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Review: The Punisher: No Mercy

2:00 PM on 07.10.2009 // Brad Nicholson

I’m no fan of The Punisher. The last comic I read starring Frank West Castle had to deal with dinosaurs and Wolverine. So, I’m a little behind. Still, I can appreciate The Punisher’s dark vibe and Castle’s constant thirst for vengeance. I assumed when I downloaded The Punisher: No Mercy that I was going to get both of those things in abundance.

It’s never good to assume. After I finished playing No Mercy, I came to the conclusion that Zen Studios could have slapped anything relatively dark on the game and I wouldn’t have noticed a difference. This game has little character.

But the license doesn’t really matter if the core game rocks, right?

Hit the break to learn if The Punisher: No Mercy stands up among the greatest shooters of all time.

The Punisher: No Mercy (PlayStation Network)
Developer: Zen Studios
Publisher: Zen Studios

Released: July 2, 2009
MSRP: $9.99

The Punisher: No Mercy is intended for an audience that enjoys “twitch” shooters. Beneath all the blood and dismemberment, guns and explosions, comic panes and obscenities, lies a multiplayer game that requires deft fingers and an ability to spin within the x-axis on a dime. No Mercy is a game where headshots rule, powers-ups are abundant and copious amounts of armor covers, well, the body. The ideas behind this title sound great. After all, what shooter fan doesn’t want to play a digestible, downloadable version of (essentially) Unreal Tournament on their PlayStation 3? But however novel, the core concepts that fuel No Mercy aren’t executed well. This thing is a mess.

No Mercy is one of the slowest twitch shooters I’ve ever played. This is a good thing. The PlayStation 3 controller is a horrible substitute for a mouse and a keyboard. Despite the slower pace and (still) lack of precise control, headshots clumsily reign supreme. There's a few simple reasons why: (1) people don't live with bullets in their brains and (2) body armor upgrades are are ridiculously defiant to bullet penetration (and are available in abundance throughout the game’s maps). The body armor and bad control cause a major issue. Fighting a player one-on-one is more of an awkward endurance match more than anything else: most of my solo fights break down into a weird strafing contest where I and the other player put at least twenty bullets into each other before one of our legs or arms blows off spectacularly.

That sad combat scenario relies heavily on the game cooperating with me at the time of the fight. No Mercy’s netcode is trash. Every match I play is either viciously laggy or bouncy enough to kill many of my button presses. And there’s really no excuse for this: the maximum amount of players that can play in a single match is eight, which, by the way, makes for a very boring deathmatch.

One of the game’s few strong points is the matchmaking system. No Mercy has multiple playlists that players can choose from when entering into the multiplayer mode. Each playlist rotates a given amount of catered game modes (all very traditional, boring types) within a certain player cap. It’s designed so people can stay together and keep playing without seeking a new room. It’s a great concept, but the struggle is always keeping it together. After a single mode, I often had to leave to find new matches because everyone bailed.

The other strong point is the visuals. The game uses the Unreal Engine. Characters and environments have decent detail and the combustible effects and gib stuff are quite pleasing to the eye. Hell, even the shadows look pretty. Like Mass Effect, No Mercy has some weird pop-in, but hey, this thing is a downloadable title.

Pathetic, the level design and the upgrade system are. Every map in the game is a gigantic mess of corners, weird hallways, dead ends and curious centralized zones. Most of a match takes place near spawn points, but when the action does break out of a narrow corridor, the large spaces are no savior: most levels have a wide variety of annoying obstacles. The amount of times I’ve died because I fell in a trash can or a dark hole or got caught on a low corner shames me to mention. I’ve also died countless times while trying to earn a new weapon. No Mercy has a curious upgrade system that makes you use a certain gun in order to unlock a wholly unrelated one. It’s a silly, forced process that kills any attempts at immediate customization.

At this point, you’re probably wondering why I haven’t mentioned the single-player component. The answer is simple: the campaign is a series of four multiplayer-style deathmatches, and it takes around forty minutes to complete. It’s a throwaway mode with vulgar comic cut-scenes preceding each round of play. Move along.

It’s easy not to like The Punisher: No Mercy. The lazily created campaign mode, the dreadful level and upgrade design, horrendous lack of bullet feedback and latency are all factors working against it. The great visuals and matchmaking have nothing to do with the core game, which is lifeless, sluggish, and dreadful.

Score: 3 -- Poor (3s went wrong somewhere along the line. The original idea might have promise, but in practice the game has failed. Threatens to be interesting sometimes, but rarely.)

Brad Nicholson,
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