First-person shooter games are notorious for falling in the rut of killing Nazis over and over again, largely because killing Nazis still manages to sell well ever after the millionth time. Games that take a risk and step far from the boundaries of the conventional are few and far between. “Zeno Clash” falls into the latter category.
“Zeno Clash” is developed by independent studio ACE Team, based in Santiago, Chile. The game is set in a punk fantasy world, and blends the first-person-shooter genre with the fighting genre. The combat is up close and brutal, featuring punches, blocks, kicks, grabs and dodges. While not perfect, the combat has an undeniable sense of weight and impact. It feels rewarding to launch one’s opponent after smashing his face in.
The system also places an array of strange weapons at the player’s disposal, but the implement one uses most often is the character’s fists.
Ghat, the game’s main character, is the son of a vulture-like hermaphrodite creature called Father-Mother, whose children form the most powerful clan in the city of Halstedom. When Ghat kills Father-Mother, he must escape from his anthropomorphic siblings and start an incredible journey with his female companion Deadra, who aids him in the dangerous lands of Zenozoik.
The game begins right after killing Father-Mother, and the story progresses at a comfortable pace as it reveals Ghat’s reasons for killing Father-Mother through playable flashbacks. The story, though sometimes confusing, is a dream-like idiosyncratic adventure that manages to tastefully explore themes such as freedom, while never sacrificing the interesting (if not bizarre) characterization.
The artistic appeal of the game is undeniable. The character design is unique and arresting. Zenozoik is a beautifully strange land featuring a variety of locations, from tribal-inspired distorted deserts to spectral moonlit caverns. Unfortunately, this is somewhat marred by the truly appalling voice acting of Ghat and Deadra.
The real blemish on this title is the length. With only four to five hours of gameplay, it seems questionable to spend $20 for the content.
The developers should be commended for adding the tower mode, a challenge-based mode that lets players fight their way up the various levels of the tower. This, however, only does so much to extend the short gameplay.
The other weakness in this game comes from the occasionally frustrating combat. The repetitive nature of the fighting doesn’t do much to abate the annoyance of constantly having Ghat’s weapons thrown from his hands when three or more enemies pound on him at once. While there is a place for difficulty in a game, it becomes aggravating when entire game play mechanics become unusable because of it.
Complaints aside, “Zeno Clash” is wonderfully strange, with mostly fun combat and an enamoring world. For those looking for an alternative to the likes of Call of Duty, stepping into this fever-dream of a game is the answer.