Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition Review

Bizarrific? No, that’s not the word. Strangejoyable? Maybe. It’s truly difficult to pin down a game as unique in character, level, and gameplay design as Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition, so only imaginary words can do it justice. But the bottom line up front is if you are looking for a different, inexpensive, albeit short first-person brawler on XBL, this is the one.

In Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition, a slight revamp of Zeno Clash for the PC, players take the reins of Ghat, who has killed his Father-Mother, a vulture-like humanoid, in the world of Zenozoik, and travels the absolutely insane countryside with his female partner, Deadra, trying to escape his vengeful brothers and sisters. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill siblings, mind you, as they can range from a crazed pig-man, to a hulking, behemoth elephant-man, to… well, some really indescribable foes. The crazy part about these creatures and their universe is the casual way in which they’re treated. The story unfolds like any other tale of exile and revenge, but you fend off enemies with fish guns and kill head crab assassins who ride giant dinosaurs and dead whales. ACE has pushed the envelope of believability with this title, and it turns out to be interesting enough to be compelling. Zeno Clash demands that the player press on, not so much for any RPG element or plot point, but just to see what mind-bending creation is around the next corner.

zeno clash

Most of this world only exists inside the 6-8 hour campaign, though the character models transfer over to the new modes, the co-op Tower and Pit Challenges and Zeno Rush. Tower challenges are essentially a horde mode built into a tower, and Pit challenges are similar except the waves of enemies are evenly distributed across a number of collapsible platforms as the player descends through the pit. The Tower Challenges were immediately more enjoyable than the Pit Challenges, because the pits have a way of unexpectedly plunging Ghat to his death, whereas the Tower Challenges are more straightforward, but capture the fighting action that highlights the game. Zeno Rush is a time trial mode for the regular campaigns, so don’t expect too much out of this mode aside from some marginal replay value.

The heart of Zeno Clash lies firmly in its unique first-person combat, despite the attention that the creative world and its inhabitants also draw. Most combat unfolds via hand-to-hand martial arts, handled mostly by the left and right triggers. These do everything: punch, kick, elbow, knee, and throw. Not all enemies go down so easily, which is why a variety of inventive-looking weapons become available, ranging from fish spears to bamboo shotguns. The melee weapons, like hammers, work well enough and can deliver some satisfying body blows to the smaller enemies. Ranged weapons, however, including guns, feel awkward and clunky, which becomes very detrimental to certain segments that require shooting far-off targets. Some quicker, cleaner mechanics might have made the use of guns and crossbows more enjoyable. Additionally, the inability to hold any gun after getting hit frustratingly eliminates player choice and often pigeonholes battles into hand-to-hand combat.

zeno clash also

Zeno Clash excels visually, especially for an XBL title, largely due to the uniqueness and strange wonder of the Zenozoik. Imagine something like a brontosaurus with a bird house around its neck, or cannibals who live in twisted green and yellow arched swamps, or even the bizarre trip to the "end of the world" down the river lined with rock slingers in wookie suits. There simply is no shortage of engaging details to notice in this game, and the story compliments the bizarre nature of the environment well. The game’s soundtrack fits with the action of each scene, though no particular moments stand out as distinctly impressive. The voice acting asks a little too much, perhaps in terms of believability, but also because of the otherworldly dialogue of some of the characters. For example, did you know that the word "cack" is the Zenozoikian word for "f**k"? Truly, one line of dialogue actually says, "That’s cacking weird," and another says, "That’s cacked up." Points for originality, no doubt, but the sheer ridiculousness is certainly laughable at times.

Generally, I like to stay away from coddling any game for being "just an XBLA title" or "just a Wiiware title," but I do think the distinction here is important, considering the  bang-for-the-buck factor. Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition costs 1200 Microsoft points ($15), a paltry sum for experiencing the intense, mind-blowing world of Zenozoik. However, it’s worth noting that problems with the ranged combat mechanics can be frustrating and a well balanced but distinct limit to the melee combat makes it repetitive towards the end of the main quest mode. Zeno Clash deserves to be played for its unequaled experience, but probably just not for too long.

3 out of 5


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Author: Dan Crabtree View all posts by
Dan is Managing Editor for GamerNode and a freelance gaming writer. His dog is pretty great. Check him out on Twitter @DanRCrabtree.

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