-person shooter genre. The only thing that really sets it apart, in terms of gameplay, is that it has a number of specific kill animations. You have a handful of quick-kill moves and four different standard methods of interrogation. These don't change throughout the game, and they get repetitive very quickly. In an effort to change things up, some spots in the levels can be used for special interrogations. These spots are clearly marked, and usually involve you using a piece of the environment to loosen a foe's lips. Many of these simply have you dangling your enemy over a ledge, but there are some unique ones, like slamming an enemy's head in the door of a jeep, threatening to stick a guy's head into a ceiling fan, shocking a man with an exposed electrical wire, and so on.
The Punisher is sort of a one-trick pony. Once you've seen all of the interrogation animations, there's not much else to do.
It's nice that the game offers these, but the payoff for actually going through with the plan and killing your subject is really underwhelming. The game's rated M, but for some reason the camera quickly zooms out from the action when you decide to finish an enemy off in a special interrogation sequence. It also changes to black and white, almost as if the game doesn't want to show you such a bloody finale without heavily filtering. Yet, after the fact, it doesn't have a problem showing you a dead body that happens to be missing its head, for example. And many cutscenes are filled with dripping blood. Whether the black-and-white effect was a stylistic choice or one aimed to censor some of the game's gorier scenes isn't so important. Either way, it takes away from the impact of these sequences.
The Punisher is a good-looking game, but with some better texture work, it could have looked much better. You'll encounter some awfully blurry-looking textures here and there that make the environments look a little bland. At least the game is pretty good about giving you a variety of environments--many sequences take place in fairly tight indoor settings, but you'll find some larger outdoor arenas as well. While the environments may be varied, there really isn't much to do in them beyond running around with your guns blazing. The extent of your environmental interaction, beyond the special interrogations, consists of being able to shoot bottles off a bar. Yet you can pump bullet after bullet into a television set without breaking it. This makes the game's locales feel flat and stale. Also, the game's camera isn't really up to the task of presenting the action when you're in tight corridors. One level in particular puts you on a ship, and the tight corridors and small rooms make it nearly impossible to see what's going on around you. The one standout part of The Punisher's graphics is its selection of character models. The standard troops look good, and The Punisher himself looks really great, with similar levels of detail going into the models for many of the story's other major characters and bosses. In terms of the differences between the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of the game, they're quite similar. Graphically, the Xbox version is better, though not by much--that is, unless you're running it in widescreen on a 480p setup, which makes everything look a little sharper.
If you're good at getting headshots, you'll find most of this game to be pretty easy.
Good in-game sound in a shooter generally comes down to having gunfire that sounds appropriately tough. The Punisher doesn't do this especially well. While your gunfire sounds at least passable, enemy fire is quiet at times and doesn't seem to always be positioned correctly. As an example, in one sequence you're raiding an island, and there's a man positioned behind a turret, firing off rounds in your direction. While you'll see tracer fire heading your way, and you'll even have a clear view of the turret, you won't actually be able to hear the gun firing until you get much closer to its position. The sound in the cutscenes is also poorly mixed. Voices usually come through loud and clear, but the rest of the action sounds awfully flat. Certain actions, like a man slamming his hands down on a table, don't make any sound at all. The game has a great deal of voice acting in it, though most of it is a little flat.
The Punisher tries to break out of the third-person shooter blueprint by offering sometimes-gory interrogation sequences, but these portions don't do enough to change what is otherwise a very by-the-numbers action game. If you're fan of the character, you'll probably get some enjoyment out of running around and torturing enemies, but the lack of variety here causes this portion of the game to wear thin fast. Beyond that, you're better off looking elsewhere for your third-person action needs.