Zeno Clash II is, rather unsurprisingly the sequel to Zeno Clash, the first-person fighting game released back in 2009. Developed by ACE team and published by Atlus, Zeno Clash II takes us back into the fictional fantasy world called Zenozoik.
The game’s creators describe the world as ‘stonepunk’ and it is a pretty cool concept in all honesty. Zenozoik is a world from the Stone Age era but with a few twists. For starters we don’t just have humans knocking around.There are all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures inhabiting this land, many of them humanoids who all co-exist peacefully…ish. It’s still the Stone Age after all, so pretty much every dispute is settled by the two parties beating each other upside the head until one of them gives up. The world itself is most reminiscent of Oddworld, that’s the world in Abe’s Odyssey for those of you who have never had a PlayStation without a number at the end of its name.
The story of Zeno Clash II continues on from the end of the last game, so if you haven’t played the original (guilty as charged) then you may find yourself googling a few things or just having no idea what is going on.
So basically you play as Ghat, a human dude who became disillusioned with his clan’s leader, FatherMother. During the events of Zeno Clash, Ghat found out FatherMother’s secret and was banished. He travelled north, met some weird dude called the ‘Golem’ and brought him back to his hometown of Halstedom. Ghat and FatherMother beat the snot out of each other, Ghat won, forgave FatherMother and all lived happily ever after. That is until the Golem turned out to be a colossal tool who imprisons FatherMother and starts teaching the primitive people of Halstedom about the law.
OK that’s the catch-up session over, enter Zeno Clash II. Ghat decides to free FatherMother and then begins a quest to find a way to rid his land of the Golem. That’s pretty much all you need to know. Golem bad, beat Golem with stick. Except the Golem is pretty powerful, so first you have to travel the world of Zenozoik to find someone with a bigger stick, beat them to a pulp and take it from them.
You see this guy? Punch him in his stupid face.
Zeno Clash II’s combat can best be described as a first-person brawler. Ghat’s manly fists appear on screen and you use the left and right mouse buttons to punch with each arm respectively. However there is so much more to the combat system than that, with a plethora of combos and special attacks to be unleashed. Holding either mouse button unleashes a powerful uppercut, whilst holding both does a crazy double punch (think hadouken without the energy ball). Combine this with charging attacks whilst sprinting, whipping people with a metal chain and bludgeoning them with hammers and you’ll struggle to tire of the combat.
You also get allies who can join you in your rampage across the prehistoric landscape. Some are plot related, such as Rimat, the angry lady pictured below. Others can only be recruited if you have enough leadership ability. Leadership is one of the skills you can level up when you find a totem hiding int he landscape of Zenozoik, though sadly it competes with much more urgent skills such as strength and stamina. As a result unless you go out of your way to find the totems or don’t level up your combat skills, most of the characters you meet will refuse to join you.
We know you’ll want to, but don’t punch her. She’s on your side.
If you get bored of punching people to death, there are a few guns lying around but don’t rely on them as ammo is deliberately scarce. This is for the best though, as Zeno Clash II is selling itself as a brawler, not a shooter. Still, the guns are a welcome addition and can really help out in some of the tighter spots. The weapons are wonderfully designed too; constructed from bones, rocks and wood in fitting with the Stone Age locale, they really help to sell the stone-punk idea. Guns aside, Zeno Clash II has one of the finest first-person melee combat systems we’ve seen and yet, it is still not without its flaws.
Zeno Clash II loves throwing multiple enemies at you and while the combat system is marvellous in a one-on-one fight, it isn’t as well suited to a royal rumble situation. As a result you will constantly find yourself being blindsided by enemies you had no idea were there. Another issue is that whilst there are a great many combos available to you, in reality you will just pick a few good ones and stick with them the entire time. These complaints aside, Zeno Clash II’s combat system is engaging and varied enough to keep you entertained throughout. Sadly the rest of the game, namely the exploring Zenozoik side of things, doesn’t hold up as well under scrutiny.
Zenozoik itself is split up into zones which are all connected to create a faux open world. This is a bit of a relic in gaming terms. This is something developers used to do before they had the ability to create true open-world environments, though in this case it appears to be more an engine limitation than laziness (we can’t think of any open-world source engine games). At any rate it does the job but it all feels so unnecessary. Zeno Clash II really didn’t need to have an ‘open-world’ as there are barely any side quests and the only bit of freedom you get about where you go is that occasionally you can pick the order you do some missions in. Linearity is not always a bad thing ACE team, just look at Half Life 2, the game whose engine you’re using.
What’s worse is that Zenozoik commits the ultimate sin for an open-world environment; it doesn’t feel lived in. The capital city where you spend the early part of the game feels like a deserted wasteland, with barely anybody walking the streets or talking to each other. Move out into the wilds and the situation is just as bad. A linear path through a forest filled with various creatures, all of whom forget the food chain and team up to beat your prehistoric backside the second you show your face. A realistic open world is a hard thing to accomplish and in this case it might have been better if the development team had put their efforts into making a linear game with more character than a lifeless open-world.
We like the idea of Zenozoik, it just needs more work.
Graphically, Zeno Clash II is nothing to write home about, you could even call it ugly if you’re used to the shine and polish of most triple-A titles these days. The source engine was beautiful back in its day, but she has aged more like milk than wine. Whilst we’re on the subject of visuals we should mention something that may well save your life, or at the very least your eyes. Before you start up the game, go into the options and turn off the motion blur. The motion blur in this game is obnoxious to say the least.
The sound effects are solid enough. Punching someone in the face really sounds like it hurt and gives the melee combat some depth and feel that other first-person-brawlers have lacked in the past. The voice acting is pretty good too. It can sound weird in places but that can mainly be attributed to the weird creatures that you are talking to. For example FatherMother sounds pretty odd but what would you expect a giant talking bird to sound like?
Overall Zeno Clash II feels like yet another victim of a developer with grand ideas who just couldn’t flesh them out, whether it was due to time or money constraints. With a little more polish to flesh out the game world, Zeno Clash II could have been so much better. As it is, it’s an entertaining first-person fighting system wrapped up in a strange but ultimately bland world.