The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Zenozoik, the misshapen, absurdly colorful world of Zeno Clash, is one of the weirdest video game settings ever imagined. Many of its citizens are a family spawned by a single creature, the beak-nosed, hermaphroditic Father-Mother. Another clan, the Corwids, is composed of bizarre-looking men and women who blindly follow their random, insane urges – whether that means eating other humans or simply walking forward in a straight line without end.
You enter this strange and confusing world in the role of Ghat, a dirty-faced, quick-fisted young man who has just murdered Father-Mother. Though you fight off a small army of furious siblings as Ghat, his female companion Deadra better represents the player's point of view by spending most of the game goading him into continuing his slow drip of information on what happened and why he killed his parent. You’ll uncover bits and pieces of the truth in short flashbacks, but don’t expect to get the whole story until the very end of this five or six-hour adventure.
Though the eventual plot resolution may not be worth the build-up, the gameplay provides plenty of reasons to keep moving forward. Each short sequence introduces you to a unique location and then asks you to beat up a number of bad guys there. The first-person brawling system in Zeno Clash is top-notch, providing numerous heavy and light attacks, throws, counters, and more. As you progress, you’ll face smarter opponents who require swift dodging and a mix of attacks in order to defeat.
In addition to the frequent fistfights, the game throws in a number of diversions to change the pace and keep things interesting. At a couple of points, Deadra will task you with hunting down rabbits for food. In one terrifyingly dark zone, you receive a torch that allows you to catch the flames enemies throw at you to toss back in their faces. Several sections give you access to a set of bizarre gun-like weapons that briefly allow for ranged combat. None of these activities are as engaging or fun as the melee fighting, but they rarely stick around long enough to become annoying.
If the short story mode isn’t enough for you, this Ultimate Edition also has a bunch of bonus leaderboard-ranked content, such as Tower and Pit Challenges and the speedrun-focused Zeno Rush mode. More interesting is the addition of online and split-screen co-op for these challenges. Teaming up to beat on a bad guy feels great, even if it could have been developed further (and hopefully will be in a sequel). With Deadra accompanying you for most of the adventure, there’s no reason co-op couldn’t be extended to the full story.
While Zeno Clash’s world and characters are intriguing and fascinating, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was getting a “greatest hits” reel instead of the complete tale of Ghat. Save for the handful of times that Ghat moves into a flashback while talking to Deadra, each scene feels totally disconnected from the last, and the anti-climactic finale doesn’t help matters. Even if the story is a little unrefined, though, Chilean developer Ace Team has crafted a world brimming with potential and worth checking out. Hopefully next time there’s a little bit more to take away from it.