Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition (XBLA)

Powered by Valve's Source engine, Zeno clash was originally released on the PC back in 2009. Played from the first person perspective, 95% of the time your only weapons will be your fists. Yep, this is a first person brawler - or, as the developers themselves describe it, "Dark Messiah meets Double Dragon".

In a nutshell, that means that you will need to learn the various combos at your disposal as well as learn to anticipate the behavior of your enemies, so you can dodge or block effectively. Mastering the ability to use your arsenal of moves (including defensive ones) is almost as key to the game as knowing what is going on around you. This is a first person brawler, remember, which typically means that there's more than one bad dude trying to waste you at any given moment.

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Speaking of bad dudes... Zeno Clash has quite the menagerie of freaks. Taking place in some sort of post-apocalyptic or freakish parallel universe, people (as we think of them) are in the minority. Strange bird-based humanoids and ugly fat things that crave rooster blood are quite mundane compared to the beasts that build their houses on giraffe-llamas and throw squirrels with TNT strapped to them.

And that's a literal description of one of the earlier boss encounters.

Gameplay varies a lot throughout the course of the singleplayer campaign, an adventure which starts out with you killing your Father-Mother (that's one person, fyi) and then fleeing with your horny girlfriend (hey, mind out of the gutter folks - she's got antlers in her afro, true story) whilst the full story is relayed through a series of playable flashbacks.

The bulk of the gameplay is based around combating various foes, typically hand-to-hand, but there are some weapons (even guns) chucked in. They're not that great, though and aside from a few key situations, you're almost always better off going toe-to-toe with your enemies than trying to pick them off from range.

The controls are solid, with fairly standard FPS controls (move with left stick, aim with right) including a "Southpaw" (i.e. those two things reversed) option available for those that like to do things differently. You perform your basic attack with the right trigger (holding it down for your basic combo) and block with A, dodging by using A and a direction on the analogue stick. Getting precise hits with your kicks takes some getting used to and you'll find yourself missing a grounded foe with a kick unless you're in exactly the right spot. It's not a big deal but it is a bit odd when you first start playing.

There are additional combos and moves available, including powerful alternate attacks and advanced moves that are related to perfectly timing your dodges and blocks. You pick the basics up quick enough and will find yourself naturally improving your timing and technique as the enemies get harder, with Zeno Clash demonstrating good pacing throughout.

Visually the game is superb, with a fleshed-out style and huge variety in the enemies (Elephant Man is a personal favorite). The visual flair extends to the presentation of the game itself, with great breakout boxes, a-la Street Fighter, that make it clear who you are fighting in any given scenario. Getting slammed into the ground is so visceral you'll feel like you've been hit in the real world - expect any observers to make satisfying "oooh" and "aaah" noises or look for actual bruises in the mirror the next day.

The sound is ok - pretty good really. But the volume levels are all over the place and you'll find yourself having difficulty hearing dialogue from time to time as the music marches triumphantly over the top of it. A key talking character in the early game sequence, who sounds quite a bit like the Evil from Fifth Element, has a voice that is so distorted it can actually be hard to tell what he's saying at all. Still, it's very in-character anyway.

Zeno Clash manages to remain compelling throughout, with its kooky world and compelling (if weird) narrative. It's fun to play and keeps spicing things up, with no real filler bits between the good stuff. The characters are the wackiest thing this side of a Miyazaki film yet incredibly well realized and you'll find yourself caring about what happens to them. Even if what happens is you hitting them in the face with a sledgehammer.

If you're looking for something with an edge that's able to say "look at me, I'm different" and pull it off, look no further. Zeno clash is a winner and comes with a shiny NZGamer.com recommendation.

"Surprisingly good"
- Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition
Follow Own it? Rating: M   Difficulty: Medium   Learning Curve: 15 Min


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Comments Comments (2)

The Host of Chaos
Posted by The Host of Chaos
On Sunday 25 Jul 2010 2:55 PM
You've certainly made it sound appealing, but I'll still probably never play it.
Posted by Conrad
On Sunday 25 Jul 2010 11:15 PM
Cool review Alan, this was probably one of my fav games of 2009. Definitely recommend it.