Home | News | Reviews | Previews | Hardware
The Punisher: No Mercy
Score: 60%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Zen Studios
Developer: Zen Studios
Media: Download/1
Players: 1; 2 - 8 (Online)
Genre: First Person Shooter/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
Protip: If you're looking to get into the game industry, look into network programming. According to most hiring managers I talk to it's an in-demand skill and, as The Punisher: No Mercy demonstrates, good netcode makes all the difference.

The network code may not be up to snuff, but No Mercy sets a high bar when it comes to downloadable games. No Mercy is built with the Unreal 3 Engine and looks like a retail game. Levels are big (probably too big, but more on that later) and the level of detail is impressive. There's a dose of requisite grays and browns, though Zen Studios has done its best to brighten things up with lighting and atmospheric effects like fog.

Audio is forgettable except for gratuitous use of "F---" every couple of seconds. It's to the point if you were to bleep out every instance of the word you would mistake the game for the Emergency Broadcast System. Okay, so I'm exaggerating... but you get my point.

Up front, The Punisher: No Mercy is a multiplayer game; so anti-social Punisher fans might want to check out of the review now (unless you're tinkering with the idea of online gaming). There's a single-player experience, but you can tackle the entire thing in less than an hour, after which you'll have no desire to come back.

Single-player is made up of four maps showcasing the game's Multiplayer Modes. The story is told though comic book panels, though the story and what happens in a level rarely have anything to do with each other. You can attempt to piece something together, but it really isn't worth it.

Multiplayer hearkens back to 90's "twitch" shooters like Unreal. On the surface this is a good thing; there's a certain charm to older shooters than many current favorites lack. At the same time, there isn't much to No Mercy beyond its simple charm. We've tackled these modes a million times before and the level designs lack any sense of logical flow. It's easy to get turned around and some maps are too big for eight players.

Jumping into games makes a lot of sense if you're just looking for a random match. If you want to play with friends, you first need to set up a game and then invite your friends manually. It sounds friendly, but is a chore. Getting someone on board for co-op is even worse.

Have I ever mentioned my dislike of in-game timers? Single-player missions are all time-based and require you to either get the highest kill count or kill an excessive number of enemies (the ratio of "F's" to enemies has to be one to one). A timer makes sense for the first style, but is pointless in the second. It just adds meaningless difficulty when implementing a harsher death penalty would work better.

I also question the use of "bosses" in some match types. The only difference between a boss and any other bullet magnet is a health bar. Defeating the boss doesn't finish the level; you still have a kill count to meet. In other words, his only purpose is to waste your time.

Multiplayer is a toss-up. The more you play, the better you get. If you're not a "twitch" player, this isn't for you. Things move fast and there's little time to think in matches, at least when you're not dealing with massive amounts of lag. Controller inputs usually result in you shooting where your enemy was rather than his current location and it is generally hard to get around areas. The amount of lag varies, so there are playable moments, but if things get too choppy you're better off quitting.

Game Mechanics:
The Punisher: No Mercy's deepest feature is character customization. Playing through matches unlocks passive and active ability mods to further enhance your performance. Passive mods add bonus health and armor, while Active ones let you run faster or grant temporary invincibility. The setup is great, but the rest of the game doesn't take advantage of the system. Maps aren't set up to encourage any sort of strategy, so I usually ended up picking the two coolest sounding mods and ran with them.

The only reason for going through the campaign is to unlock a few additional weapons for multiplayer. You'll also earn weapons (and mods) by playing games; so the more you play, the better your starting load-out. Each weapon also has three upgrades, which are earned by going on kill streaks. Once you die, however, you lose your upgrades.

Lag, again, is No Mercy's biggest flaw. I can handle the lack of a single-player experience and even the logic-less map designs. What I can't forgive is the lag. It gets really bad and, as a result, makes the game's smaller issues seem bigger than they are. The Punisher: No Mercy has the chops to provide a decent online shooter, but the lag kills everything. Even if the idea of a downloadable twitch shooter sounds appealing, skip on The Punisher: No Mercy.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

This site best viewed in Internet Explorer 6 or higher or Firefox.