Saturday, 24 January 2015

Zeno Clash (PC)

Developer:ACE Team|Release Date:2009|Systems:Windows, Xbox Live Arcade

The penultimate 'Z' title on Super Adventures is a requested game that's been sitting in my library for way too long. Today I am finally going to devote a couple of hours to figuring out exactly what Zeno Clash is.

It's the debut game by Chilean indie developer called ACE Team, who later went on to make Rock of Ages and Abyss Odyssey, but all I know about it is that it was released on PC six years ago, Xbox Live Arcade a year later, and it likely involves hitting people. I don't know a whole lot about Rock of Ages and Abyss Odyssey either to be honest, but that's not even slightly relevant. Forget I said that.

(Click the images to summon their full scale counterpart.)

Well now I also know that the game runs on Valve's Source engine and creating a new style of menu for it was apparently a low priority.

Hang on, hard difficulty has the enemies doing normal damage, but normal mode has them doing less... than normal? I usually go with the default or normal difficulty mode when I'm playing a game for the site, but now I don't know what to pick!

I guess I'll pretend they're labelled Easy, Normal and Hard like a sensible game, and go with the middle one.

At least they've had the sense to keep Half-Life 2's level select, with chapters unlocked as I reach them, which is good because after scanning through the key bindings I'm getting the impression that it's not going to let me save manually.

The game begins with a... well it's a cutscene, that much I'm sure of. Your guess is as good as mine what we're looking at though. I suppose the beak-nosed gentleman in the hood could be teaching this child how to walk.

After a few more flashes showing people eating at a dinner table and generally hanging around, the cutscene cuts to a scene of these two apparently having some kind of confrontation. The screen flashes and the bloke with the beak is now lying on the ground.

Nope, I have no idea what any of that was about.

Okay it's given me control of the camera and my floating hands, but it's a bit hard to make out what my tutorial guide over there is telling me to do with them. You know... I think he wants me to kick some of these birds. What a bastard.

Well this looks like a wibbly dream world, so I suppose they're only imaginary birds and imaginary violence never hurt anyone. No one real anyway.

Hey, there's a whole body down there below my neck, I'm not just a floating pair of forearms! It's funny how much of a difference such a tiny thing like having a corporeal form can make to immersion.

Having a body down there is also important for gameplay too. It seems that when I'm facing forward my standard attack is a punch, but when I look down I can kick. I can also use the legs to walk with, in the standard first person shooter fashion.

Hold the left mouse button for three rapid punches, got it! Man, this guy should probably quit asking me to wail on his face. Right mouse button unleashes a slower heavy punch, plus I've also got the option to block. The red triangle on his head means that I've locked onto him and all my melee attacks should go his way.

And that's enough tutorial training in wavy bamboo dreamland with my imaginary buddy Metamoq.

Well that's not your typical video game fantasy town. Looks from here like something you'd come across over on the weirder side of Morrowind maybe.

The guy on the left seems to be my character, a man called Ghat, and the woman on the right just ran over to help him out. It seems Ghat's in big trouble after what he did, whatever that was, and now he needs to get through this gate before Father-Mother's children get here.

Oh no, Father-Mother's children have gotten here! Somehow I don't think they're all blood relatives though, seeing as one has a beak and the others don't, but then what do I know about genetics?

Ghat's friend yells at him to resist them while she tries to open the gate.

Uh, I guess it's on then. Three against one, seems like fun.

"You're no brother of mine Ghat", yells the girl in the hat, "you killed Father-Mother!" Well now I know what I did to piss them off at least.

Hey I just punched her hat off! A flurry of light punches was enough to stun her, knocking her to her knees and letting me get a free hit in. So I punched her backwards, knocking the guy behind her down as well.

Though while I was doing that, the third guy had been creeping up to clobber me.

They're basically lining up to get their ass kicked here. Every time I knock one down for a second, the next one takes their place and they're not too polite to gang up on me when they have the chance. My view automatically locks onto the person I'm pummelling and steers me to face them, but fortunately if someone else runs up and gets in-between my punches don't discriminate and will connect with them just fine instead. It's all pretty slick actually.

