Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition Xbox 360 Review
As hard as it is to imagine now, there was once a time when not every FPS game was based around a military or sci-fi setting (or military sci-fi, as seen in Halo). During the N64 and PS1 era of gaming, 3D was still an experimental perspective among developers, which resulted in all sorts of bizarre worlds and settings with abstract characters and colours. It is for this reason that despite the incredibly weird and otherworldly setting of Zeno Clash, it also feels familiar for those early adopters of 3D consoles. As a debut title by modders-turned-studio ACE Team, a big risk has been taken in releasing this bizarre first-person title to a console that houses some of the most definitive FPS titles of our current generation. But does a competent game exist underneath the weird visuals?
The story of Zeno Clash takes place in an otherworldly wasteland known as Zenozoik. Main character Ghak is on the run from his tribe of metaphorical siblings after being linked to the murder of tribe leader Father-Mother (try not to ponder that title, you’ll only lose sleep over it). With the help of Deadra, his female companion (Sister? Love interest? Both?) he fights off his bloodthirsty brothers and sisters and journeys toward parts unknown, meeting all manner of bizarre enemies and allies while slowly unravelling a conspiracy that will forever affect all the families of Zenozoik.
Usually with a new game, the visuals are the first thing to be noticed by gamers; with Zeno Clash, they might do a double take. The urban wasteland settings and tribal punk character designs bares resemblance to The Maxx comic series, taking Valve’s ever-popular Source engine to create a bizarre new visual style not yet seen in our current generation. Main characters Ghak and Deadra are the most normal looking, but everyone else seems be borne of the same toxic gene pool; we have large bird-men, complete with plumages and beaks, hulking and muscular pig men, goat women draped in bondage (including a total of six breasts, which are bound to horrify most people while arousing some). There are many more indescribable mutant monstrosities to be found in Zeno Clash’s world, and most will require a heavy beat-down in order to survive.
Like most Source titles, Zeno Clash is almost entirely first-person, but with a greater emphasis on hand-to-hand combat rather than shotguns and assault rifles. Most encounters are played out through bare-handed brawls, where players must master punching combos, blocking, dodging, and countering moves in order to come out as top dog (man).
Weapons can also be wielded during battle, from huge clubs to primitive firearms (such as a massive slingshot-like weapon and explosive skulls, to name a few), but a single retaliating hit will knock the item right out of your hands (which in turn can be used by enemies). The same rule applies to your opportunistic enemies, adding an extra bit of chaos to all of the bloody brawling, but for those special encounters were an equipped weapon is necessary to win, players may grow frustrated once their weapon flies out of their hands and into some unseen corner.
Another frustrating quirk occurs when fighting more than one enemy at once; players can instantly lock onto any target, making them the focus of their attacks, but cycling between enemies isn’t as smooth as it could be, and the limited first person perspective can result in one or more sucker-punches to your blindside. Fortunately, a sprint button makes it easy enough to break out of a cornered situation and help regain your bearings (or to quickly consume one of the health-regenerating fruit lying around).
The final mark against Zeno Clash is its length; just as you become accustomed to the surreal world and its deformed inhabitants, the game abruptly comes to a close at just under three hours, pretentiously leaving its plot points unresolved for an eventual sequel. A set of extra challenges (both Pit and Tower, respectively) help add an extra hour or two of longevity, along with an online co-op mode that can prove decent enough, provided you find a willing friend to join in since the majority of Xbox Live will most likely stick to Modern Warfare instead.
In the end, Zeno Clash delivers an original, if downright uncanny premise that keeps a linear yet decent pace, but falls just a bit short of fully fleshing out its otherworldly setting and characters. It’s not a must-have title, but may provide a refreshing alternative to bald space marines and army recruitment programs.