World Exclusive: The Zeno Clash Review

By RPS on April 19th, 2009 at 6:53 pm.


We’ve been playing Zeno Clash. Developers Ace Team were kind enough to suggest that we should furnish you with the world’s first review of their insane beat ‘em up. Our razor-sharp analysis of defeating elephantmen and bludgeoning lunatics follows.

Jim: Right, our subject today is the esoteric fist ‘em up, Zeno Clash, by Chilean types, Ace Team.
Alec: I liked the bit where I repeatedly punched a bird-man in the face.
Jim: Bird-men are scum.
Kieron: Shall I do a brief fact-o-list of the game so we have the FACTS on the table?
Jim: Yes, facts, because facts are super-true.

John: I once heard that a fact can be so true it can slice a lie in half.
Kieron: Right – Zeno Clash is a linear first-person fighting (with bits of shooting) game built in the Source Engine. There’s no multiplayer, bar a challenge mode where you can compete to beat friend’s scores in set battles. It’s ACE team’s first game. They live in Chile. And that is all for the facts. SUBJECTIVITY ENGINES GO!
Jim: I believe it’s only available on Steam, at least initially? That might be a fact?
Kieron: No, it’s not. It’s on Direct To Drive.
Jim: Ok then, no fact there.

Kieron: Oh – for the record, how much has everyone actually played of the thing? I’ve finished it and played some of the challenges.
Jim: I finished it and I’ve not played any challenges.
Alec: I am on the very last fight, but became annoyed by it and haven’t yet completed it. I’ve also done a few of the challenges.
John: I’ve finished it ten minutes ago, so no challenges.
Jim: So it’s a game of melee, and of shooting. But it’s not much like any FPS I can think of. Can anyone think of any good comparisons or references to help give this game of context?
Alec: It reminded me a little of Riddick, but only a little.
Jim: Oh yes, Riddick is the closest in terms of sheer fist-action.
John: Hmmm, imagine if Condemned were set in the world of Mirrormask, and not shit.
Alec: Aesthetically, it’s Outcast meets a slew of crazy late-90s French adventure games.
Kieron: I think it’s actually a lot like a trad linear fighting game ala Double Dragon, as in, you move from fight to fight and it makes no pretense of being a “world”.
Jim: Yes, it did feel rather like the FPS rejig of a classic scrolling beat ‘em up.
Alec: It cheerfully repeats its enemies in the same way. That curious thing of fighting games: “oh, it’s that guy again.”
Kieron: Yeah – in a “You’ve had this guy – now fight this guy with a little friend” way.
Jim: Even down to food lying about to heal you up.
Kieron: But fruit instead of chicken. So healthier.
Alec: Mmmm. Chicken.
Jim: Yes, and it does feel healthy, as a game.

John: Going back a step: I don’t think that’s fair to the aesthetics, Alec. Those French adventures were lazy in their surrealism, just doodles for the hell of it. This feels like Bosch meets Dave McKean.
Jim: Quite so. It’s really unusual to look at. The visuals are something of a reward, I felt.
Alec: Yes, the main driving force for me was to see what new madness they’d show me. And agreed, it’s far more visually imaginative than those old adventure games – I was just scrabbling for some sort of context.
Jim: Anyone not actually like it?
John: Only a dangerous idiot wouldn’t enjoy it.
Kieron: No, adored it. Reminded me of French graphic novels too.
Jim: If one part of it disappointed me, it was that it didn’t escalate the craziness at the end – that final arena was *boring*.
John: And familiar.
Alec: Yeah, after the boat ride it pretty much just repeated earlier stuff.
Jim: Where as the beach whale-monster, or the giant elephant-giraffe things were incredible.
Alec: It does suffer a little from the Halo backtrack/repeat effect.
Kieron: Actually, about the graphical style – it’s worth noting that Alejandro Jodorowsky is actually Chilean. It feels a lot like a Jodorowsky joint. Even the plot.
Jim: Is he? I thought he was Spanish
Kieron: No, Chilean.
Alec: (The readers will have no idea what we’re talking about now. Giant elephant-giraffes, readers! With sheds hanging from their necks!)
Jim: Yeah, those should give you a gist of the kind of world it is, it’s probably one of the maddest I’ve seen since Sacrifice.
Kieron: For the uninitated – Jodorowsky’s a writer/director chap best known either for his weirdo westerns (El Topo, etc) or his comics (Metabarons) or just being gloriously mental. Anyway, yeah – someone paraphrase the plot.
Jim: Hmm, well, the raw story Zeno Clash tells is actually fairly unexciting. It’s journey of discovery thing. A young male protagonist fleeing after killing his monstrous “Father-Mother”
John: And having learned a terrible secret. Trying to return home, he’s outcast by his siblings. He had joined a clan called the Corwids of the Free, a group “not slaves to reality or common sense.” But their insanity makes them his enemies too. So he’s trying to escape, along with a friend, to find new hope.
Kieron: It’s the mentalness of the details which elevates the stories – the woods full of monomaniacal psychopaths, for example. They were amazing.