Eventually my siblings stopped getting up and now I'm free to explore the area a little. Not that there's anything in this tiny arena I can interact with. Well, besides smashing stuff that is. Makes me wish I'd taken the time to throw people into the furniture when I had the chance.

That white arrow there turned out to be pointing to some healing fruits, so I ate all I could and then crawled through the gate into the next area. Well, what I mean is I walked up the gate and then triggered a cutscene of Ghat crawling through into the next area. There's no crouch or jump buttons in this, so it's unlikely to turn into Mirror's Edge any time soon.

Oh dear, it seems that all the stress (and the repeated blows to the head) has caused Ghat to pass out again, so it's time for another dreamworld tutorial with our old friend Metamoq! He's still mumbling like a man chewing on a mouthful of stones but I get the impression that he wants me to do something with this chicken... oh shit he just tore its head off and threw it! Okay, that was gross. I really need to find someone else to share my dreams with.

So what am I supposed to do about a headless chicken running around on the other side of a fence?

Oh hey, I've got a rifle now! Shame it's got the worst attempt at sights I've ever seen on a gun; I can barely see what I'm pointing it at. Well I might as well get this over with, it's not like I can make these chickens any deader.

Well that's a pain, the gun doesn't automatically reload when I'm out of ammo, so I have to be ready to do it myself. I'm just glad Ghat knows what he's doing here, as getting bullets into these weird home-made fantasy guns needs some weird home-made techniques. I can't even tell what he's doing with that stick right now, wedging the cap back on the end maybe?

After sacrificing a few more imaginary chickens for the sake of target practice, Metamoq decides it's time to demonstrate a new weapon: some kind of skull bomb. He reveals that an explosion is the last thing he ever saw in life... and the last thing Father-Mother saw as well.

But I can't stay in animal cruelty dreamland all afternoon, I've got hopping monkey-dog creatures chasing me! Unfortunately for them I just found a set of weird-ass wood and bone pistols just lying in the street and a few shots from these things is enough to put them down for good.

Oh crap, did my guns jam up? Am I out of ammo already? Oh of course, I forgot that I have to press the reload key myself in this. As long as I remember to hit the reload key, the ammo keeps coming, which raises all kinds of troubling questions about what they're actually firing. In this world it wouldn't surprise me if he was tearing out his own teeth to use as bullets.

I was the one who remapped the reload key to 'DEL' by the way, if you were wondering. The game's weird, but it's not that weird.

Hey look, a few of Father-Mother's children have squeezed under the gate. I wonder if they've noticed that I'm pointing loaded pistols right at them. Actually I'd be surprised if they could even tell that they're guns from over there. I can barely tell that they're guns! I'll send a few bullets over to them to see if that clears things up.

I managed to get my first few shots on target, and to my surprise and relief found that humanoid enemies react to being shot! Then I found that my guns were clicking empty and as I was slowly backing away during the reload animation one of them ran up and elbow barged the guns clear out of my hands.

Right then, fist fighting it is.

Damn, she just dodged my punch!

My sister Rimat's back up again and she's still pissed off about the hat thing. It seems she's also learned a couple of things in the five minutes since we last fought, so I guess I'm not the only one who gets tutorials in their sleep. After ducking under my clumsy right jab, she countered with a spinning handstand kick, which is bloody hard to screen cap unfortunately. It hurt a fair bit too.

As I was busy focusing on hat girl one of the others went to grab my pistols, so I had to quickly resolve that situation before it became a problem. They're pretty capable of bothering me at mid-range even without a gun though, as they pick up small stones and throw them at me.


With the battle won, Ghat's friend (who turns out to be called Deadra) convinced him to head for the beach or forest to hide out, so we're going on the run together.

The animation in the cutscenes is better than I would've expected really (not that there's much of it), though Deadra's voice acting is a little off. I wouldn't say she's terrible, in fact the fact that she sounds like a friend of the developers dragged in to do a voice actually kind of suits the weirdness, but apparently someone had an issue with it, as the role was recast for the Xbox 360's Ultimate Edition port.

