For: PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox
The Punisher sure got the brooding, ambivalent, violent nature of its comic book anti-hero down, right down to the cheerless words he spews about New York City still being a violent hellhole underneath its theme park/Times Square exterior. And the game adds a nice twist or two to the shooter genre with violent interrogations à la Popeye Doyle. Punch the cowering weasel just enough and he'll cough up usuable info. Punch too hard and he dies at your hands. Threaten him with death by woodchipper if you like. But the Manhattan environment doesn't quite feel as gritty as the real McCoy. Ultimately, the game needs to be more like Night of the Huntermore psychopathic, and more soulful in its violence. The script's stirring, but there's no line like Robert Mitchum's "Don't touch my knife. That makes me mad. Very, very mad."
RESIDENT EVIL 4
Developer: Capcom Production Studio 4
Script lovers beware: Resident Evil 4's dialogue is stilted and not exciting, B-movie bad. Still, after five hours of continuous play, I found I had to pull myself away physically from this zombie horror offering about a cult that has captured the president's daughter. It's one of the most graphically complex and utterly beautiful games ever coded for the GameCube: lush when vivid, chiaroscuro when scary (which it is often). There's a Clive Barker-S&M essence to the atmospheric horror, which is bloody and full of sloppy marrow too. As one of Barker's characters uttered in Abarat, "Every dark unthinkable thing that has happened at the dead of night has happened right here." Especially when you meet that thing in the lake. If only the script were better.
MERCENARIES: PLAYGROUND OF DESTRUCTION
For: PlayStation 2, Xbox
Essentially, Mercenaries is about blowing things up in communist Korea, blowing things up in mammoth pyrotechnic extravaganzas à la various incandescent Hollywood blockbusters. This is more compelling than blowing things up in, say, Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal because you're rewarded for doing well. For the mercenary character you control, it's about the money. Really for the average game player, it's about getting a pat on the back from your crew and the gangsters with whom you deal. In that sense, it's about community, and it's not that different from Jack Bauer in 24, or Charlotte in I Am Charlotte Simmons, for that matter. And that's what keeps you coming back (to get all the Koreans in a 52-card, Iraq-like deck): The fires down below, and that pat on the back, which goes to your head.
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