Zeno Clash Review

From the minute you start Zeno Clash to the minute you finish it, you will probably be thinking one of two things: "What the hell is going on," or "that was amazing." Chances are, the first might still follow the second, but that's what the game is going for. If you haven't scratched your head or furrowed your brow (and eventually been amazed) over the game's simple plot, actually otherworldly setting, or surreal, bizarre aesthetic, then the game hasn't done its job.

A to the point fighting game tied together by a surreal world and plot, Zeno Clash is deceptively inventive-looking. The game revolves around Ghat, one of the many children of the Father-Mother, a ruling figure that has birthed an entire family to live with and follow it. At the beginning of the game, Ghat has killed Father-Mother and inexplicably (for a while), a woman named Deadra aids Ghat in his escape from his family, who are out for revenge.

As Ghat and Deadra make their long, tortuous escape, they travel through an otherworldly, surreal landscape. Ghat explains to Deadra why he killed his Father-Mother, and they pass through all manner of bizarre and dangerous obstacles. Throughout, Ghat's story is related through dialogue and flashbacks. The flashbacks conveniently (and awkwardly) serve as a way to throw more combat in your direction, along with the "present day" combat. Thus, there are really two parts to Zeno Clash: the game's art, design, and narrative sensibilities and leanings, and the combat. It turns out that neither of these elements is near as well-implemented as it needs to be.

As an exercise in first person melee combat (primarily), Zeno Clash is suitably tactile. Punches land with force, and a successfully delivered blow to a weakened opponent is almost always seen before it's heard. Likewise, the developers did a great job of capturing the physicality of Ghat. When Ghat grabs an enemy and smashes the monster's head into his knee, the camera focuses and wobbles accordingly. All of the combat is audio-visually authentic seeming. The problem is when you stop looking and listening and start playing.

Controlling Ghat's movement is awkward enough to begin with. His slow loping walk and his momentary sprints are never a satisfactory way of getting into and out of combat. The game uses a fatigue meter that gets used up by running, punching and blocking. As a result, you'll run out of energy quickly, and resort to running around the arenas, occasionally punching your enemies. This is where the second problem with combat arises: enemy models and types are repeated often, and due to the game's flashback happy story, you will feel like you're fighting through the same enemies over and over. Since each playable mission is essentially an arena fight (and the missions that aren't feel tacked on or unsure of their direction).