Zeno Clash – The Review!

By: Xander

On: April 22nd, 2009


Punching people in the face is really quite fun.


Alright, so it’s not really quite that simple, but there’s no denying how satisfying the combat system is in this game. Zeno Clash combines the immersive and brutal combat of Breakdown with an intuitive control scheme. Light punches are your left mouse button, with strong punches on your right with space blocking and arrow keys as movement. What’s interesting about this system though is that you’re not completely stuck on a direct course with your enemy, what I mean is that you do have a slight independent movement of your head whilst you’re fighting. You can combine this with the block to either dodge or parry, and to lock onto another enemy in combat, you simply have to look at the targer and press E, which you can do whilst you’re still dealing damage to the enemy in front of you. You can even do this to be aware of who is around you, if you’re preparing to throw your opponent in their direction. It’s simple, it’s satisfying and it’s very very fun.

Something that really makes the game shine is the fantastic style throughout. Much like a Guillermo Del Toro film the creators have really nailed a look that is equal parts fantastic and cool yet at the same time quite horrible and unsettling. Nothing personifies this more than one of your main groups of adversaries in the game, ‘The Corwids’, who are people who live according to their own desires, but who are also completely insane. As stated about one individual, ‘He wanted to become invisible, so he tears out the eyes of everyone around him’. Indeed the first one you meet appears to have two large pieces of metal stabbed into his ears whilst he’s smashing his face into a tree. ‘Father-Mother’ too, a character prominent in the early trailers, is a unique and disturbing presence. The engine really carries this style well, and if you’ve played other source engine games you should roughly know what to expect from your rig when it comes to this game. The environments are gorgeous, and really unlike anything else on Steam at the moment. If anything it sometimes echoes adventure game classic The Neverhood although a much more realistic version. Some areas can be a little more bland than others, but when the game shines it really shines.


That said, though the environment you see is very interesting and well crafted you really don’t have much of a sense of what lies outside the areas you physically playthrough. Completion of one level will lead you straight to another through either a cut-scene or simply a fade-to-black, leaving you no clear indictation of just how far the characters have travelled. Given how bizarre and fantastic the world is I’d like to know a lot more about how it actually operates. Instead it all feels somewhat disjointed, which actually I would have to say about many aspects of the game. As great as the production values are in terms of graphics and style, the voice acting really leaves a lot to be desired. Aside from ‘The Hunter’ who appeared in the pre-release comic the rest of the cast are really quite plain. They’re in no way offensive, but their delivery fails to really bring the script to life, which is equally hampered by a script that fails to bring most of the characters to life. Visually they’re beautifully realised but outside of that they do lack a bit of personality.

There’s just a lot of things that don’t quite work right. The weapons can be quite fun, but they’re slightly over-powered where the ‘Fish guns’ are concerned and then not all that useful in too many situations if you’re stuck with one of the other weapons. The heavy enemies should be the most exciting fights, but instead once you figure out their pattern they’re actually the easiest to battle against. ‘E’ is used to lock-on and pick-up weapons, which is still I choice I simply don’t get, and the accuracy required to pick up can be frustrating when all you want to do is eat some fruit. Also during one level, an enemy is introduced that appears to be a major encounter, but dies incredibly simply and is never seen again, leaving the entire section it resides as 45 seconds of walking.

I suppose this is where I want to talk about the story too, which I’ll try not to spoil but if you really want you can just skip past the section. It was actually quite interesting for a while, but the main story thread actually turned out to be no where near as exciting as it had built up to be for me, and I have absolutely no idea what to say about the ending. If something is up to interpretation that’s fine, but in this case I really didn’t have any clues on how to interpret it. I was just- haha, okay. I’m really not going to try and explain myself. It’s something you really have to experience for yourself to quite figure out my dumbfoundedness. It’s an interesting story and it definitely kept me hooked for the most part but whether they just weren’t able to tell it very well or there was some other complication it didn’t really satisfy as well as the game does in other areas.


Ulimately though, what I think is important to note is that whilst I have a number of criticisms of the game a number of them I can think of having complained about a lot of other games in the past that have been full mainstream productions. ’Assassin’s Creed’ with the ending, ‘Breakdown’ for the bastard-with-the-gun-attacking-whilst-I’m-fighting-someone moments or the sometimes brutally hard battles. And when it succeeds, it does so really well. The world of Zeno Clash is a far more interesting one than presented in many other games, and regarding ‘Breakdown’ this game actually surpasses it where multi-person melee is concerned and whilst tough it was never impossible to get through a section. The enemy designs are so great in an era of faceless clone soldiers that every time I found the guy with a head shaped like a thumb I just had to let him disarm me so I could really enjoy our fight.

It’s a strange game. There’s certainly a number of flaws but the main gameplay mechanics behind it all are just so fun you can’t help but enjoy it. The fact that it actually invites comparison between itself and major mainstream titles is a measure of its own worth. I can fault the game on a number of issues, but it would never be because it didn’t try hard enough. If anything it was the scope of its ambitions that gives the game its most annoying grievances and its most gratifying and enjoyable triumphs.

Its not perfect, but if in its flawed state this title still averages out to ‘pretty bloody good’, you can definitely call it a success.

  • Paul Eres

    I prefer ‘whilst’ to more trendy archaic words like ‘methinks’.

