Zeno Clash Review

Screenshot of Zeno Clash demonstrating in-game brawling

Zeno Clash is a first-person beat ’em up game from Chilean ACE Team. It’s a wonderful game world and a satisfying simulation of hand-to-hand (foot-to-face, club-to-head) fighting. Though briefer and more challenging than many high-quality first-person games, it’s a lot of fun to play through, and, in my opinion, worth your while.

You play as Ghat, a man that has just murdered his Father-Mother, a chicken-legged androgyne that carries its baby children in its coat pockets. You’re pursued by your siblings, eager to avenge the death of their parent, and are followed by Deadra, your female companion and backup. As you escape Father-Mother’s stronghold, Ghat tells Deadra about how he came to kill his parent. These flashbacks are playable episodes, and alternate with your escape with Deadra.

The full review is available below the break.

The locations you play through are beautiful: the designs, architecture, and textures are excellent and varied. In the course of the game, you’ll hunt rabbits in the desert under building-sized animals, ride a gondola down a moonlit river that’s set in something like a curled spinal cord, and kick venomous crabs under a beached whale in a beach cove. The world, called Zenozoik, is a colourful fantasy land, a cross of Dr. Seuss and Mad Max, full of demented primitive-to-medieval characters and straight-up monsters.

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The characters you’ll encounter are unique and bizarre, particularly the Corwids, a group of amoral lunatics that dance around, head butt trees, and sometimes eat each other. The creatures you’ll face in Zenozoik range from your high-kicking, bamboo-hat–wearing sister to a pair of hairless Alf-alikes in bondage gear.

The majority of the game is spent in closed arenas beating up three to four opponents until they’re unable to fight back. What Mirror’s Edge is to platformers (see Mirror’s Edge 2D), Zeno Clash is to beat ’em ups: a first-person take on a tried game mechanic.

Screenshot of Zeno Clash, showing its beautiful beached whale-like creature

Zeno Clash provides some very convincing first-person fisticuffs. Your punches land on opponents’ faces with meaty thumps, they stagger back cross-eyed with pain, or fall to the ground where you can kick them as they struggle to get back up. The brawling feels weighty and real. It’s satisfying to land a combo in a desperate fight, or to block and dodge an opponent’s attack to then kick them in the stomach.

The game also includes pistol-, crossbow-, and rifle-like weapons. These weapons are a little clumsy and slow to reload. They’re useful when fighting enemies at a distance, but will be knocked from your hands in close combat. Foes will pick them up and fire at you while you’re fighting, so you have to keep moving and shifting your focus to avoid being sniped. As in Mirror’s Edge, you can’t expect to survive by coming in with guns blazing.

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Zeno Clash ain’t easy—it doesn’t even have an easy setting. When you first run the game, it’s set to a high difficulty setting; the lowest is “normal,” which provides a decent challenge. Fortunately, I didn’t experience any fight or section that I couldn’t beat after a few tries. It’s not easy, but it’s also not frustrating.

It also doesn’t outlast its welcome. The single-player campaign lasts just about four hours, and it stays fresh throughout. (The game includes a challenge mode which sets you against a long line of enemies.) Though you’ll face certain enemies multiple times, you’ll never have to backtrack or go through any tired corridors or endless woods.

Zeno Clash is a very good looking game, not because of its technology, but because of its creators’ imagination and skill. The setting is anything but the dark, grey and brown sci-fi ruins of Killzone 2, Gears of War, or Dead Space. Not only that, it plays well too, creating a sense not only of place, but of physical sensation. The fighting game is great, the attacks feel solid and real. Zeno Clash is original and enjoyable.

Zeno Clash is available on Steam for 20 USD (approximately 24 CAD).

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