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 Gameplay

Genre-wise, Zeno Clash isn’t anywhere near as innovative as the design and artwork that populates the world. It’s a trifle disparaging to say it so bluntly, but Zeno Clash is ‘just’ an FPS brawler when all the eye-candy and cleverness is stripped away.

It’s not always a brawler mind you, as there are guns and bombs you can use if you want to, but all this really means is that the levels alternate semi-regularly between very linear corridor shooting bits and plain old arenas.

The game disguises it quite well and the artistry of the world around you means it isn’t especially limiting, but there’s no escaping it either. If you aren’t fenced into a town square or canyon for a fist fight then you’re probably on a very direct path or auto-piloting boat with a rifle in your hand. To some people the fact that the gameplay is that basic is a little too shallow to be appealing.

Those people are missing out though as, frankly, the FPS fisticuffs mechanic of Zeno Clash is wonderfully put together and the whole feel of the combat is evocative of Condemned or Chronicles of Riddick. Using just the left and right mouse buttons you can effortlessly string together dozens of different punch and kick combinations, slowly getting comfortable with the nuances of blocking, dodging and counter-attacking, all of which are easy to get your head around.

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Some of the weird and wonderful characters you'll meet in Zeno Clash

Using weapons in Zeno Clash is pretty straightforward too and there are a few different types of arcane-looking firearms for you to try out, though the choice is always dependant on what is in the level to start with. For some reason Ghat never wants to keep hold of any of the guns, despite the fact that they all have unlimited ammo – it must be because they take so long to reload.

Unfortunately though, it isn’t all good news when it comes to how smoothly Zeno Clash handles. We found ourselves regularly losing fights down to one feature in particular; lock-on. The lock-on feature is almost universally redundant to start with anyway since nearly every arena has multiple toughened enemies in it that you’ll need to keep track of, but it’s made worse by the fact that the same button has to be used for picking up items.

Not only will locking-on mean that you’ll be easily blindsided by the second or third (or fourth or fifth) enemy, but it also means you’ll end up picking up health or weapons when you don’t want to or locking onto a foe when you want to grab a gun. The whole thing is ridiculously cumbersome and unnecessary, the issue further compounded by having to find just the right place to stand in if you want to pick up a piece of precious health-giving fruit.

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Click to enlarge

The longer you play for (and to be fair, Zeno Clash is a decent length and has a solid challenge mode for dessert) the more repetitive the game begins to feel too. By the time you’ve reached the halfway point it’s become perfectly clear that there are only really three types of enemies – normal fighters, small one-hit-to-kill distractions and huge bosses that require a specific weapon and tactic to defeat. The Zeno Clash Zeno Clash Conclusionstactic is always just hit them with the right mouse button and that weapon is always a hammer, with only one exception.

It’s a shame that there are facets of the gameplay which fail to live up to the overall excellence of the presentation and imagination that Zeno Clash has been crafted with, but at least these facets are relatively few. The game may be a tad repetitive, but it’s also perfectly paced and a decent length, so it neither ends too soon nor outstays its welcome.

It’s worth bearing in mind that it’s the character design and artwork that’s the centrepiece of Zeno Clash though, not the fluid combat or varied levels. Strip the eclectic style out and you’d be left with a predictable, but fundamentally solid brawler. Leave the game as it is and you have an incredibly memorable and rich game that lacks a little polish, but still delivers.

However, creativity doesn’t cover all flaws, so just because you get to fight a blind bounty hunter atop a beached whale at one point doesn’t mean that Zeno Clash is offering anything truly new.

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October 14 2021 | 15:04