Ghat’s The Way to Beat ‘Em! Zeno Clash 2 Review
This game was reviewed on PC.
I’ve often heard it said that the strongest lure of gaming is escapism. For some, reality is just too monotonous, too predictable, and the desire to withdraw into a world less routine is tantalizingly strong. When you’re tired of the daily grind, there’s little that is as refreshing as diving into the universe of a game, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a world more unusual than Zenozoik, the location of fantasy beat ‘em up Zeno Clash 2.
Zeno Clash 2 is a first-person fantasy brawler developed by ACE Team and published by Atlus. This sequel to 2009’s award-winning Zeno Clash features a fairly linear fantasy adventure plot combined with action-packed brawls, all set against the surreal backdrops of Zenozoik – a bizarre realm that might have been the joint brainchild of Dali and Dr. Seuss.
The game begins where Zeno Clash left off, with players continuing the adventure of tough tattooed fighter, Ghat. An enigmatic being called the Golem (or Kax-Teh) has infiltrated Ghat’s archaic society, bringing with it futuristic technology and sophisticated cultural changes that Ghat’s people are too primitive to grasp (e.g. the implementation of a justice system). Naturally, Ghat rebels, seeking to overthrow the Golem while simultaneously discovering the nature of its mysterious, highly advanced race. He is accompanied by his adopted sister Rimat, as well as a plethora of fascinating allies that he acquires along the way.
Players will find Zeno Clash 2’s narrative interesting and unique, as it unfolds via brief cinematics that are interspersed throughout core gameplay. Between these interesting snippets of story, players must travel throughout Zenozoik to key locations, conquering any quarrelsome creatures in their path. (However, those who have not played Zeno Clash may be lost; though the Steam description claims that the game provides ample backstory to introduce new players to Ghat’s world, the prologue offers only a light recap of the first game’s events.)
Zeno Clash 2’s graphics are fairly good, with few issues to speak of, and Zenozoik’s landscapes are, in a word, stunning. The game’s strongest draw is easily its design, so unique that it verges on insane. The locations vary widely: from seashores strung with the skeletons of giant aquatic beasts, to rolling grassy knolls threaded with tie-dye hued rivers. You will stroll through forests dotted with ball-shaped multi-coloured bushes, and marvel at trees sprouting trumpet-like appendages that spew iridescent bubbles into the cloud-marbled sky. You will wield fantastical hefty hammers of quartz, and fire strange primitive guns created from fish bones and wood. And Zeno Clash 2 has dreamlike character designs to match – some allies positively intriguing, and some enemies so ridiculous or repulsive that you cannot wait to beat them to a pulp.
The fighting mechanics are simplistic yet quite sophisticated for this style of game. While Ghat does obtain many contraptions of varying power throughout his journey (e.g. guns, hammers, and magical gauntlets), his main weapons are his fists and feet. Players can kick or perform various punches by tapping or holding down the left and right mouse buttons, and block/deflect enemy attacks with the spacebar, all while paying close attention to your HP and stamina so that you’re not the one KO’ed. As in traditional fighting games, certain moves can be strung together into powerful combo attacks. Sometimes, brawling means taking on a single combatant; other times, you are required to confront a group of powerful enemies. In the second case, you will be able to recruit Rimat and/or a chosen ally to help you pummel your foes into oblivion. Zeno Clash 2 also features drop-in/drop-out co-op, so that fellow players can always give you a hand with stubborn foes.
Unfortunately, all is not well in the combat department, as Zeno Clash 2’s mechanics are far from fluid. Combinations that may be simple to execute with a controller are cumbersome and difficult to string together using a keyboard and mouse, as they require you to click the left and right mouse button in rapid succession while moving Ghat forward or backward using the WASD keys (e.g. left button + right button, hold left button, right button, forward (w) + left button + right button). Clicking the buttons a smidgen too slowly results in breaking a combo, while clicking the buttons too quickly sometimes causes the game to misinterpret double clicks as single clicks, or vice versa. Even seemingly simple combos (e.g. right button, left button, right button, left button) can be tricky to pull off, as the timing is so difficult to nail. Furthermore, regardless of where you place your crosshairs, it’s difficult to judge whether enemies are actually within striking distance of Ghat’s arms, which sometimes makes combat a bit of a hit-or-miss affair, especially when attempting attacks that involve kicking or sprinting. This issue is detrimental to a first-person fighting game; you can’t be entirely sure where or if your attacks will land unless you’re quite literally nose-to-nose with your opponent. While you’re swinging wildly, your allies do little to push you to victory, as the AIs frequently either do not attack enemies at all or attack you by accident. This can make brawls with multiple opponents frustrating, as you’re forced to face six or seven enemies on your lonesome, in order to progress.
While on one hand, you have the infuriating burden of battling groups of enemies without any support, on the other, you’ve got feet-dragging moments that could easily lull you into a stupor. Transitions between fights and cinematics/fights and gameplay are not seamless, with long eventless pauses preceding fights or proceeding scenes that cause you to wonder whether or not you need to reload. Once, after a successful brawl, I was stuck in a sort of no-action limbo for several moments, in which my allies were still milling about, but I could only edge forward at an almost imperceptible pace. After the cinematic had successfully loaded and ended, I was still unable to walk normally and could only move forward by sprinting. This was remedied by restarting the game.
Players may also find Zeno Clash 2’s learning curve steep, due in no part to its simple mechanics but to its lack of instruction. While the tutorial gives a thorough lesson on the fighting mechanics, it teaches players nothing else. Hours into the game, certain aspects of play (e.g. fast travel, leveling up) are still not explained, and those who haven’t played Zeno Clash must use trial and error to figure them out. As far as I know, you can only view Ghat’s objectives and a world map at certain locations scattered throughout the world, and though you only have a small number of objectives at any given time, being unable to review what you’re doing and where you’re going can be frustrating.
When it comes to its audio components, Zeno Clash 2 exhibits both strength and weakness. While fighting, players are treated to the cartoon-like exaggerated smack of fists on CGI flesh, making punching the myriad of baddies that much more satisfying . For the most part, the voice acting is decent, and the effects applied to various characters’ voices, in order to match speech to its respective character models, are downright impressive – Ghat’s sloth-like adopted brother Therium seems to say select words backwards, while hermaphroditic character FatherMother speaks in both a male and female voice, overlapping. Sadly, still other voice-acting is awful, most notably Ghat’s sister Rimat, whose delivery is largely flat with some odd emotional inflictions (and she’s your chief companion). The soundtrack is comprised of repetitive upbeat instrumentals, and while the rhythms are perfect for the game’s fast-paced brawls, the same music plays constantly – even during serious cutscenes.
Zeno Clash 2 is now available to purchase on Steam, PlayStation Network, and Xbox Live Arcade. A journey to scenic Zenzoik will cost PC players $19.99, or $29.99 for the special edition, which includes a digital artbook and soundtrack. While old fans will rightfully be clamouring for this release, new players may be vexed by the game’s imperfections. If you’re looking for solid first-person fighting action, then you may find Zeno Clash 2 to be a mediocre addition to your collection; however, if you’re thirsting for a truly unique visual experience in an astoundingly imaginative universe, then Zeno Clash 2 will not disappoint.
Final score: 3.0/5.0
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