Jim: His friend seems like the biggest mystery of the game, to me. The actual key plot “mystery” was obvious fairly early on, but his companion remains unexplained.
Kieron: She’s an odd un, isn’t she?
Alec: She’s just a friend/lover, with antlers on her ‘ead.
Jim: That old cliché.
Kieron: She’s Alyx with an enormous furry hat.
John: I figured that was splendid hair.
Alec: She’s curiously uninvolved – always disappears off to a safe ledge as you face-punch people.
Jim: Going back to what Kieron was saying about the Corwids: the entire game felt a bit like an excuse for the incredible character designs. Your companion is part of that, but just a tiny part: almost everything you meet is an awesome concept.
Alec: Yes. The Corwids are really there so that you can tour through a bunch of mad ideas, though they’re affectingly tragic too. There’s that bit where the narration tells you about one who basically curled up and died. And then later you actually pass her body – it’s weirdly distressing to do so.
Kieron: There’ s a real poetry to them.
John: Does this remind people of films like The Labyrinth and MirrorMask? A series of extraordinary visuals, loosely sewn together as a story.
Kieron: Yeah, a little – but really, much more the French stuff which you haven’t read.
John: Actually, it reminds me more of a Serbian thing that you’ve never even heard of.
Jim: No, it’s like Chinese stuff from a future only I can see.
Kieron: CHINA!

Alec: I definitely got a vague Metabarons vibe off it.
Jim: It does have a real whiff of esoterism to it, and I wonder if that will put people off.
Kieron: Maybe. But I dunno – to choose an example of its ideas, one of the Corwids who believes it’s most important to be invisible. To do so, he tears out everyone else’s eyes. I think that stuff captures the imagination.
John: Anyway, shall we talk about the game itself? I had thought, having played the few preview levels before, that it was just going to be a series of arena fights. So I was really delighted by the magic torch sequences.
Jim: Yes, it just about manages to be varied enough
Alec: If it had just been fight to fight to fight it would have failed, but it’s impressively diverse, with the exception of the last three-ish levels.
Jim: how does everyone feel about that base-line action: the melee combat? I was surprised by how good it felt.
John: I was really worried it wouldn’t work. I was convinced it would become a jumble. But it’s just stunning. I never got a good hang of the blocking, but I wonder if that’s because I never get the hang of blocking in games.
Alec: The only thing I thought was that some of the modeling is off – some beasts’ punch-range doesn’t seem to match the visible length of their arms, or their distance from you.
Jim: Boss battles in an FPS are usually achingly rubbish, but with perhaps the exception of the very end, the “character battles” in Zeno Clash are really something, especially the parachuting squirrel-bomb sequences.

