This is where I usually end up talking about how I didn’t expect such quality from an indie game like this and that I am blown away by my expectations that Zeno Clash surpassed, but honestly? I had no idea what to expect of this game. Sure, I knew it would look great and the characters and world would be unique and interesting, but despite the gameplay videos I had seen, I still had no idea what to expect. I think this is the perfect way to go into a review, or even just a new game.
As far as indie games go, Zeno Clash has raised the bar. That is a phrase too often used, but Zeno Clash truly has. Granted, all this goodness can’t come without its flaws (it’s not Portal, after all). As with many games, the beginning serves as a tutorial explaining the control system and how to use your different attacks. Because Zeno Clash focuses a lot on melee combat, it has a rather large collection of hand-to-hand attacks and combos and that translates to lots of buttons and sequences to remember. After the first few levels of the tutorial, you think you’re fine and that you’ve got it, but later you’re told even more combinations of attacks, blocks and counter moves. So at the beginning, the controls can feel a bit overwhelming, but you get used to them soon enough.
Zeno Clash‘s storyline can be a bit hard to understand at times (let alone trying to explain). The way the story is told is by the main character, Ghat, explaining his recent past to his travel companion, Daedra, on their journey, thus resulting in a bit of narration (which you can never have enough of in my opinion) and lots of flashbacks, seeing you play through the events as your character explains them to Daedra.
The game’s story begins with Ghat (your playable character) just after he is banished from his family and kicked out of town. You are a child of ‘Father-Mother’, a hermaphrodite creature who is a parent to hundreds of children, these children make up of Father-Mother’s clan.
The weapons in Zeno Clash are works of art on their own. Each weapon has a very unique design, while staying true to the weapon it is based on. All the weapons are clearly built using improvised parts. Although the weapon choice is somewhat limited, they are perfect for balancing the hand-to-hand combat, thus keeping the battles more interesting. Your bare hands are not your only weapons. You will use rifles, pistols, hammers and more to defeat your foes.
Because Zeno Clash is focused on fights, each fight is announced with an intro screen stating who you are up against (see image below). The use of these screens seem to work fine in preparing you for battle. You will fight anywhere from one to over four enemies at once and don’t think that the AI will simply pass by the weapons on the ground. They will use them just as much as you, if given the chance.
On top of the great story mode, Zeno Clash offers a challenge mode which offers a survival-mode gametype where you fight through five levels of a tower. Your results are posted to an online leaderboard, the objective being to beat your friend’s best time and/or health left. This is an aspect that makes the game playable for many hours, even after beating single player.
The soundtrack and voice overs for Zeno Clash are fantastically done. Even if you compare it to retail, big-name developed games, Zeno Clash can hold its own, and that alone makes this game well worth your time and money.
After curiosity got the best of me, I contacted ACE Team for some details. According to them, the development team for Zeno Clash consisted of six people plus another two for outsourced audio/music work. Although spending a year (off and on) researching the perfect SDK (Software Development Kit) to use, once the work started, the game was finished in a year and a half.
The release of Zeno Clash also marks 10 years since ACE Team released their first project, Batman DOOM, a mod for DOOM 2. This is a coincidence according to ACE. Congrats on 10 years, ACE!
- Graphics: 9
The fantastically designed world looks amazing. Although the lighting system could have been better, the great character models and attention to detail make up for it.
- Storyline: 8
The storyline can be confusing, but the story is actually quite good and keeps you interested throughout the game.
- Gameplay: 7
Zeno Clash can start to feel a bit linear at times, but it was not made as a “sandbox game” and the fights give you enough freedom to remove any feel of linearity you may have picked up.
- Controls: 7
The controls are pretty straight-forward, what you would expect of FPS controls. The hand-to-hand combat system is where the controls can get a bit confusing, especially in heated battles.
- Lasting Appeal: 8
Although the actual story only lasts 4-6 hours, the challenge mode should keep you busy trying to beat your friends for many hours.
Overall: 8 Olives