The Zeno Clash series was an interesting prospect back in 2009. ACE Team’s first title was a huge success through Steam. So much so in fact, that Iceberg Interactive snapped it up for a full retail release. And with a a rebirth of the series in the not-too-distant future, there’s never been a better time to take a journey through Zenozoik.

Players take on the role of Ghat. Banished by his own brothers, Ghat is forced to begin a journey for survival to the end of the world. Ghat is not alone however. Deadra will be your companion, offering words of wisdom when most greatly needed. Complicated and quirky though it may be, the storyline is tied directly to the player’s actions. The direction of your journey dictated by the events that happen upon it. The environments you visit are varied and welcome exploration. But suggesting that Zeno Clash is a first-person adventure title in the vein of the Metroid Prime series would certainly be a step too far. Zeno Clash is centered upon the conflict. And in that it’s possibly the most successful first-person presentation of hand-to-hand combat even to this day.

Zeno Clash screenshot

Zeno Clash is Built for Melee

The game is built upon Valve’s Source Engine. While aging, it’s the same platform upon which a great range of games have been built. From Ubisoft’s Dark Messiah of Might & Magic to Valve’s own Half-Life 2. The engine delivers a commendable performance, with expansive arenas for combat and few drops in frame-rate. And that’s regardless of how many enemies you may be confronted with.

Of course, to begin with, the player will only fight a single enemy. This allows them to become familiar with the control system and combat mechanics. Combos can be executed with ease. And with your longer range arsenal decidedly limited, will often be your primary choice of attack. More complicated manoeuvres, such as blocking swiftly followed by a counter-attack, can be cumbersome. This is disappointing when the feel of knuckle on flesh is so much more direct than the competition. Even more so than that witnessed in The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay.

Zeno Clash screenshot

After the Clashing, Explore a Lush World

The world of Zenozoik provides plenty of intrigue, with many memorable locations and stunning landscapes. It’s a shame that much of it is repeated as the player is asked to backtrack fairly regularly, which raises further issues with the repetition of enemies. The difficulty curve is also somewhat of a sore point: it seems as though later stages of the relatively short campaign saw the developers struggling for ideas of how to maintain the correct level of challenge. Zeno Clash simply asks the player to tackle earlier enemies in larger quantities.

Despite the aging technology behind the game, it remains a remarkably distinctive title. A unique and bizarrely inviting art direction has been maintained throughout, with enemies and the world itself instantly recognisable. ACE Team may not have leant on the grotesque as with Clive Barker’s Jericho, nor quite stepped as far into gothic madness as Tim Burton’s machinations, but Zeno Clash remains a rare example of design over budget throughout. The script is well written and, bar some poor localisation, has been delivered competently through the vocal talent.

As with the film, music and literature industries, the videogames industry certainly has room for an independent sector to grow. Not necessarily in that of independent financing, but as with the modern understanding of the independent sector in the aforementioned creative industries, products born solely as creative outbursts. Zeno Clash is title that’s not afraid to try something new, and for that deserves to rank highly on any PC gamers’ list. It may not be the most dynamic presentation of it’s time, but in terms of intrigue few can touch it.

Categories: Games