Kieron: My main problem was the lock on system – where you lock onto an enemy and can circle them – was on the same key you use to pick up stuff. So trying to make a grab at an object near a baddie was literally impossible. And allow me to repeat what Jim just said: “Parachuting Squirrel Bomb sequences.”
Jim: In terms of feeling manageable, and visceral, the melee is about as good as anything other than Riddick.
Alec: The other thing that annoyed in the melee was if you knocked someone down they were automatically de-targeted, and if you had a gun at the time, that would auto-pop up, which totally alters the fighting style.
Jim: Yes, that was what was interesting about it how it mixed in the ranged combat: it allowed you to put away your weapon and fight, or to have it knocked from your hands when an enemy got close. You could try to play a shooter at times, but it wouldn’t work. Or, at least, it would only work so far.
Alec: I was actively trying to get my weapon knocked out my hands at times, just so it wouldn’t pop up whenever I knocked a guy down.
Jim: I didn’t notice that, but then I generally had the weapon knocked away from me.
Kieron: The problem with that is how long some moves take – like, say, reloading. How slow you move when you reload is… grating.
John: On a number of occasions, in the middle of a battle, it would take control away from you and show a cutscene in which you were losing. And I bloody wasn’t! It did this twice when you’ve actually beaten the enemy, cutting to your being held to the ground and only winning by an action in the cutscene. I WON THAT!

John: So what were the other problems, Kieron?
Kieron: Doesn’t end, for a start.
John: It sure seemed like it ended.
Kieron: Explain Golem. What did Golem do? Who was the enormous dude? All the spoiler stuff we can’t really talk about in this verdict?
Jim: The end was unsatisfactory. I think it needed a bigger reveal to be any good – I’d already guessed the secret.
Kieron: I didn’t. I wasn’t trying, admittedly. I thought it was a pretty funny secret.
John: I was perfectly happy with it. I didn’t guess the secret, which I guess helps.
Alec: I shrugged the story off as cheerfully inchoherent bunkum – just a backbone to show us mad stuff.
Kieron: But fuck you, y’know? I paid for a story. You didn’t say it would be a Halo 2.
John: I paid for fistifights. Well, none of us paid a thing because we’re too important.
Kieron: Well, obviously.
John: Regarding linearity, I think that’s great. Double Dragon was linear. Hell, the Half-Life games are linear. It’s an ideal way to give us this sort of game.
Jim: Kieron, you’re not satisfied with just the ideas and the fights? I think that would be enough for most people?
Kieron: Oh, I like the game a lot. But I think for developers to end their first game with so many things open is an act of incredible arrogance.
John: It felt more dreamlike for me. Aimless start and aimless end, with a couple of threads through the middle.
Jim: It is quite dreamlike in that way, but then the narrative of dreams tend to not be much good. It’s an incredibly visual game, and not in an “oh we’re showing off with technology” way. It was more about their abilities as animators and artists. And even the voice acting is okay.
Kieron: Which is all the more amazing when it appears to have been done by the team.
John: There’s so many needless mistakes.
Jim: I think you’re exaggerating that, John. Look at it in the context of almost every other foreign game. The dialogue is fine.
John: I’m not exaggerating that there were many needless mistakes.
Jim: Oh come on, the voice acting in Men Of War makes Zeno Clash seem like an Oscar winner.
John: The subtitles were littered with typos, and many statements weren’t correct.
Jim: I didn’t have any subtitles, mistakes in the subtitles would emphasize it enormously.
Kieron: I dunno. It felt okay, in a translated foreign film way.
Alec: When the world it depicts is so strange and alien, it’s easier to forgive grammar messiness. They almost add to the strangeness, in the way they did with Russian in Stalker SHOC.
John: I think that’s nonsense.
Kieron: I didn’t notice a single typo.
Jim: And in the game? Aaaanyway, does anyone have anything they’ve not yet vented?
Kieron: We haven’t even hit the major problems, you know? As in, it’s 4 hours long.

