A first-person shooter starring the Punisher seems like a no-brainer. When Zen Studios announced that’s exactly the game they were making for the PlayStation 3, I’ll admit I got pretty excited. Then any word of the game vanished until earlier this summer. My hopes were once again high, as the idea of riddling the world with bullets from the end of a machine gun held by Frank Castle ran through my head. Had I known what awaited me upon starting up a game of Punisher: No Mercy, I would have traveled back in time to stop myself from making the mistake of downloading the game.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about Punisher: No Mercy is that it’s nothing more than the inbred spawn of a terrible Unreal Tournament clone. There’s not much to differentiate this game from the countless other first-person shooters vying for your time and money. The single-player campaign pits Frank against some of the more memorable villains from the comic like Barracuda, Jigsaw, and Flynn Cooley. Over the course of five or so “missions,” you’ll be pitted against endless waves of generic thugs whose sole job appears to be running into your bullets. Acting as nothing more than a tutorial for the online portion of the game, you’ll be able to finish the solo campaign in about twenty or thirty minutes. The story is related through incredibly outrageous voice-overs, aided only by the noirish art of Mike Deodato, Jr. The one bright spot of the entire offline campaign, Deodato’s images lend an air respectability to an otherwise unfulfilling game. As you try to piece together the nonsensical (even for a game based on a comic) plot, and wade your way through some of the more standard features of this FPS, you’ll find there are some intriguing gameplay mechanics implemented.
Punisher: No Mercy doesn’t do much new in the way of FPS gameplay. You point. You shoot. You pick up armor. You die. Often. You respawn. About the only feature that sets this game apart from the litany of other shooters is the weapon upgrade system. Players load out with three weapons, each of which can have their firepower, reload, clip size, and scope upgraded by picking up power-ups. As long as you can stay alive, the upgrades will stay with your gun. As soon as you die, the gun goes back to default. Sadly, that’s about as interesting as the single-player gets. Completing the offline mode unlocks all the characters for use in online multiplayer, and will earn you a handful of trophies. Ultimately, as a training ground for the multiplayer, the single-player is nothing more than a relentless onslaught of bots, and it’s largely unsatisfying. Had there been a modicum of difficulty, instead of the game simply overloading you with enemies on the screen in an attempt to mask the lack of challenge, playing alone would have been worth the effort. Not having the other characters unlocked doesn’t make a difference in the way the game plays, and since you hardly see your character on screen anyway, the reward is hardly worth the effort.
Once you delve into the multiplayer, of which there are a handful of modes and maps to mess around with, you’ll find that the game is slightly more enjoyable. Again, there’s nothing here that hasn’t been done before, and most of the games you’ll end up joining will be either solo or team deathmatch. Playing online also means you get to use No Mercy’s version of Perks. There are both passive and active bonuses to equip to your online character ranging from Instant Weapon Upgrade to Speed Burst to Limited Invulnerability. The Perks are unlocked by completing some rather insane tasks, like 125 headshots with a particular character, or kill X character Y number of times with Z character. Is something like 10 seconds of invincibility that recharges ever minute or so really worth the effort it would take? For me, not so much, but it’s hard to argue with the dozens of people I’ve encountered online that have that particular ability. The unevenness the special abilities create doesn’t make for a particularly welcoming game for people who didn’t pick up the game on day one, and is quite close to hindering multiplayer completely. It’d be nice if you could invite friends to public games, but sadly, you cannot. The only way to play with people you know is to create a private game, and hope you have at least three other friends who want to play the game at that moment in time. Why Zen thought it wise to limit your options to play with friends, or don’t, is quite puzzling. For whatever reason, Zen also thought it in the best interests of players to have the in-game chat default to mute at the start of every match. It’s simple to turn back on, but head scratching nonetheless.
Graphically, the game shares all the strengths and weakness of the Unreal Engine. Environments, characters, and weapons all look pretty good… when they finally load their textures. Honestly, fully rendered characters take about 8 seconds to load on the character select screen. Gunfire and explosions look and sound pretty good, but the voiceover is offensive. And I’m not talking about the endless cursing. The only two voices that weren’t terribly grating on the ears belonged to the Punisher and Barracuda, but everyone else, and particularly Jigsaw and Silver Sable, were absolutely horrendous. Strangely enough, there will be times that body parts of get blown off of characters, but the damage detection is completely arbitrary, and looks pretty awful. I wasn’t kidding around when I said this game was nothing more than an Unreal Tournament clone.
I don’t know what went wrong with Punisher: No Mercy. Here was a license that was begging for a game like this, with a fanbase that would have gobbled the game up had it been worthwhile. Instead, Zen Studios delivered a game that even hardcore fans of the comic book vigilante would have to be extremely bored to even attempt trying, let alone devote extended periods of time to playing. Perhaps one day, someone will pick up the ball that Zen Studios dropped and deliver the Punisher game the character deserves. This is not that game.