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Review: Zeno Clash (ACE Team)

APRIL 21, 2009

I've just dispatched a birdman, a guy with a pig face and now I'm about to take on some kind of huge rhino thing. The bird and pig felt my knuckles, but this guy is going to get the special treatment - a big, ruddy pole to the face. This is going to be sweeeet.

Zeno Clash is just plain brutal and quite brilliant. I must admit, like many who were awaiting its release, I was anxious to see how the hand-to-hand combat felt. So imagine my joy when I find that not only is it tweaked to what feels like near-perfection, but my fists of fury are every bit as powerful as I'd hoped.

Yes, my main concern for Zeno Clash was completely uncalled for. Beating up enemies is neither too simple nor too complex; there are just about the right number of different moves to pull off and every swing, dodge and block feels justified.

And the power bestowed to the player is a thing of beauty - from charged punches to smacks in the face to a run plus elbow combo, it all feels like it's just... right. Locking onto enemies proved difficult at times, especially since the key to select a bad guy is the same as the pick-up item button, but that's a minor niggle. The first person fighting gets a big thumbs-up from me.

If you've watched any of the trailers, you'll know there are a few projectiles involved too. The weapons are just as fundamental to the gameplay as the hand-to-hand, if not for how brilliantly thought-out each is (I don't think I've ever been so entertained by reload animations), then for the epic boss battles that usually involve socking it to an overly powerful fiend in absolutely ridiculous circumstances. Three words - Squirrels With Dynamite.

On to more that the game has to offer. The main story is pretty off-the-wall and will yield itself mixed reactions. Full of wonder, awesome scenarios and downright strangeness, the Zeno Clash tale also has its fair share of plot holes and oddities. The ending in particular will most likely cause many a 'Wha?', while questioning of who exactly a couple of the main characters are and what their roles is will lead to forum boards full of the Clash.

I myself was left quite confused by some of the goings-on, but so blown away by the storytelling (particularly about the Corwids) that it didn't feel like it mattered that much. Some of the voice-acting was a little questionable, but the points were driven home. Zeno Clash felt like a wonderful, 4 hour-long dream in which I travelled through magical locations beating the crap out of anything that moved.

4 hours felt like the right amount of time for Zeno Clash's world to stick around. It didn't outstay its welcome at all, although the repetition of enemies towards the end had a little of the 'tacked on' feel to it. At the end of the day, it's a compelling tale and well worthy of the hype.

The Challenge Mode didn't appeal to me as much. The objective of the 'towers' is to beat the baddies on each floor, move up to the next one and repeat until the top is reached. Reach the pinnacle pronto and with as much health left as possible and maybe you'll top the leaderboards. I found the whole ordeal rather dull, which was odd since I hadn't found the combat in the main story boring at any point. Possibly the lack of working towards a 'real' goal took the oomph out of it all.

However, it's a small thorn in a beautiful, blooming rosebush - albeit quite a twisted rosebush. Zeno Clash is a mesmerizing journey that ticks all the right boxes in tremendous style and I fully recommend anyone to grab a copy from Steam or Direct2Drive now.

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