Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition Review

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Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Ace Team

Platform: PC and Xbox 360
Reviewed on Xbox 360

It's difficult to know if Zeno Clash reveals some sort of shamanistic insight, is a Dadaist take on a post-apocalyptic fantasy setting, or is just the result of deranged artists accompanied by a poor translation. The generally bipedal inhabitants of Zeno Clash's world sport mismatched legs, horns or other animal parts, and practice incoherent insanity as a way of life. You regularly commune with the dead as a sort of tutorial, and can dual-wield fish guns. The one thing the inhabitants of Zeno Clash's world agree on is that disagreements are settled with brutal fistfights, and these folks have a lot of disagreements.

Kyle Ackerman

Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition is actually a pretty good melee combat simulator, commonly pitting you against as many as five foes simultaneously and allowing for a variety of complex moves while still allowing the player to survive with basic button mashing (or trigger-mashing, as the case may be). The game manages to transform only a few buttons into a sophisticated combat simulation, where timing is everything. Like every other first-person combat game I've played, when I get knocked down it's not only disorienting, it's downright nauseating. But it's about the best game-representation of fisticuffs I've seen.

The game does include ranged weapons, including spears, rifles and magical staves, along with clubs and grenade-like "skull bombs." Aiming with ranged weapons is a bit wonky and imprecise, but shots with the dual-load crossbow are hardly as satisfying as rushing and rapidly punching a foe into submission, anyway, so it hardly matters – except when you're battling a bounty hunter riding a dead whale as he throws exploding squirrels. I found the skull bombs took some getting used to (they bounced much further than I intuitively expected), but nothing worked as well as an old-fashioned beat-down, so I didn't fret the weapons much.

There are a few boss battles, but in-game hints generally presented enough clues to make such fights straightforward. I had some issues picking up objects on the ground and aiming kicks. Aiming is fairly forgiving when it comes to throwing punches. In fact, a good strategy during play is locking onto one enemy and letting your punches hit another (who is less likely to block). But when it comes to objects on the ground, aiming is extremely sensitive. That was only a big deal in urgent combat situations, such as rushing to pick up healing fruit, grabbing a hammer to strike a big enemy, or kicking. Kicking enemies on the ground is a good way to quickly finish them off, but I found I only landed kicks about half the time.

A few improvements to the game make it more compelling than the version released last year on the PC. A few new combat moves and changes to the interface help slightly, but the biggest advantage is the ability to play the challenges (that focus more on challenging combat and less on story) cooperatively with a friend. Also, the Xbox 360 controller triggers are more intuitive for throwing punches than the PC interface.

If you don't simply want to indulge in the combat challenges, Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition offers an entirely bizarre story that raises more questions than it answers. Aspects of the game look positively gorgeous, but some things (like characters) are far more carefully rendered than portions of the background. Also, while I could easily overlook the basic walls at the edges of the linear levels, some levels were bounded by mist or damaging worms. I found the worm boundaries a little hard to discern, which grew irritating as I stumbled around taking damage. Also, I had to activate the subtitles to more easily understand the sometimes difficult accents and incoherent voice-overs. I found the story more absurdist than deep, and mostly entertaining, although I'm concerned for the fate of Zeno Clash's world if anyone messes up the game's mysterious Rubik's Cube.

As a full price, retail release, Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition would seem like sometimes primitive niche combat, but as an Xbox Live Arcade title available for $15, Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition is wholly appropriate, if very weird.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on May 9, 2010 10:13 AM.

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