Downloadable versions of online shooters certainly have a place amongst the retro remakes and twin-stick clones cluttering PS3 and Xbox 360 hard drives; as the release of the sublime Battlefield 1943 (review forthcoming) has recently proven. Unfortunately the latest of these to hit PSN – Punisher: No Mercy (Zen Studios’ attempt at skimming the crème of Unreal Tournament and fusing it with a suitably dark and nasty comic licence) – has ended up tragically lacklustre. The reasons are plentiful.
No Mercy holds true to much of the UT blueprint, utilising Unreal Engine 3 to provide a technogically pretty backdrop for some old-school arena gameplay straight out of 1995. Controls are precise; the pacing is middling, animation functional and weaponry light and breezy. Numerous health and armour packs allow for an almost ridiculous level of damage absorption around the torso, whilst game types are suitably classic – deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag providing the bones on which an otherwise threadbare offering hangs.
So where does it go wrong? The limitations of a basic online offering are no real reason for concern given the price point of £6.99, and after all, if the likes of Quake Live can successfully exist on a cocktail of previously glorious mechanics, there is no logical reason for other titles not to succeed in similar fashion. Thanks to some particularly uninspired design and underwhelming use of the licence however, Punisher never comes close to progressing the genre or even evoking a sense of nostalgia.
The single-player campaign, consisting of four matches against basic AI opponents in the same levels that comprise the online offering (interspersed with some insipid comic book cut scenes), showcases serious deficiencies in level design within moments of play. Boxy corridors connect cluttered arenas without any real consideration for player flow or strategic weapon placement, leading to a confusing mess of clustered firefights around the few spawnpoints on each map. Compounding this, the art design consists of the same clichés that you’ve seen a million times elsewhere – a broken-down shipyard, factory rooms, crates, barrels, etc – it’s all here and all as dull as you’d imagine.
Of course the same concerns over stagnant design could justifiably be aimed at the likes of BF 1943, but where the DICE shooter succeeds is in honing the experience to near perfection, taking those old levels and providing tweaks and alterations that enhance the play experience to compensate for the largely familiar setting. No Mercy simply provides some incredibly average shooting mechanics on top of crushingly bland design, leaving you to wonder exactly what the point is.
A considerable frequency of lag from some dicey network code provides the final nail in the coffin. During testing it was difficult to find a match in which players didn’t teleport or freeze for seconds at a time, and in an age in which even the most basic of narrative-driven shooters usually has capable online play, such a fault in No Mercy’s raison d’être is inexcusable.
When a licenced game fails to excite fans of the franchise on which its content is based, it had better have something in reserve for the swathes of other consumers to latch onto. Unfortunately for The Punisher, it ends up unrecommended in both regards.