What on Earth did I just play? Zeno Clash is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It’s a game that seems to be set within a Salvador Dali painting. This weirdness caught gamer’s eyes when it was released for PC last year. It comes to the 360 with some co-op modes and combat tweaks but, fundamentally, little has changed. It’s still a first-person brawler through one of the weirdest worlds you will probably ever see in a game. Seriously. This is sort of stuff you’d dream about after supping too much Calpol when you’re sick or after too many shots of whisky.
The story is, at times, nonsensical. You’re put in the shoes of Ghat, a member of a large tribe, who attacks Father-Mother, a large hermaphrodite bird-like thing who is parent to the whole tribe. The story jumps between before the events, leading to why Ghat did it, and after, as Ghat escapes from his angry brothers and sisters and it makes absolutely no sense. It’s pretty much an excuse to find some ridiculous looking characters and beat the ever loving crap out of them – rinse and repeat.
The world and its characters continue this utter nonsense. Some levels feature giant dinosaur like things (which look suspiciously like the large giraffe creatures on Tattooine in Star Wars: A New Hope) and others feature African style shacks as drawn by Dali. Everything is in a gorgeous pastel colour which makes everything seem to blend together as if it was some really really weird dream. The characters are no different; your mentor looks like an ogre with a helmet on backwards. Father-Mother is a culmination of many different animals being drawn at once and the enemies range from ogres, to frog-ducks, to bird-headed men.
The gameplay, thank goodness, is a lot easier to explain than the story. It is, essentially, a first person brawler in the way that Mirror’s Edge or Chronicles of Riddick was, and works in much the same way. Everything feels much smoother than on the PC, with punches and kicks mapped to the triggers and block to A. Combos can be pulled off in conjunction with counters, blocks, dashes and so on to devastating effect. Hitting enemies feels very visceral, probably due to the first person view, but every punch looks like it hurt a fair bit. There are weapons too, ranging from firearms to huge clubs. The firearms don’t seem very useful, apart from in ranged combat, but the clubs are great fun to swing around.
Combat, after a while, does feel extremely repetitive. As I said before, the game is essentially one combat scenario into a next, the only really change is the difficulty and numbers of enemies and even then, once you’ve mastered the advanced combat, it’s pretty easy to fly through them all. When a game relies solely on one mechanic, it can get boring quite quickly. The AI also seems very unfair in that it will take cheap shots from behind as much as possible and, coupled with an annoying targeting system, combat can get frustrating as a result.
Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition brings back the challenge modes from the PC version, which are essentially staged arena matches with you having to defeat all enemies, before moving on to the next arena where the enemies get tougher. The difference here though, is that you can take them on with a friend in split-screen local or online. This does take away from the experience because the enemies become easier to defeat and there is no difficulty gauge for the challenges making it a breeze. I got through a good few of the arenas with a friend without dying once. It’s also disappointing that the main campaign is not open for co-op, especially since you usually have a companion with you.
Zeno Clash is weird. I’ll just lay that out – you’ll never see anything like it anywhere else. It is a sign that games developers can be creative in their weirdness. It’s just a damn shame that the game is not only very short, with it being completed in around 3 hours or so, but is an average brawler that becomes repetitive quite quickly. For 1200 MS Points, the asking price seems too high for what it is. It’s definitely more of an intriguing look rather than an instant classic.