When the original Zeno Clash debuted, it made a mark with its unique and colourful visual style and its reliance on first-person fighting mechanics. It wasn’t a fighting game per se, as it featured open worlds and characters with personalities as crazy as their design. Looking back, it’s easy to see why anyone familiar with it would anticipate a sequel with more characters and more open environments – which is why playing Zeno Clash II just feels so unfulfilling.
Zeno Clash II is a strange game with a strange story, there is no doubt about it. The narrative starts with you, Ghat, teaming up with your “sister” Rimat to free your FatherMother from jail. Being the first mission of Zeno Clash II, saving FatherMother is ironic since Ghat helped imprison her in the original. After some convincing and liberating of FatherMother, you set on a journey to meet up with and attempt to recruit the aid of your “family.” If your wondering about the quotations, it’s because FatherMother isn’t your real father or mother. The creature has gone around various towns, stealing children, and those children are considered the only family of Ghat and Rimat.
Finding your family members involves visiting various locations in the world of Zenozoik, each place already visited by your brothers and sisters in their attempts to find their real parents. The locations are given by the creature that helped imprison FatherMother in the original Zeno Clash, the Golem. Now, apparently, the Golem isn’t the righteous person people thought it was and, therefore, is the antagonist of Zeno Clash II. His presence and actions in Zenozoik are the basis for Ghat’s revolt against him and realignment with the FatherMother clan. It’s not say the Golem isn’t fair though, as before he re-imprisons FatherMother, he gives you a chance to pass a trial for FatherMother’s freedom – which is the thread that holds Zeno Clash II’s narrative together.
The most intriguing element – and what should be Zeno Clash II’s main strength – is the first-person brawling combat. I remember playing a bit of the original and thinking: it’s really fun to just punch your enemies in the face. Regardless of your interest in the game itself, Zeno Clash II should be begging to be in your gaming library purely for the sake of letting off a little steam. It’s like the satisfaction of killing someone with the butt of your gun in Halo, only with scantily-clad cave people. Or, at least, it should be that satisfying – it just isn’t.
Unfortunately, Zeno Clash II doesn’t fulfill its destiny. That isn’t to say the combat isn’t satisfying when it works, it’s just that it doesn’t work well very often, and the collision detection is spotty at times, leading to many missed punches. This can often lead to pure button mashing rather than the strategic combat the game touts itself on. Too often you will find yourself in battles that you lose because of sheer numbers, and your A.I. companions often do little more than get in the way and take up enemy attention. There will be times you will feel like you’re in the middle of a mosh pit, and finding health is rare. Playing solo, you can choose allies to accompany you into battle, although one of them always has to to be Rimat. While she often acts of as the leader of FatherMother’s misfit family, she seems useless in battle. It is rare she will survive long enough to reach the conclusion of any ruckus, and it’s fair to say that you’ll run across A.I. companions who offer more. Most, however, do their best work when not your chosen ally, but in storyline fights aside your team. The few fights you get to take part in with FatherMother by your side are refreshing because she can dish out some heavy damage.
Zeno Clash II also attempts to mix in more than just first-person punching, but, again, these elements miss the mark. You will notice some RPG aspects, although how you gain the experience necessary to attain a skill point is very unclear. Collecting butterflies seems to be one path, but mostly you will pull up your map and objective screen and notice you have earned a skill point somehow. You can assign it to leadership to add additional allies, or just concentrate on the standard health and strength. The effort put into making this an effective gameplay mechanic seems minimal at best. You can collect staffs, hammers, and other weapons to use in combat, but many break after just a few blows, which makes the effort of exploring your environment seem pointless. You will also encounter more than a few bugs: sometimes, for instance, an enemy will stand still and you can punch it to death with no reprisal, while at other times, you will become the human punching bag, able to run around while hoping your opponent thinks your’e crazy, but unable to use your fists of fury. It’s just downright infuriating
Being an indie game, the gloss of high-definition graphics just aren’t there, though that isn’t to say the game doesn’t look gorgeous thanks to some great art direction. The stylized worlds are trippy and offer an unique visual flair. Trying to guess the species of the creature you’re encountering is about as useful as trying to figure out what the developers were on when creating the visuals. Each section of Zenozoik is a visual treat and the eye candy is certainly a notch on ACE Team’s belt: every character, from the protagonists Ghat or Rimat to the most common NPC, seem to uniquely visualized. I only wish the map didn’t look like it was drawn on a napkin. This, combined with the iffy compass, makes finding your objectives difficult. Also, pathways can offer confusing layouts thanks to the static backgrounds and your inability to go off a pre-designed path.
The sound is about what you’d expect with the colorful visuals of Zenozoik with the voice acting and dialogue fittign the unique visual look of each character. While it isn’t memorable and doesn’t make you want to listen to every piece of script, it always feels smooth and authentic to the character saying it.
VERDICT: Zeno Clash II is truly a game that will placate fans of the original, but quickly lose the interest of first-timers. The story is strange, but intriguing. The worlds and the art are original and creative, but confusing. And the combat ends up being downright dull and often frustrating. This is the game you want to love -and can feel so right at times - but you just cannot commit to it.
The best way to describe Zeno Clash II is to say that it’s like a strange dream – one of those vivid, memorable dreams where you end up in a strange land and left to your own devices. Just as you’re exploring, waiting for things to get interesting, you awaken back to reality via a smack to the face. Which is precisely what Zeno Clash II is like: being punched. Right in the face.
BAD. Games tagged 4/10 will be playable, perhaps even enjoyable, but will be let down by a slew of negative elements that undermine their quality and value. Best avoided by any but hardcore genre fans.
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