Jim: How much is it going to cost at release? Because for £7 on pre-order, that seems okay.
Kieron: When its released, its 15 quid.
Alec: I genuinely think it would have outstayed its welcome if it got much longer, some of the multi-enemy fights were getting pretty frustrating as they were – if it had been longer, it would probably have involved more escalation and thus become miserably hard.
Jim: I think it could have been longer, if they’d had more visual awesomeness to throw at us. Towards the end it was losing that edge, for me.
Alec: It’s best they quit while they were still ahead.
Kieron: Which actually seems reasonable for me – you’re right, that they’d have to have added more art assets and general mentalness to justify extending the game. As a budget game, it sits right. I think the actual challenges show the game’s combat system up for the best actually – stuff like enemies fighting each other becomes much more important.
Jim: Do the challenge mode things have any life to them? I mean, I can’t see myself replaying the story any time soon
Alec: If you’re into competing with your mates for leaderboard places, maybe.
John: I want to say about the melee: The visceral nature of the combat is just astonishing. The force and heft makes you reel, and the sense of contact is incredible.
Kieron: Totally. KICK! PUNCH!
Alec: It’s incredibly brutal in its feedback loop. I really felt bad about kicking guys when they’re down.
Kieron: Yeah. I mean, I didn’t feel bad. I felt ruthless. For me, the height of the game is stuff like stunning an enemy, grabbing him, kneeing him in the face three times – no more – and then throwing him to my left, where I know another enemy is, knocking them both over.
Jim: Compared to Mechants Of Brooklyn – a very similar project in size and attitude – this is a true feat of design and production.
John: We’ve been quite picky about bits and pieces, but I think that’s testament to the fantastic standard overall. It in no way feels like the first game from an indie developer.
Alec: Yes, we’re not criticising its fundamentals. It’s an FPS fisticuffs game that looks and feels incredible.
John: My concluding remarks would be: Amazingly brutal, properly good melee combat, in the most beautiful lunatic world.

Jim: Enough! VERDICT!
John: BUY!
Alec: The Meerian thumb is aloft.
Jim: BUY!
Kieron: Yeah, thumbs up. If you’re interested, I suggest you pre-order now. It’s ten dollars on Direct2Drive right now, a 50% off offer which ends on Sunday night. On Steam it’s only 25% off, but that’s up to launch, I believe.


Our verdict: SALE!

Jim: Hooray, good work, Ace Team. The name proves befitting.
John: And punching bastard elephants is always good.
Kieron: I’ve always wanted to punch an elephant.
John: RPS instructs you to buy this immediately.

__________________

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150 Comments »

  1. jalf says:

    Ooo, world exclusive! RPS is all famous and important now! Grats :D

  2. hydra9 says:

    Glad you all enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to seeing a big whale tomorrow.

  3. Respectable Gentlemen says:

    RPS is clearly in the pocket of Big Chile

  4. Jarmo says:

    Thanks, that was a nice read and felt like a pretty comprehensive review with good heft and punch.

  5. The Hammer says:

    Nice review! Really looking forward to trying this one for myself. What an incredible visual style, and the ideas that it throws at you look tremendous.

  6. teo says:

    Will buy right away!
    Yay for shorter cheaper games. (COD4 is like 6 hours so…)

  7. Kanamit says:

    Sounds awesome. Hopefully I can get my friends into it to get some extra value out of the challenge mode.

  8. Pantsman says:

    So, which of Steam and Direct 2 Drive gives a bigger cut of the sales income to the developers?

  9. Scott says:

    Alec: I shrugged the story off as cheerfully inchoherent bunkum – just a backbone to show us mad stuff.
    Kieron: But fuck you, y’know? I paid for a story. You didn’t say it would be a Halo 2.

    I paid for a story too :(

  10. Jazmeister says:

    Ì like, enjoy, and felt good whilst reading, this thingy.

  11. Kieron Gillen says:

    Scott: Worth stressing that the main arc of the story is totally complete. It’s the other stuff which… well, really isn’t.

    KG

  12. 420Yos says:

    Glad I bought this for $10 when they had the pre-order special.

  13. RLacey says:

    Yay. Glad I preordered it now. Shame that what I thought was a bargain (the 50% off Steam offer) still manages to be more expensive than the current price, but I suppose I can’t really complain about 50p…

  14. teo says:

    fuck D2D doesn’t take debit cards =/

  15. nakke says:

    It takes Paypal, though.

  16. Smurfy says:

    Pantsman: I wouldn’t really judge it like that, but Valve already got a lot of money when the team licensed Source from them so Direct2Drive is fairer. D2D just give you a key to activate it with Steam so it’s the same end product either way.

