Zeno Clash

Zeno Clash

IGF nominee Zeno Clash is something as unique as a first-person brawler. There are a number of first-person games with melee elements (I myself was on the development team for one of the more prominent ones up until its recent release), but Zeno Clash is focused around it entirely to create something that feels more like Double Dragon or Golden Axe than an FPS. A novel idea producing interesting and fun gameplay that (to the best of my limited knowledge) has no equal, but as with all new genres trial-and-error have yet to work out the kinks.

Gameplay-wise the game is segmented into series of connected arenas where you meet anywhere between 1 and 10 enemies at a time, beat them and then proceed to the next arena. The core fighting mechanic is where Zeno Clash really shines, a few basic commands can be combined to create different attacks and different tactics, the usefulness of each depending on the type of enemy you are fighting, the environment you are fighting in and what other enemies are present. Health can be replenished by picking up glowing fruits and weapons – both melee and firearms – can be taken from downed enemies, although this doesn’t work as well. You use a single key to pick stuff up or focus on an enemy, meaning that you often end up changing your view and moving in the wrong direction when trying to pick things up mid-fight.

Presentation-wise I wasn’t really sold on Zeno Clash. Aesthetically it has a very nice Pan’s Labyrinth- thing going with Beautifully creepy characters and environments, but it feels like the HL2 engine isn’t enough to sell this image and the environments feel stark and lifeless – not in the way they are supposed to feel stark and lifeless, but as a composition of polygons and textures that just happen to be in the same place rather than solid objects belonging to a world. Also, the practical feedback is rather poor with little difference in sound for different attack responses sometimes making it hard to tell who or what is actually damaging you, and attacks visibly connecting does not always coincide with the engine considering them doing so – an especially annoying part are the grenades whose explosions are near-invisible but still have immense range. On one hand, I want to cut Ace Team some slack for being an indie developer making a 3D game and I might be overly sensitive to these things, but on the other it feels like they have aimed a little too high and end up neglecting some basic feedback for it.

A lot can be said about the good and bad parts of Zeno Clash, but this is rant is in dire need of being wrapped up. It sometimes felt like I wanted to like Zeno Clash more than I actually did, but this is likely just due to frustrating situations cropping up ever so often. While the game itself very seldom feels polished, it almost always feels fresh – and more importantly, fun.

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Posted on Apr 23/09 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »