Zeno Clash

Written by Joe Martin

April 22, 2009 | 08:59

Tags: #beat-em-up #fps #melee #source-engine #zeno-clash

Companies: #indie #steam

Zeno Clash

Platform: PC Exclusive
Publisher: Independent
UK Price (as reviewed): £14.99 via Steam
US Price (as reviewed): $20.99 via Steam

We don’t want to offend anyone here, but something we’ve long been aware of is that you can sometimes tell where a game was developed long before you’re aware of the fact. Some games just feel inspired by or representative of their cultures. Pathologic and Men of War just feel Russian. Lemmings feels British. GTA feels American. The Last Remnant; Japanese.

Zeno Clash feels French somehow, which is something that’s worth expressing regardless of the fact that it was developed in Chile. If games aren’t only geographically evocative for us then us saying that Zeno Clash feels like it was ripped from a surrealist French graphic novel will tell you a lot about the game.

Zeno Clash Zeno Clash Review
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If, on the other hand, we’re talking gibberish and you’ve never picked up on that idea then you’ll just have to assume we’ve spent far too long wallowing in the caricatured and utterly bizarre world of the Corwids; Zeno Clash’s anarchistic sect of madmen.

Fiercely independent and governed by no law, the Corwids are deliberately representative of the whole of Zeno Clash – a game that delights in the lack of context and familiarity that the player has. Enemies and allies are weird, wonderful things and your weapons are crude, crazy and unconventional. Hell, the entire game is unconventional! One moment you might be banishing shadow-zombies with a magic sceptre, the next you’re fist-fighting with an anthropomorphised elephant.

To capitalise on this, the game never really reveals the overall aim and motive for any of the characters until the absolute last moment. At the start of Zeno Clash you’re quickly told that you’re a murderer and must go on the run, but the story is mostly told through gradual, playable flashbacks.

Zeno Clash Zeno Clash Review
Click to enlarge

The skeleton of the plot though is that you are Ghat, a tattooed human man who starts the game by murdering a towering, yellow saucer-eyed creature that’s apparently your Father and Mother. This...thing...calls itself Father-Mother, appears to be made mostly out of elbows and is very much loved by its many dozen children – children that are a mix of human and various animal-man hybrids. It’s these children that form the main antagonist for the game, pursuing you to the literal end of the world in a quest for vengeance.

Accompanying you as you flee is the mostly-human Deidre, a girl with horns in her afro and an ability to remain optimistic no matter what. It’s to Deidre that Ghat slowly reveals the story of his crime, explaining how he came to be outcast from his extensive family.

The gameplay itself is structured around the story too, with a narrative that starts in the centre of the plot and slowly works outwards to explain both why Ghat committed patricide and how he copes with the aftermath in stages. First you run away from the bounty hunters after you, then when you stop to rest your start remembering how you got into this mess to start with. As a way of delivering the story it works perfectly, ensuring you’re constantly in the thick of it while also developing and fleshing out the characters a bit.

Given how alien nearly all the characters in Zeno Clash are it’s quite astounding how sympathetic you become to them, though that sympathy is helped out enormously by the gameplay.
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