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By Crispy Gamer
Great visuals; Chaotic bursts of multiplayer action
Shallow single-player; Extremely glitchy online play
Crispy Gamer Says: Fry
I understand why Marvel Comics' trigger-happy antihero seems ideal to port from paper to screen.
Frank Castle falls in the lineage of proven marketable hard cases like Mack Bolan and Dirty Harry. His focus on unambiguous justice, achieved through a plethora of military-grade weapons, practically screams to be brought to life in a movie or game. (Network television wouldn't know what to do with ol' Frank.)
The things that make the Punisher work -- dark humor and nihilistic ultraviolence, along with the combo of gun and technological fetishes -- are most effective in comics. The character first appeared in a Spider-Man comic, and his no-nonsense attitude strongly contrasted with Spider-Man's neurotic cunning and no-killing ethos. Frank Castle's backdrop is a Manhattan where brightly clad metahumans duke it out but never, ever kill anyone. So, as a guy who consistently wields lethal force, he looks like a bad-ass.
But, the minute you transplant him to media landscapes where a mien like his is more the rule than the exception, the Punisher loses all urgency. None of the three movies starring Frank Castle moved the excitement needle into the red, and his videogame track record isn't much better. In the realm where Master Chief and Marcus Fenix reign supreme, the skull-wearing death-dealer just becomes another guy running around with tons of guns.
"The Punisher: No Mercy" happens as a first-person shooter, seemingly a natural fit for a Punisher game. Players earn new weapons and abilities (called mods here) as they play. It's built on the Unreal Engine and it shows. The frenetic pace of the action resembles that of the "Unreal Tournament" series, and the emphasis on scrambling across the map and scavenging weapons and mods also feels very Unreal.
The best thing about "No Mercy" is its looks.
It's filled with shiny, sharp and slick textures that recreate the lurid, hyper-real New York City where Frank Castle hunts his prey. Other characters from the Punisher's world -- like tech expert Microchip, mutant lunatic Bushwacker and Eastern European bombshell Silver Sable -- show up as multiplayer characters, artificial-intelligence partners or enemies.
Single-player is a shallow, frantic experience. At the end of each level, stilted motion-comic animation, with laughable voice acting and subpar art from Mike Deodato, shoves the story along. Then the game becomes a kill-die-respawn free-for-all until you meet the goal set for advancing to the next level. While such an experience isn't abnormal for an FPS, I'd hoped this Punisher game would showcase the methodical, strategic side of the character. I didn't feel like the scourge of the underworld at all.
And the multiplayer I played was a buggy, sputtering mess. How buggy? The muzzle flashes of the gun firing didn't sync up with the sound of the gun firing. Neither synced up with my actual trigger presses. It got worse, too. I found myself stuck to the geometry, moving jerkily up stairs and around corners. When you can't trust the reliability of movement in any game, the experience becomes worthless. But when it's an FPS, such a sin's truly egregious. The first-person perspective's supposed to let you glide through a world of mayhem -- but I got capped plenty of times trying to figure out what the hell was going wrong.
"No Mercy" reminds me of "Watchmen: The End Is Nigh."
Both tie-in games look great, but offer up only superficial understandings of their lead characters. (Also, in the same way that "The End Is Nigh" made the normally taciturn Rorschach into a Chatty Cathy, this videogame Frank Castle talks way too much.)
It's great that the game's Punisher is clearly modeled on Tim Truman's moody covers from the comic, and that the trivia-filled loading screens offer up info on the Punisher's history. But smearing that stuff on top of a buggy, poorly executed title doesn't do the characters or his fans any justice. Top-tier character or not, the powers-that-be at Marvel Comics need to keep their gritty gunman away from entities that would only misuse him.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
© CRISPY GAMER. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
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