Oh no, my pleasant walk down this narrow path has been interrupted by monsters from beyond the fence! These creatures hunt in packs and like to spit acid at us, which is a shame because we don't much like that at all. They on the other hand don't seem so keen on being shot to death, so I guess no one's going to be walking away from this happy.

This weapon I've got here isn't a crossbow by the way, it actually fires tiny heads, attached to the horns via their nose rings. Though that's not so weird if you've seen the developer's later game Rock of Ages, which is all about weird stone balls with faces. Somehow I'm more bothered by the way the base of this gun looks like something manufactured in our world. It has all kinds of implications.

Oh this is what the gun looks like when I'm aiming down the sights by the way.

And this is what the level looks like when I've finished aiming down the sights. I can only carry one weapon at a time, but I found a set of my old pistols along the way and decided I'd switch.

Well that was another short level; pretty much more of a longer, narrower fighting arena actually. Imagine what you're seeing here repeated six times over. The stages in this all seem to be separate and tiny; exclusively about short bursts of combat with zero scope for exploration.

Oh I see what these loading screens are about now. It's a map showing my progress through the game! See, there's the gate in the middle that I started off at, on the right of that is the tiny path I just walked down, and above that is the forest I've just arrived at. They've even added the shadow of tree branches so that it's as if we're looking at the map in the game world.

Unfortunately this is a forest of crazy people, as Ghat eventually gets around to revealing. He actually lived here for a while, hanging out with the crazy people, as he respects their freedom. They're not slaves to mundane concepts like common sense, morality or basic bodily needs like hunger. So basically they keep dying off in really dumb ways. Either that or get they eaten by the bloke who isn't a slave to not being able to eat you.

In fact let's have a random flashback to the time when Ghat lived with the crazy people and had to fight the giant cannibal, why not?

I've been given a stick and strongly encouraged to use it here as he's immune to regular attacks.

Well that was fast. It seems I can't even get close to the guy without him smacking me across the screen. Okay let's try a new strategy then... wait, where's my bat?

Now the other lunatics want to join in? Couldn't you guys at least wait until I've figured out a strategy against this other guy? While I'm busy beating the shit out of you that pig boss is going to be closing the distance and... actually why is he still all the way over there? What's he doing?

Oh crap he's going to charge right at me!

I've really got to stop them from smacking the bat out of my hand next time.


Man I am getting bloody sick of fighting this cannibal. You know, I bet he isn't even a proper boss, I bet I'll have to fight three of these assholes at once on later levels. Now I'm out of health again, I've barely scratched his health bar, and... is that fruit down there? There's healing fruit here, it's a miracle!

I recovered some health and boldly stepped back into the fray with renewed determination and optimism. Then I got the shit kicked out of me again in seconds. Oh fuck it, I'm taking a break for a while.


Seems like he's getting ready to charge at me again.

Okay I think I see what I need to do here now, or at least I've figured out the timing of it. The bat is incredibly slow so to take this heavyweight down I need to time my swing just right, hitting the mouse button before he passes that boulder on the right.

Too fast and I swing at empty air, too slow and I'll have to go off and pick up my bat again, along with my teeth.

That was a satisfying crunch! It's not taken much off him, but if I manage to hit him a couple of times he starts to cower for a bit and I get to take a more damaging swing at him. Now that I know the timing, on his own this guy is predictable and easy. It's only the other lunatics getting in my way I have to worry about now.


Soon the pig boss was taken down and I was released from my flashback to continue my escape into the desert. Seems like a good place to stop playing I reckon.

Don't be fooled by that open landscape by the way, I'm still trapped on a narrow path.

Some of the names may have been changed a little to respect people's privacy.
Oh, I forgot about this. There's another type of game called 'Challenge Mode' on the title menu, so I should probably take a look at what this is before I turn it off.

I can choose to go up into the tower, or down into the pit, but I think I'll try ascending for now. I'm not sure either path's going to take me anywhere I want to go, but at least this way I might get a better view.

Oh, I'm running around a room and punching lunatics. Well that's certainly unexpected.

I've been taught a number of advanced fighting techniques in the main campaign, so now I know how to dodge, deflect punches, perform running elbow barges... all kinds of things. I'm still waiting for the game to tell me how to grab hold of those metal rods and slam them through his earholes though.

