It's hard to believe that four years have passed since the last Punisher game, but Marvel's vigilante returns in Zen Studios arena-style first-person shooter for the PlayStation Network. Based on the Unreal Engine and coming in at a meager ten bones, does "The Punisher: No Mercy" succeed in offering cheap multiplayer thrills or is it perhaps the most aptly named game in quite some time?
Obviously, this style of shooter is focused heavily on playing with others, but "No Mercy" does offer a single player campaign, so that's where I decided to get my feet wet. Making good use of the license, the story unfolds through comic panels that are well drawn and the voice over work fits with the grittiness of the Punisher. Gameplay wise, the campaign mode is really just a series of bot matches. They mix the modes up slightly through the four levels, but you'll hardly notice as the objectives don't stray too far from the typical deathmatch. The bots offer very little challenge as they constantly stream from predictable locations and go down with one or two bullets. And, yes, I said four
levels. The campaign can be finished in about a half hour and then you are greeted with a "To Be Continued" screen. Now whether there's a future price tag associated with that "continuing", I'm not sure, but playing to this point does open up a skirmish mode that allows you to play against bots on any of the game's eight maps.
By finishing the story mode, you will have also unlocked all eight character models, some higher-powered weapons including a shotgun and a rocket launcher, and your first active and passive perks. Unlike most arena shooters, there are no actual weapons to pick up in the levels - only power-ups and point bonuses. Instead, prior to respawning you can customize your load out with three weapons and two perks. Weapons upgrade during the matches as you get kills or run over upgrade icons and this aspect along with the customization of your characters actually adds a bit of a hook to the game. Multiplayer mode adds in several skins for each character and a healthy amount of unlockable guns and perks, so there should be plenty of stuff to keep you playing.
The question is, will you want to keep playing
? Let's get to the meat of the game: the multiplayer. With support for only eight players, you'd hope for a stable framerate and miniscule amounts of lag. Sadly, in the three hours of multiplayer I played, I only managed to get into two rooms that I would call "acceptable". The other two and a half hours were laggy messes of characters sputtering around the screen causing incredibly poor hit detection and resulting in desperate mass spamming of rockets by the majority of players. Needless to say, this is a major problem for a game that hangs it hat on fast-paced online multiplayer. There is no way to filter your matches by connection speed, so there's no way for you to try and better your chances of finding a good host either - the game simply throws you in a room and you hope for the best. Hopefully, the lag can be remedied with a patch in the near future, but as of right now, it's not a pleasant experience.
Network issues aside, the game is an okay shooter when it is working properly. The controls are fine and the graphics are acceptable for the price - although the character models are pretty rough looking. Unfortunately, the variety in game types is sorely lacking with only a couple variations on deathmatch and a "Punish the Punisher" mode where one player is "it". On the whole, the game just feels dated and a little like a budget Unreal Tournament mod. Even down to the incessant one-liner taunts that you can thankfully (and will) disable.
In the end, it's not that "The Punisher: No Mercy" is outright terrible, but its negatives far outweigh its positives. With such a crowded first-person shooter market, it's hard to recommend to even the most diehard of Punisher fans. The low cost of $10 doesn't really make the game much more palatable, especially with the current network issues and no word on whether that future DLC is going to tack onto the price. In the immortal words of Uncle Jesse, "Have mercy!" on yourself and avoid the punishment.
Outstanding | Very Good | Fair | Poor | Awful
Recommended Buy Price: $2.00
Current MSRP: $10.00
"The Punisher: No Mercy" was provided for review by Zen Studios. The single player/2 player co-op campaign was played for an hour. The online multiplayer was played for three hours over the course of three separate sessions. The game has no offline multiplayer modes or split-screen support. There is a tournament mode in the game that was not tested because there are currently no active tournaments.