  • lolwut

    >Use steam, and you’re not indy. If you’re not indy, fuck you.

    Steam has nothing to do with indie or not indie.

    Being “indie” for the sake of being indie is mindless self-indulgent elitist bullshit.

    And fuck you too.

  • Smithy

    Another TIGer with a broken sarcasm meter.
    Funny so many of them frequent the front page.

  • Winterous

    @ Alex May


  • Winterous

    @ alex-may


  • soulja boi TELL THEM

    supaman dat elephant-tittied ho

  • The whilst-ee philosopher

    *Whilst I misspelled ‘whilst’ in ma name in ma previous post, I beg your pardon at this display of ignorance, etc etc XD

  • Michael Yamada

    I’m gonna buy this. I’m [i]so[/i] gonna buy this.

  • Bood_War

    3 days without an update? =[

  • soulja boi TELL EM

    Aww this game is frizzle man, i mean what do YOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU do? y’all go round givin beef to em mask wearen peeps, ya know what im sayin. its liek braidz man, cept there aints no gay ass time controls. so YOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU should buy dis game man YE, YE YE.

  • Consarnit

    I’ve got to say, while the visuals in the game were nice, the gameplay itself was awful. I managed to make it through the entire game without ever using block or dodge or those exploding skulls; the lock-on system was simply an impediment to fighting (since focusing too much on one guy meant others would inevitably shoot you) — I would’ve gone through the game without using it, but you can’t avoid it since it auto-locks when you do a charge attack and inadvertently locks when you pick up a weapon.

    On top of that, the boss fights against the Hunter seem to be broken. When played the way they seem to be designed to work — running around avoiding and picking off squirrels while whipping off shots of opportunity against the Hunter — they’re extremely difficult. But if you just stand there, take your aim, and continually shoot the Hunter, he never gets more than a shot or two off.

    It was seldom possible to figure out why I’d won certain fights against the heavies, when I’d lost other times engaging in identical tactics. In the final boss battle I also had the experience of losing dramatically, then winning with ease, without a significant change in strategy.

    The game relies upon one of the most narratively annoying tools: making you lose battles you’re winning. This happens three times. Then, in the final battle, you can’t beat the final boss, leading you to assume that this is the fourth “let them win” moment (one had already occurred against the same boss). Wrong. If you let the enemy win, you lose. On this enemy, and this enemy only, you have to switch combat modes to finish the fight. Yawn.

    The shooting weapons are totally unsatisfying. They lack “weight” — for lack of a better word — and universally feel like pea shooters. The shooting sequences are tediously easy and slow. Of particular tedium is a long sequence against the “stone men” at the midpoint of the game.

    It’s probably the most linear game I’ve played in years, and much of the linearity is frankly goofy — “minefields” are used twice to keep the player from wandering into open places; walls 6 inches high bar you path (since you can’t jump); fence gates can only be opened by your companion; etc.

    The voice acting is fair but not great. The emphasis is consistently put on the wrong words, particularly by the actress playing Deadra. Other actors do a better job, though the misemphasis is common. The voices are often too soft to hear, so I played the game with subtitles on. The written text is rife with typos, and certain names are pronounced oddly. The city called “Halstom” is spelled “Halstedom.” I’m not sure if they dropped a syllable in the recording script and forgot to change the written script or what. Some voices were outright bad, but mostly they were just very inconsistent.

    The visual design is quite good, but the game is a poor vehicle for enjoying it. It always seemed like something was blocking my view, or forcing me to keep looking around, so I never could really stop to admire things.

    Although the characters weren’t especially interesting as characters, and although the big reveal in the ending was obvious to me from about 1/3 of the way through the game, there was still a certain charisma to the whole cast that really kept me hooked. Particularly, Father-Mother’s visual design and Golem’s look, voice, and forebodingness were solid.

    I’m not sure why people say the ending is vague or unclear. It’s not in any way. It’s just a cliff-hanger ending.

    The game is very, very short. Maybe 4 hours long. Since it’s so unengaging to play, I have no interest in a second go.

  • necronomicominum


    Are you trying to put Xander in his place for that 10/10 review?

    Actually, I agree with you 100%… Your review is far more in-depth. I’d have to agree with most people about the visuals and the style and theme in the game, it all looks great, unfortunately the gameplay is somewhat… lacking in gameplay.

    When you finish the game it feels more liek you’ve done a run thru a tech-demo (again, you make a good point Consarnit, this might have been avoided if the game were more engaging).

    I don’t want to bash the game because it certainly looks as if a lot of work went into it, but sometimes that’s not enough. The game did feel unfinished and once again I can’t stress the fact more that this feels like the shell of a game, a demo, with which to sample a preview of what’s to come and unfortunately because of that I can’t recommend spending money on it.

    Still I think some people will certainly get a kick out of the visual style… with that said, substance plays a distant secondary role leaving the game to fall under the “all style no substance” category which is a shame, but perhaps we’ll see a far greater fleshed out sequel.

  • Person what enjoys indie games

    While some might feel it was a case of style over substance, tossing a chickenman through a table never got old for me.

  • Yugge

    I really have fun with this game, and for the prerelease price of 9$ it was certainly worth it. Oh and another nice thing. http://www.yugge.se/zenonice.png <- It works flawlessly under wine on ubuntu linux :D