“Powered by Unreal Engine. A good start,” was the initial reaction that my partner in crime and fellow TSA veteran Liam had as we loaded up The Punisher: No Mercy for the first time. Having gone through a seemingly endless gallery of brandmarks and logos (maybe a slight exaggeration) I thought I’d quickly check on the rules of engagement, only to be presented with 51 pages of how to play the game – and no, that is no exaggeration. Deciding that a romantic snog with a skunk would be a more pleasurable experience, we turned off the auto aim and jumped straight into multiplayer, and boy, were we surprised.
The Punisher: No Mercy is the ZEN Studios developed title exclusive to the PSN. Inspired by the Marvel Comics’ Punisher comic book canon you engage in an action-packed first-person shooting frenzy. That’s the corporate sales speak, mind, and now that the boring blurb is out of the way we can get down to business. Imagine Call of Duty mixed with Killzone 2 and you’d be nowhere near what this is like – instead imagine a slightly slower, easier to pick-up-and-play version of Unreal Tournament without the Space Marine suits and weapons and you’re pretty much spot on. Within minutes we’d mastered the controls and were charging around the map hunting each other down in an epic one-on-one, on which Liam was well and truly punished.
There are things that The Punisher does fantastically well and a few that it falls short on, so I’ll get the latter out of the way first. Whilst the game does come packed with a ‘single player’ campaign, do not be fooled by such a title, this is simply four levels where you have to kill a huge number of frustratingly dumb bots in a variety of different scenarios. The sole purpose of playing through such a lonely and empty experience is to unlock a variety of characters and weapons, which can then be used in multiplayer, although watching the beautiful artwork by Mike Deodato that tries to hold some resemblance of a plot together helps make up for it a little. There is also a co-op mode for some odd reason which seems unnecessary and utter pointless. You’ll play it, forget about it and move on to the juicy filling: multiplayer.
Multiplayer is really what this game is about and thankfully it is also its strongest point – what was surprising about it was how good it was. Now, I’m not quite sure what I was expecting from a first-person shooter PSN title that’s priced at less than the Domino’s Pizza I was taking great pleasure in devouring at the time, but I was stunned by its graphical strength. The game is beautiful, relatively, given its format, with a varying colour palette of greys and browns, mixed with vivid greens and oranges. Areas of the environment will explode and change for some unknown reason but it all adds to the fantastic maps. The traditional sounded beats that accompany the gameplay take me back several years to playing shooters on a Windows 98 PC, however, if I never hear the words “it’s time for Punishment again” I will be most pleased. The characters blurt out cheesy one-liners with annoying frequency and in traditional Unreal style there’s an assortment of deeply spoken “triple kill” sounds to be heard.
The starting weapons are, well, nonexistent – it’s just a starting weapon. You do unlock more weapons from trawling through the campaign as well as from achieving certain multiplayer targets – such as a laser-sighted crossbow for long distance headshots. The maps are wonderfully varied and creative, although some are a little bit too large for just two players and more suited to the maximum eight players. With four game modes and eight maps, there’s more than enough content and with online scoreboards, badges and future tournaments and downloadable content there’s plenty more on offer.
The gameplay is not without a few blemishes, like having to press up on the d-pad every game to activate your mic and that if you melee attack whilst reloading it won’t auto-reload afterwards, but nothing that destroys the experience. Other than that, it works as it should: it’s a solid arcade shooter that plays as expected.
Without a strong single player, the game really relies on the multiplayer, and whilst there are a lot of people out there that don’t like to play online unless it’s with their friends, this is the prefect shooter for you – with a much cheaper price than retail releases, its ease of play and general arcade sensibilities. Many would say that as a smaller, less polished version of Unreal Tournament with cheesy one-liners is what best sums up The Punisher: No Mercy, but since when was this a bad thing? Its replay value is extremely high, and although you’ll unlikely play it for huge stretches of time a couple of rounds with a few friends is incredibly entertaining. It may be on the slightly more expensive side of the PSN content, there are few that offer such a fantastic online experience.