Review: Zeno Clash Ultimate Edition


Zeno Clash tries to immerse you in a remarkably unique fantasy world, but a quirky art design alone isn’t enough to make a game fun or interesting.  The environments and character models certainly look like they’re a part of a rich universe, but the gameplay is hopelessly repetitive and the story alternates between being uninteresting and nonexistent.

Combat mostly consists of first person brawling.  The game claims to have a deep fighting system, but you’ll realize pretty early on that being competent with strafing and timing power attacks is more than enough to dispatch most foes.  The only real semblance of difficulty comes from the fact that enemies later in the game start to block almost constantly, which can lead to awkward situations where your other opponents surround you.  Even that’s pretty avoidable, though.  It just feels like you’re doing the exact same thing over and over again.  Yes, I realize that you can say that about just about any game.  “All you do is shoot people over and over again.”  “All you do is jump over pits over and over again.”  The difference is that in most games interesting level design, a variety of opponents, and various other gameplay elements are meant to break up the monotony.  Instead, Zeno Clash somehow managed to make doing a variety of tasks feel repetitive.  Go kill those gangsters. Pull trigger, pull trigger pull trigger.  They’re dead.  Go hunt for food. Pull trigger, pull trigger, pull trigger.  They’re dead.  Go kill that bigger opponent.  Pick up weapon, pull trigger, pull trigger….

You'll be seeing these guys a lot.

The levels themselves are incredibly small, which I would have found unforgivable if I had liked the gameplay to begin with.  In many cases you’ll just fight four or five people in a back alley, then jump to the next location.  The ones that aren’t tiny fail to justify how long they are.  A good example of this would be the boat sequence featured in the video at the bottom of this review.  You just stand in one place and shoot at easy targets along each side of the river while the boat just slowly plods along.  Every now and then you’ll take a break from the shooting to listen to your comically gruff sounding, subtitles-required ally drone on with exposition.  Rinse and repeat for much too long and throw in some bits where absolutely nothing is happening and you’ve got yourself a level!  Don’t forget about the environment itself, which seems to be fifty feet of terrain on an infinite loop.

The story isn’t much to write home about.  You come from a tribe that was created by the hermaphrodite Father-Mother.  You discover his/her dark secret, kill him/her, and then run away as everyone else tries to hunt you down.  This chase gave the writers an excuse to have a whole lot of nothing happen for most of the game as you go from place to place while fighting the same handful of characters that are following you.  If you were to picture Pokemon with everything but Team Rocket scenes cut out of the series you wouldn’t be far off.  When you finally decide to stop running and resolve the story you’re hit with the big reveal, but even that was a disappointment.  I love story lines in games.  Mass Effect and Heavy Rain are two of my favorite games of all time!  Somehow Zeno Clash got me to commit the cardinal sin:  I actually found myself skipping cut scenes and dialog just to make the game end faster.

Do you have what it takes to beat all of the Tower challenges? I sure hope so, there's only five.

Zeno Clash does have one redeeming quality, but it’s a small one.  Aside from the story mode there’s a series of “tower” and “pit” battles you can take part in.  I fully recommend these.  You are confronted with interesting mixtures of enemies in unique and challenging scenarios that are genuinely fun to figure out.  Unfortunately there is only a shallow well of content here, and you’ll likely burn through it all in an hour or two.  I can’t help but wonder why the entire campaign wasn’t designed in this way.  If the game had started just after you discovered Father-Mother’s secret and took place entirely during your climb through this tower it could have been a much more interesting experience.  Alas, nothing in the campaign even begins to touch upon the potential that you’ll see in the tower and pit.

Sorry guys, art style just isn’t enough to carry a game when every other element is so lacking.

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