I am the mighty polar bear! I will crush all of you with my mighty paws! So run in fear… strange chicken-human thing, living statues, creepy eye things… what the hell is a Corwid? … Father-Mother? I think you lost me somewhere.
Zeno Clash is a first person action game being primarily focused on melee combat. Most first person shooters have some elements of fighting up close as well as using guns, from the chainsaw of Doom to the knife of Call of Duty, but very few games use it as their core mechanic. It used to be considered a great challenge but in the past few years we have seen a number of first person games successful employ hand to hand fighting. The Condemned series and Chivalry: Medieval Warfare both gave us very gritty and hard hitting (har har!) looks at close quarters combat. Zeno Clash takes a slightly lighter route in terms of tone but then instantly sprints down the avenue of absolutely bizarre.
Zeno Clash is set in a strange fantasy world with bizarre hybrid creatures, most of whom are the children of Father-Mother, an odd bird-like humanoid creature that is both father and mother to its children. Or else the mysterious Corwids of the Free who have compulsions that they rigidly stick to, like Oxameter who only walks in a straight line, or Erminia who”Peed on herself and died anonymously”. You play Ghat, one of Father-Mother’s children who left the family and learned from Corwids. At the start of the game Ghat murders Father-Mother for unknown reasons. Aided by his companion Deadra, Ghat seeks to escape the wrath of Father-Mother’s children and along the way we learn more about Ghat and the secret purpose he had to murder Father-Mother.
As far as gameplay goes the game is a lot of fun. The fighting is well executed and simple enough to learn quickly and it gets very adrenaline pumping during the larger fights. The fact that the game tends to change to a first person shooter did throw me because the shooting mechanics are nowhere near as streamlined as the melee combat. It does provide an extra challenge while fighting hordes of enemies, you have to constantly keep an eye on that one bastard with the rifle, but in the end I found it more annoying than anything else.
The game’s visual style is unique, I have never seen this vague tribal-punk-fantasy mashup before and it does create a world unlike any other in gaming. The problem, however, is that this world is never fleshed out enough for me to get involved in it. Occasionally you meet new and ever more bizarre creatures but we learn nothing about them or truly what most of them are. We get hints and impressions but they are few and far between. Clearly we’re just meant to go along with the characters who do know the world around them. While it is striking this does mean that the creepy imagery and little explanation makes Zeno Clash feel like a fever dream.
Another problem is that the voice acting is pretty damn awful. The characters that sound the best tend to be the ones with heavy alterations made to their dialogue: Golem, Father-Mother, and Metamoq. Ghat and Deadra, our protagonists, however are pretty dire with some genuinely cringey moments. It becomes slightly less noticeable as you go further into the game but that is mostly because you’re used to it and are too caught up in the fever dream to care.
Zeno Clash is the debut of developer ACE Team and so many things can be forgiven about it. It’s entertaining and the fist fighting is a lot of fun. But the number of problems with the gun fights, the voice acting, and the lack of any real knowledge about the world are very prominent. It only took me a few hours to complete and has been an interesting experience but I can’t say I would have bought it had it not been on a massive sale on Steam. I may well check out Zeno Clash II but it’s not very high on my list at the moment.
…YoU WEre mY SOn, GhAT!…