Zeno Clash PC Review


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While the product of an independent, Chilean developer might fail to grab the interest of the casual gamer, Zeno Clash is easily one of the most impressive independent titles to come along in recent days.  There are a few things that become instantly clear when studying or playing the game for the first time.  To begin with, the graphical fidelity is not what one might have expected from an indie studio.  Utilizing the power of Valve’s Source engine has enabled Zeno Clash to pull off all the latest visual tricks with ease.  Even with graphics settings all set to their highest level, the game runs on a mid-range PC without a hitch.  It is, by anyone’s standards, a beautiful and striking game to gaze upon.  Simultaneously, Zeno Clash distinguishes itself by taking advantage of a powerful graphics engine to produce a thoroughly intriguing and exotic universe.  This is likely where the game’s biggest attraction lies.  The visual design feels like a wondrous amalgam of 80’s sci-fi metal with surrealistic dreamscape artwork.

At the heart of all this visual flair is a surprisingly (and perhaps disappointingly) simple set of combat mechanics.  Zeno Clash incorporates both first person shooting and first person melee combat, and the result is a fairly polished system that is enjoyable and easy to learn.  Firearms are all very exotic and organic, like the rest of the world – lovers of environmentally-friendly warfare may gush over the natural foundations of the game’s weaponry.  This cleverly adds unique flavor and visual interest to the game without changing the mechanics in such a way that would cause confusion.  Typically, you’ll pick up a weapon, admire its interesting design, test it out on a few enemies, and happily realize that it functions rather like similar weapons in other shooters.  Personally, I would have been pleased if some secondary functionality gave the weapons extra oomph, but they are all fairly adequate as they are.

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In the interest of balance, the foes you’ll face will do everything they can to knock weapons from your grasp, which is somewhat realistic if a bit frustrating.  The real meat of the combat lies with the visceral melee battles.  Each battle commences with a campy “versus” announcement screen, much like those seen in fighting games from decades past.  Since you’ll inevitably find yourself going toe-to-toe in a melee brawl, you’ll end up learning the mechanics very quickly.  The basic punches can be used in variable strengths and speeds, with blocking and evasive maneuvers to aid in defense.  Grabbing a foe’s funny-looking face and smashing it repeatedly into your knee is easily one of the highlights of the Zeno Clash experience.

The visual style is reminiscent of Panzer Dragoon’s organic, flowing textures and alien tribal vibes.  There are plenty of memorable, outlandish sights that resemble everything from horrific prehistoric mutations to improbable geologic formations.  Equally intriguing is the game’s audio design, which features a marvelous myriad of sounds and voiceovers.  The characters sound real and, well… full of character, something which rarely happens with such consistency in even a major game release.  I actually found myself wishing Zeno Clash was an RPG – the apparent scale and depth of the world is simply begging to be explored in greater detail.  As it stands, the mysterious and ambiguously metaphorical realm is full of weird and wonderful things that should appeal to even the most seasoned liberal artists.

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As is often the case with such games, the ambiguity can get a bit disorienting at times.  The basic narrative makes sense at its core, but I actually did feel tempted to replay certain sections just to see if the underlying logic became clearer.  I’m not sure if this was intentional in the game design, but I do think replayability should be driven from a desire to play the game itself.  Unfortunately, this is where Zeno Clash falters somewhat.  The combat, exciting though it may be, can get tiresome.  The levels are cleverly paced so that the action occurs in short bursts.  You can play it, take a breath, play some more, then save and come back later.  Many of the differences in the bizarre enemies seem largely cosmetic, which is too bad, because greater variation in their tactics would have made things less predictable and a bit less dull toward the end of the game.

Thankfully, Zeno Clash does not pretend to be more than it is, and concludes right about where it should.  Since it stretches some fairly basic gameplay into a full game, it’s hard to say just what is needed in order to improve things for a sequel.  Given the modest price to download this title from Steam, I’d say it’s worth a go if you can spare the cash.  It’s a pleasant romp through a funky world that might be a touch too exotic for narrow-minded audiences, but the gameplay is entirely accessible.  For a fresh world to vent your frustrations and fulfill your violent fantasies in, Zeno Clash is the way to go.

7/10

by

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Version tested: PC

Developer: ACE Team

Publisher: Valve

Genre: First-Person Combat

Players: 1