The trouble is that I still suck at fighting, so I'm going to stick with the basics and keeping throwing punches until they stop walking into them. If they block I'll throw in a heavy punch to break it. Don't worry, I'm sure the higher floors probably require some actual skill.

After I finish a fight, the staircase drops down and I climb it to reach... another identical floor! It's a nice looking room though I'll give them that. Could've done without the raised area around the outside though, as there's often one or two enemies up there throwing stones at me while I'm trying to punch a dude, so I need to stop and find a ranged weapon to get them back.


Oh hey, it's pig boss again. See, I knew he'd show up as a regular enemy at some point! Well I'm fucked then.


The first person fighting genre isn't exactly overcrowded so don't think I'm rating the game too high here when I say this, but Zeno Clash is easily one of the best games of its type I've ever played. It's a few years old now, but the visual style isn't something that's going to date too badly; it's almost like I'm playing in an interactive claymation cartoon. It's a shame everything's so enclosed really, all of the cool scenery really is just background to the tiny fighting arenas.

I found that the first person combat was more awkward to screenshot than it was to play, even with a mouse, and I whenever I got my ass handed to me I found myself blaming my lack of skill rather than the controls. Well okay I also blamed those assholes throwing stones at me from a distance, distracting me all the time. There's plenty of offensive and defensive moves to pull off, but I found that most of the challenge wasn't coming from the bloke I was fighting, but their friends running up to join in. You're engaging groups of two or three enemies at once a lot of the time so you can't get too caught up in stomping the guy you just uppercutted across the screen. 

Well that's how it's been so far anyway. As always readers are advised to take into account that I only played the first few hours of it, so who knows where it goes from here. I mean I'm only... wow, I'm a third of the way through already? Seriously? Huh, short game.

Anyway I like it but I don't love it, so it get gets a star. Man, I've got to get around to playing some absolute crap soon or else people are going to start thinking I give these out by default.

Here's some behind the scenes info about this Zeno Clash article for you: it was actually written in 2013, just before I came up with the clever idea of playing games in alphabetical order for a year. I didn't really have time to squeeze it in before I started, and I didn't want to waste an interesting 'Z' game anyway. Hopefully you found the writing substandard compared to my recent output, or else the last fourteen months of constant practice have been entirely worthless!

Speaking of my alphabetic gimmick, the next game will be the last before I can drop it forever and move on. Next year's gimmick: I only play games with 'Super' in the title. Actually I've got a better idea: I play whatever I want. I dunno, I'll give it some thought.


  1. That first shot of Father-Mother's gang makes it look like they're about to break out into a musical number. That would have been ace.

  2. If think Zeno Clash 1 as first person update to the 2D brawler games like the Streets of Rage and Battletoads and the like, then you can kind of see why it is so short and you are stuck in a narrow corridor as the 2D brawlers were short (arcade ports), stuck in tight corridors becouse screen only scrolled to one direction to a time.

    Zeno Clash 2 on the other hand has much more open space, surreal landscapes and you can wander between the areas freely. It also makes the ammo limited for guns and makes the melee weapons breakable.
    Also it has this weird processor combat -game mode where it keeps spawing endless hordes of opponents on the arena at short intervals. You have to be quick to beat em up becouse the match ends when there are enough opponents on the map that your frame per second count goes under the given limit.

    I'm very much like both of Zeno, probably mostly becouse of the absurd visual style, so I can't realy give an honest opinion.
    But having played Condemded 1 on xbox360 I cringe a bit every time somebody starts to praise the feel of it's melee combat in the internet (Yahtzee mostly). Zeno clash melee is maybe more exagerated than Condemded, but for some reason everything felt to me very light and weightless in the later, like you were just chiping away the hobo's healthbar failing in their direction like in Oblivion or Morrowind. In Zeno Clash the melee feels far more physical with Corwids and Zenozoiks collapsing to the floor or falling backwards to the ground only to be kicked while they're down or thrown agains the opponent who tried to sneak on you form behind (not sure if possible to aim throws like that in pc version, I played the ultimate edition wich had few added moves).


Semi-Random Game Box