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Punisher: No Mercy – The PS3 Attitude Review

Submitted by on Sunday, 5 July 2009One Comment

Punisher: No MercyOne of the less heralded virtues of the PSN is how it allows games of a smaller and more quirky nature to find wider and more appreciative audiences.

From the uniqueness of Rag-Doll Kung Fu to the addictive Cuboid, digital distribution is exposing gamers to indie and casual titles alike; games they may never have taken a chance on if placing physical money on a counter was the only option available.

But what of tried and trusted genres? What of PSN titles that can be compared to the big retail hitters in terms of scope, quality and presentation?

ZEN Studios’ Punisher: No Mercy is one such title. An FPS with a comic-book flavour and an emphasis on multi-player, it is still an FPS nonetheless. And when it comes to deciding whether to spend your time advancing your medic in Resistance 2, progressing towards General on the Helghast battlefield or with a smaller title, would you really choose a budget FPS?

Punisher: No Mercy is no substitute to the likes of Killzone 2 or Call of Duty 4. There is just no comparison. Despite all three games being part of the same broad genre – and though you can probably compare the first two titles and try and pick a winner – Punisher: No Mercy is very much the smaller, more diminutive brother and any attempt to rate it against bigger titles would be completely unfair.

That said, what Punisher: No Mercy lacks in the technical department, it more than makes up for it by being one of the most fast-paced ultra-violent games on the market. ZEN Studios, probably recognising that the action can get a little samey at times, have also packed the product with more unlockable content than you can shake a crossbow at in an effort to give the consumer even more bang for their buck. With the cost already amazingly low, this decision elevates Punisher: No Mercy from the ranks of being a possible impulse buy to a title that is almost priced too low for what you actually get. Why, there’s even a co-op mode.

Finn Cooley. Bad temper - worse mouth.

Finn Cooley. Bad temper - worse mouth.

The Punisher, as Marvel maniacs will already know, is the darkest anti-hero ever to grace the usually family-friendly publisher’s blood-soaked pages. What ZEN Studios have managed to perfectly capture in the game is the specific tone and reckless violence of the Skulled One. From the gruff voice work to the over-the-top gunfire mutilation, the game is an authentic pastiche and true representation of the comic. For these reasons alone, all Punisher fans are urged to give it a shot.

While the terse Story mode merely consists of the multi-player levels pinned together with some time-based trial or body-count building challenges (though the Mike Deodato artwork does supplement it nicely), it’s the online arena where the game truly comes into its own. It’s here you’ll find frantic and relentless action with death and killing recurring in rapid succession. So fast, in fact, that the concept of stopping and working out a strategy is just enough time to cost you yet another life. Of course, not that this is an issue, as you spawn instantly and are immediately thrown back into the fray.

It’s a different online experience to other similar games with the studio making no excuse for the title’s budget, designing the maps as tight and almost claustrophobic areas in order to encourage the highest number of casualties as possible. But it’s fun and has that instant pick-up-and-play element that some of its bigger competitors can’t provide – simply because their online offerings are usually weighted towards character building and slowly unlocking perks. Not so with Punisher: No Mercy. Here you jump online, you pick your weapons and you run around in a compact area trying to die one less time than your number of kills.

What happens next is truly stomach churning.

What happens next is truly stomach churning.

Graphically, the game performs well with the trusted Unreal engine churning out eight levels with just enough high-definition reality mixed in with the comic-based aesthetic of the property. It’s not perfect, however, with some noticable tearing and frame-drops at times making us think the guys at ZEN got a lot out of the engine, but just didn’t manage to master it completely. Animations are also fairly stock and reminiscent of online shooters from a few years ago so don’t expect Jigsaw to writhe in agony as your bullets tear him apart. He’ll more likely just keep running at you until his health bar dwindles and then drops to the ground with a thump.

In terms of utilising the property, ZEN Studios have made full use of The Punisher’s back-story and Rogue Gallery to populate the environments with every despicable low-life and professional criminal Frank Castle has managed to cross over his illustrious career. Bushwacker, Barracuda and Jigsaw – they’re all here (and unlockable as playable characters online). However, our favourite has to be Finn Cooley – if anything for the random profanities he spouts during the online frag-fests. We won’t repeat any here but, rest assured, you’ve never heard swearing until you’ve heard it from an Irish scum bag.

At its heart, Punisher: No Mercy is a simple title. It uses old technology and older concepts, yet brings something new to the cluttered FPS table by maximising a popular licence to its full potential while making no apologies for being a bargain shooter in a market literally swarming with them. Is it the best looking FPS out there? Hardly. Does it push the PS3 in any way? Not in the slightest. Does it proffer a dense and rewarding levelling up system in its online mode? No. But is it a fast-past arcade-style über-violent fun-filled jaunt that offers amazing value for money? Undoubtedly.

The bottom line is: how can a small low-budget download only title compete and compare to the expensive retail-based juggernauts we’ve all come to love? In short: it can’t. But that’s not to say this game is not without its virtues. For the price on offer ($9.99/€7.99/£6.99), Punisher: No Mercy easily delivers a few hours of visceral and action-packed entertainment. And for that reason it comes recommended – especially to anyone who is a comic-book fan. In terms of authentic comic-to-game translations, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better one.