Review: The Punisher: No Mercy

ThePunisherNoMercy.jpg

Between CellFactor, Battlefield 1943 and Fat Princess, it has been a busy summer of multiplayer action games on the PlayStation Network. Also included in that mix is Zen Studios’ debut FPS production The Punisher: No Mercy, a competitive arena-style shooter set in Marvel’s The Punisher comic universe.

Zen Studios has proven to be a top-class pinball game developer, producing the likes of Pinball FX on XBLA and more recently Zen Pinball on PSN (review to come), but the team is new to FPSs, and that genre inexperience shows.

The Punisher: No Mercy isn’t necessarily a terrible game, though. In fact, parts of it are actually very well done. The game offers eight villains and heroes to play as from The Punisher mythos, including Finn Cooley, Jigsaw, Silver Sable, Barracuda, Microchip, Bushwacker, Jenny Cesare, and of course Frank Castle himself, and a robust character customization and weapon unlock system makes it fun to play around with these different characters. The game’s eight maps are also nicely balanced, with grimy boat dock, scrap yard, garage and industrial plant locales serving as the arenas for The Punisher and his pals’ game of urban vigilantism. And save for the dreaded texture streaming bug, the graphics have that dark, gritty edge Unreal Engine 3 is so good at producing – Zen Studios did a bang-up job rendering out such intricately detailed maps, characters and firearms, no doubt

But these bright spots aside, The Punisher: No Mercy is a deeply flawed game on a fundamental level. On paper, the game sounds like it should be a blast – it’s a fast-paced twitch shooter very much in the style of Unreal Tournament, complete with ample amounts of over-the-top gore, one-liner trash talking, and the bassy tones of a disembodied voice announcing your kills. Unfortunately, lack of polish in two important areas immediately stunts the game from reaching its potential.

First up are the controls. A zippy twitch FPS like this demands precision, but sadly it’s just not here. Aiming is woefully sluggish and clumsy, so much so that you’re better off mindlessly spamming bullets at your competitors, which can be fun for a few minutes but becomes stale faster than a piece of day-old bread. The gunplay in general is weak too. Guns don’t feel or sound powerful whatsoever, so any satisfaction you could theoretically gain from running and gunning is lost.

Worse off than the controls are the game’s shallow mode selection and shoddy online infrastructure. The story mode, for one, is a joke. This is a multiplayer-focused shooter, I know, but Zen did still promise a worthwhile single-player campaign, so forgive me if I expected more than the four-match, hour-long (and I’m being generous with that time) campaign that’s actually included.

I could forgive the dull story mode if the multiplayer had the proper depth and diversity, but it doesn’t. There are six main match types, but most are variants of standard deathmatch and team deathmatch – Punish the Punisher being the most interesting, with one player starting the match as The Punisher while all the other players hunt him down and attempt to take over The Punisher role by making the kill. The game is also plagued by connectivity and performance issues. Lag and disconnects are a frequent occurrence, and even finding matches in the first place is tough.

I’ve been holding off on my review to give Zen a chance to get a patch out, but nothing seems to be coming. A lag-fix patch was announced almost immediately after the game launched over a month ago now, and the last time Zen posted an update on the forums was at the beginning of August, again saying the patch was coming soon. But August is almost over and there is still no patch. At this point I’d say the game’s sell-by date has long expired.

SkipIt.jpg

Pros:
+ Cool weapon and character unlock/upgrade system
+ Great map selection
+ Nicely detailed graphics

Cons:
– Poor controls
– Laggy online performance
– Shallow multiplayer modes
– Pathetic story mode

Game Info:
Platform: PS3 via PSN download
Publisher: Zen Studios
Developer: Zen Studios
Release Date: 7/2/09
Genre: FPS
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1-8

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!