Zeno Clash II ReviewOmar Elaasar
We are animal.
We've created technology that extends the everyman's conscience into an interconnected web of networks, let's us communicate instantly, spread ideas, and start revolutions. With that same technologies we've also created violent, vicious fantasies of destruction to let us experience the primal forces society has taken us out of touch with. At the most basic of those urges is the desire to inflict destruction with our most primal tool, our bodies themselves. Even so there have been very few games that have allowed us to experience the intimate violence of first person fist fighting, the satisfaction of fist to skull. Zeno Clash revels in this primal energy. The creation of ACE Team, the Chilean independent developer that also created the slapstick classical art tower defense hybrid, Rock of Ages, Zeno Clash II is the team's expanded attempt to deliver the kind of animal experience that we ache for.
A glance at Zeno Clash II should make it obvious that this is not your typical experience. Rendered in a raw, surrealistic art style that brings to mind the nightmare landscapes of Hieronymus Bosch by way of Salvador Dali, the world of Zeno Clash is a place that revels in the animalistic. Characters range from recognizable, yet still alien human beings, to fully anthropomorphic beings. The story is similarly bizarre. Set after the events of the first game the story deals with Ghat as he attempts to rescue Father-Mother, a towering bird-like creature and parent to many of the residents of the world. Revealed to have kidnapped the children of the family from the homes of others, Father-Mother has been locked away by the Golem, a being brought from the end of the world by Ghat himself to overthrow Father-Mother in the previous game.
While the first game set up an interesting and bizarre world, it never felt like more than a backdrop to the action. The second game expands on the world of Zenozoik both thematically and physically. The game now sports a more open, non-linear world to explore and take on, while themes of order vs. chaos, technology vs. the natural world, and tribalism and family all appear within the narrative. Interestingly, the residents of Zenozoik find the concept of "jail" that the Golem brings to be entirely foreign. While some embrace it and become "Enforcers" many others prefer to solve conflicts in a more primal way, that is, with their fists.
This is where the fighting begins. Zeno Clash II starts off with what is essentially a bar fight. Taking place in a first person perspective, Zeno Clash puts an emphasis almost entirely on fist fighting. Like the first game, you can throw in punch combinations with heavy blows, then grab enemies while stunned to inflict more damage. This entry also adds attack strings that end in powerful combo finishers and build up meter, allowing access to a suite of special moves that can be used to end a fight faster, as well as a berserk mode that makes your faster and more powerful. You can still kick opponents while they are down without mercy, and punches can now be aimed, allowing you to get around an opponent's guard, even if most of the time you'll want to aim at their head for maximum impact.
ZCII introduces a new auto lock on mechanic that locks on to enemies as you attack them, allowing you to switch between circling enemies with the throw of a punch. While this works fine during small scale battles, the number of enemies in a battle scale up drastically as the game progresses, making it difficult to target the actual enemy you want to engage. I found that turning it off in favor of free targeting enemies in groups while manually locking onto enemies I'd separated worked to remove a lot of frustration.
Crowd control plays a large part of the game as well, with battles regularly having you face off against many opponents at once. To take them on you'll need to isolate opponents with special attacks and make use of the various weapons you come across. While the introduction of weapons is significant, they play a part more akin to their functions in Monolith Productions' Condemned. A variety of fantastically realised weaponry is made available at points, but ammo is very limited and shots must be carefully considered. Gun tend to be primitive, and are more akin to civil war era weaponry than those of modern first person shooters. Guns can also be knocked out of your hands easily when hit, so at times it might be more useful to bash the enemy with a gun then shoot them with it. Heavy mallets also are available to inflict more damage, very useful against larger enemies, but they are fragile and while break after a few hits. There are also a few more exotic weapons you'll gain permanently throughout the story, but they are very situational and don't take much attention away from the well realized fist fighting.
Further expanding on the scale of the game, Ghat can now recruit teammates to help him in his fight. By finding totems throughout the world, Ghat will now gain skill points which he can spend to increase his health, strength, endurance, and leadership, the last of which will allow him to recruit more powerful allies. Regardless, Ghat will always have at least one ally (unless previously knocked out in battle) to help take on the crowds. You can also have a friend come tag along as your co-op partner online. The co-op aspects at this moment are a bit shaky, with some players reporting significant lag for the non-host player. If you can find someone to take on the game with you without any problems, it makes for a good night of fist fighting, however if that isn't possible throwing a few point into leadership and bringing along CPU allies, or even simply taking the game on without any allies are both viable options.
With Zeno Clash II, ACE Team have improved upon the dizzying and surreal foundation that the first game's bareknuckle combat and world brought along, a few technical hitches aside. While the story meanders and bit and fails to properly pay off, the world design and weighty combat make it a standout game nonetheless. Those expecting a proper open world will find the level design restrictive and the world mostly barren of extra activities to occupy them. Regardless, ACE Team have created a raw and animal dreamscape to unleash our primal selves upon. It might not always click, but when it does you'll be hard pressed to find a game that does what Zeno Clash does better.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.
Omar Elaasar is an hobbyist artist, writer, and game developer, and is dedicated to playing obscure games in order to maintain his status as a most pretentious hipster.
About the Author: Omar Elaasar
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