Not long ago I attended a journo event in Paris, where game devs and their demo booths lined the walls. But none stood out quite like Clash: Artifacts Of Chaos, a third-person fighting adventure set in a punk-fantasy universe. Despite only the briefest of hands-on sessions cut short by sod's law, I simply can't shake the game from my short back and sides-furnished skull. I think I need someone to roundhouse kick me into reality, before I fall asleep and wake up in the fantastical reams of Zenozoik for good.
Clash is being developed by ACE Team, the folks behind survival game The Eternal Cylinder, which sees creatures that Alice Bee – and I back her on this - thinks look like willys and fannies and bums run away from a massive cylinder that crushes everything in its path. Our Eternal Cylinder review thought it was outlandish and delightful, which lines up perfectly with their earlier offerings: Zeno Clash and Zeno Clash 2, both first-person fighting games which see you biff gangly creatures in the surreal lands of Zenozoik.
Nine years later, Clash: Artifacts Of Chaos returns to Zenozoik as a spiritual successor to its Zeno-brethren. You play as Pseudo, a martial arts expert who looks like the cursed spawn of a Springfield resident's arm hair floating into the nuclear reactor at the power plant, emerging with arms, legs, and the constitution of a wooden club. On your shoulder is The Boy - no, not a small lizard riding a unicycle, but a Ghibli dust mite crossed with a barn owl. He's a mysterious creature who's wanted by Gemini, the Mistress of the Artifacts. For whatever reason, Pseudo decides to adopt the lad The Boy and protect him from harm's way.
My time with game didn't touch on the story at all, so I couldn't get a sense of how it's told or whether it's written in a compelling way. But what I did do is punch a big honkin' Watto to a pulp with my fists. The demoist encouraged me to wander up to this creature and swing hands. No pretext, no foreplay, just me spoiling his quiet moment with a crack to the ribs. Did I feel awful? Absolutely not! More jubilant, if anything.
No pretext, no foreplay, just me spoiling a quiet moment with a crack to the ribs. Did I feel awful? Absolutely not!
Immediately I entered one of three fighting stances, as Watto squared up for a brawl. I opened with a stance that let me jab and kick with speed, as I dodged sideways to avoid his attacks. Hits felt suitably weighty and it was easy to see who'd smacked who despite our duel being a messy throng of limbs and wings. After a bit of bashing, I switched over to the other two stances. One felt slower and more methodical, with longer wind-ups that traded speed for power. The other helped me keep my distance with lengthy chops and swipes, but felt like a much trickier rhythm to master.
After I'd slugged Watto down enough, a finisher prompt popped up on screen and things switched from a third-person to first-person as I rearranged his jawline and clunked him into the grave. Not only is it a neat ode to Zeno Clash, but it's a fun way to draw you even further into the closing stages of a fight. And for the briefest of moments afterwards, the demoist showed off Pseudo's three fighting styles in the menus, all of which were customisable to some extent. New moves, new stances, and the ability to mix and match them are coming with the full release.
Having battered poor Watto, I sought out another victim in the encampment. Ah! Cursed Dumbo would do the trick. So, I challenged him to a game of The Ritual, a simple board game where both players fight to determine the rules of combat. I plonked an Artifact down that meant whoever lost The Ritual would slowly succumb to poison in the fight, like the bastard I am. Here's how it plays outL
Both players chuck some dice on the board and your totals are added up. However, each player has a set number of moves they can use to manipulate each other's totals, and the player with the highest total at the end wins. Each move involves removing a little stamp from an ammo belt and placing it on the board. These stamps produce lines that segment the board, or cut through dice to change their totals or even destroy them.
The game's simple enough to understand for board game newbies like me, and gambling on a buff that might swing things in your favour lends fights a momentous, almost gladiatorial feel. What's unclear is if you're able to build a collection of Artifacts and deploy them as you see fit. And whether every creature you see is as keen for The Ritual as the NPCs are for Gwent in The Witcher 3.
Finally, I saw how resting at the encampment would switch the game from day to night. Apparently it's a dreamland version of Zenozoik that's less Borderlands on crack and more nightmare realm where everyone's been carved from wood? The demoist told me that enemies are tougher at night, and new pathways open up that you need to exploit to progress the story.
And, just as I started pottering around and exploring Zenozoik a bit more, I had to go. But from my brief two-minute escapade, I can safely say I want to see more. It seemed to have a hint of Souls, with a semi-open world that might gradually open up and intertwine as you progress. Again, though, I can't be certain how closely it compares with FromSoft's offerings until it arrives.
My time with Clash: Artifacts Of Chaos felt like a fever dream that I'm desperate to revisit. The game is a bizarre brawler with a gorgeous art-style and I can't stop thinking about it. That's got to be a good thing, hasn't it? Now to wait until November when it's due out. Might build a makeshift Ritual board out of Kellogs boxes and start challenging strangers on the street to a game. Actually no, that's a terrible idea.