  17. cyrenic says:

    Steam preload should start tomorrow for it if anyone’s interested.

  18. John says:

    Thank you for reviewing this while the sale was still on. I give this review a PC Gamer score of 81%.

  19. Garu says:

    I would like to preorder this, but Direct 2 Drive simply refuses to let me make the purchase. Tried my credit card, tried my paypal account, set up a shopsafe credit card number and used that. Doubled checked my billing address multiple times. Each time, just got a “transaction failed” message. Support page is worthless. Those guys can go to hell.

  20. James G says:

    I’m so glad to hear that thius has turned out good, although sadly still remain undecided on the whole concept. First-person melee combat really isn’t my ‘thing,’ and will inevitably end up with me button bashing in blind panic as I become completely disorientated. However the imagination shown in the art direction is something which almost tempts me alone, and I’m really excited to see what ACE Team will produce next.

  21. John says:

    By the way, while you’re there you might as well add Immortal Defense to your cart for a mere five bloody USD:
    http://www.direct2drive.com/481/7807/product/Buy-Immortal-Defense-Download

  22. malkav11 says:

    But what if we can’t buy this immediately? *sadface*

    (because we already preordered it for $10 on Steam, which is soooo much better than D2D.)

  23. psyk says:

    “Yay for shorter cheaper games. (COD4 is like 6 hours so…)” Thought they were just getting shorter to be honest.

  24. Dominic White says:

    I’d imagine that if you like the gameplay, this will at least have some replay value. The advantage of such a physics-driven combat system means that battles could play out very differently on repeat attempts.

    Either way, £7 (closer to £6.70 right now) is a great price.

  25. teo says:

    Yeah but I mean this is cheap
    Fuck COD4

  26. Pantsman says:

    @Smurfy: I don’t really take that transaction into account. It’s not as though Valve no longer deserve more money just because they also got some from elsewhere. I’m not trying to evenly distribute money between distributors, I’m trying to maximize my distribution to the developer.

  27. Pantsman says:

    In any case, does anyone actually know how much each service gives to the developers, or do they keep that information secret?

  28. Meat Circus says:

    It does seem the sort of thing that deserves to be rewarded for its sheer determination to be odd.

  29. A-Scale says:

    Quick mates, I need advice. I want this game, but I don’t want to pay more than 10 dollars. However, I’ve never used direct 2 drive and it looks like rubbish. If I buy it on D2D, will I have any regrets?

  30. Markoff Chaney says:

    Anticipatory Hype Levels – Rising! 2 days, and then that 10 dollars will be spent and a punching I shall go. The Jodorowsky comparison seems apropos as well.

    Excellent review, gentlemen. Thank you for the thoughts.

  31. Tworak says:

    “RPS instructs you to buy this immediately.”

    Sold! Or bought! Acquired! Yay!

  32. Starshot says:

    I’m a college student, so disposable income is more or less extremely hard to come by. I am VERY much on the fence about this game, just because I’m very much the type of person who wants all the bang for his buck. $10 for four hours of gameplay kind of sounds like a good deal, mainly because pf the innovation and indie-status, but the lack of multiplayer and a less-than-compelling story certainly doesn’t sound good.

    Which, leads me to another point. I enjoy story, and story’s game can sometime make or break a game for me. Case in point, I certainly enjoyed Half-Life more than I did Half-Life 2, just because there was a sense of mysteriousness around it. Was the story in Half-Life closed? By all means, no. There were openings the size of the Atlantic ocean. Did you have a damn good time questioning what the hell was going on the entire time you played it? Without a doubt. I enjoy games were you’re literally figuring out the story in your head as you play though the game, not something that is spoon fed to you. To me, Half-Life 2 felt much more spoon fed.

    However, above all, the length is what I’m worried about.

    I’ll be watching the reviews as they come in throughout the day, then make my decision before D2D closes their sale. Like I said, money is tight, so I just need to be careful.

  33. Kieron Gillen says:

    Starshot: As far as we’re aware, there won’t be any other reviews before D2D closes their sale.

    KG

  34. Senethro says:

    Time to vacate the fence and buy this.

