In the world of comic books there are few popular heroes that carry as much grit and lack of general likability as The Punisher. Marvel’s gun-wielding vigilante swears like a sailor and shows the mercy of an executioner. The comic book story of The Punisher reveals how Frank Castle turned into a crime-fighting machine, bent on waging a war on the mob.
Zen Studios’ new arena-style first-person shooter, The Punisher: No Mercy, throws gamers head first into this comic book world. The PlayStation Network game’s levels are dark and the action comes fast via the Unreal Engine. To set the mood, the story is told through well-crafted comic panels cut-scenes that tell a very loose narrative. The cheeky voiceovers function well to remind us that this is in fact a game based on a comic.
The game sports an overly simplistic single-player campaign which teaches you the basics and unlocks weapons and playable characters. The single-player mode is little more than bot deathmatches against poor A.I. Most of the levels have you focus on killing enemies (go figure) in an allotted timeframe. At times, it feels as if Zen Studios tacked on the single-player mode at the end simply to give you an opportunity to get a feel for the game’s controls. Since enemies are eager to run straight toward your loaded gun, you won’t get that much tactical experience.
Multiplayer is a bit better, even if there are some severe technical and gameplay issues. When first playing No Mercy’s multiplayer, lag will likely be your biggest killer. If you start a match with a weak connection, you are going to die, a lot. The lag can be so bad that it’s not too hard to get lost in the layout of a level. Jump off a bridge to surprise an opponent and you just may find yourself in a completely different part of the map. In addition, aiming in multiplayer is rough, but all of these technical issues can likely be remedied through a patch.
Perhaps the only element that keeps No Mercy interesting is the power-up system, which comes in the form of passive and active perks. The power-ups give you the ability to run faster, temporarily become invisible, and have a slight defensive boost, among other things. Otherwise, there are an assortment of predictable weapons, character skins, and maps. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t take advantage of any tactics or strategy other than to run around and shoot fast. Yes, you can duck and zoom-in to aim, but by the time you do that, you’ll be dead. The maps are also small enough to easily learn spawn locations, making for an even less-strategic approach to what should be a fun, fast-paced shooter.
No Mercy feels like a game we’ve played too many times, even though it’s a new title. It offers very little that you can’t find in countless other shooters. If Zen Studios can work out the technical glitches with online play, and fix some of the major gameplay issues, No Mercy could become a better game. For now, though, this game is really only attractive to hardcore fans of The Punisher or for people in need of a quick and cheap shooter. After all, the game is only $9.99 USD—but for the most part, it feels like you get ripped off.