  35. Dominic White says:

    Four hours long it may be, but how much extra playtime do the Tower stages add? There’s 5 sets of 5 levels there, I believe, and they scoreboard-tracked as well. If that’s an extra hour or two, and replayable to boot, that’ll push the value up quite a long way indeed.

    And here’s something to chew on – Max Payne 2 was about 4-5 hours long INCLUDING cutscenes, so long as you don’t die often. Dead Man Walking mode added a lot more life to it once you’d beaten the story.

  36. Starshot says:

    Kieron: Well, bloody hell; Looks like I have to make my decision sooner than I thought.

    This is one of those times where being indecisive really, really bites.

  37. Mo says:

    Any word on the system requirements and/or a demo? Have a feeling my Macbook (2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 2GB ram, Intel GMA X3100) isn’t gonna cut it. :(

  38. LewieP says:

    The biggest crime with this game is that it is out on Tuesday, not tomorrow, the 20th of April.

  39. Matzerath says:

    I am, at this moment, very happy with my decision to adopt RPS as my singular go-to place for PC reviews. Exclusive first Zeno Clash review?! Dear God that’s magical!!! With the additional bonus of said review being the funniest goddamn thing I’ve read all week.
    (I would also like to mention that I commented elsewhere that this game looked like Jodorowsky’s first foray into video-games, so I beat you on obscure comparisons, and I want a cookie.)

  40. John Walker says:

    Mo:

    Minimum System:
    Operating System: Microsoft® Windows® XP / Vista / Vista64
    Processor: Intel® Pentium® 4 3.0 GHz
    Memory: 1 GB RAM
    Hard Disk Space: At least 3 GB of free space
    Video Card: 128 MB, Shader model 2.0, ATI 9600, NVidia 6600 or better
    Sound Card: DirectX® 9.0c compatible sound card
    DirectX® Version: DirectX® 9.0c, DirectX® 10

    Starshot – buy it! It’s two beers.

  41. ordteapot says:

    @A-Scale
    the Bargain Bucket post says “Although this is bought from Direct2Drive, they will give you a serial number for you to plug into Steam.”
    Haven’t used D2D myself, so I can’t comment as to whether or not it’s otherwise rubbish.

  42. Matzerath says:

    I used it yesterday to get Immortal Defense, paid with Paypal and everything went fine. Also, Immortal Defense came as a regular install file, no DRM or reconnection or limits!!!!
    (At least as far as I can tell)

  43. Matzerath says:

    (‘It’ being D2D, of course)

  44. pilouuuu says:

    Wow! Am I the only one from Chile here? Proud to be a chilean now!

    So it is like Double Dragon meets the metabarons… I like it.

    Great review by the way. And I am curious to know if the dialogues were made by chilean people because, really there are not many of us which speak english and for that I think it is much more forgivable a little typo here and there…

    Really this is something to be proud of. The first chilean PC game!

  45. Chis says:

    GMA X3100 is what I have in one of my systems. It will definitely play SM 2.0 games.

    Technically. In practise, it will be slow as hell. Mo, I’d recommend selling your MacBook and getting a newer one mate, if you really want to game with it…

  46. qrter says:

    I wonder if this review will create a noticeable (albeit modest) bump in preorders on D2D and Steam.

  47. PleasingFungus says:

    I just preordered after reading the review. Had been on the fence for a bit, but, yeah, four Optimus Primes are enough for me. Steam has my money.

    (I’m profoundly dubious of Direct2Drive. Something about their site design/company name just sets off alarm bells for me. I’m pretty sure they aren’t evil-malware-men, but… hm.)

  48. A-Scale says:

    Well I bought it on D2D, but it isn’t giving me any code. The Download button just says “Pre-Ordered” on it. One would think that they would give me the key, but not let me download it yet. Anyone else have a similar experience?

  49. Jajusha says:

    A-Scale, thats normal. Once the games released the “Download now” will show up. Its on the 21st i belive

  50. A-Scale says:

    Right, but I’m not actually downloading it from D2D, so why withhhold the key until game day?

    Or have I misunderstood?

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