I remember when I first saw Zeno Clash. Having just installed Steam in 2009 so I could finally play that Team Fortress 2 game everyone was talking about, I found myself with cash in the triple digits (which quickly disappeared) and a desire to try on new games. Stumbling upon Zeno Clash, I was taken aback by how impressive it was.
As an indie game, it was perhaps some of the most entertaining 6 hours I’ve spent on a title. It was one of those games were the developers didn’t have a lot of resources but made everything count. From the character design to the gameplay, it was a rare masterpiece in the sea of indie feces.
It would appear that I wasn’t alone in thinking Zeno Clash was awesome, because the guys at ACE Team have decided a sequel was in order. Set four years after the first game (both by release dates and game timelines), Zeno Clash II is taking everything that has made the first Zeno Clash great and expanding upon it. The game is now open-world, the controls have been improved, and a handful of additional features have been added. On paper, it looks like the perfect sequel. Thing is, what looks good on paper doesn’t always look good in realization.
EAT MY FIST
Zeno Gameplay is Still There - Zeno Clash was good for multiple reasons. As a first person shooter, it was one of those titles that made you excited when you saw a gun. In pinch fights where you could get brutally murdered if you weren’t smart, finding a gun with six rounds in it was just the edge you needed to not end up as ground beef. This same excitement has transferred over quite nicely in the sequel.
Surviving frantic brawls while weaving between obstacles in an attempt to catch your breath is something you don’t see every day. In a game where you’re only as powerful as you are smart, it’s quite nice to realize your mortality. Sure there are a few enemies you should feel ashamed about if you get beaten by, but Zeno Clash II has perfectly captured what made the first game so good: Smart enemies with a solid combat system.
Action Movie Fighting - You know those scenes in action movies where the tough hero makes a wrong move and gets the crap kicked out of him for the next 2 minutes before finally learning the error of his ways and turning the fight around? Zeno Clash II does that, a lot. The thing is, it does it well and in a way you can appreciate.
I remember one fight in particular that did this. I had become relatively comfortable with the combat system and had learned pretty quickly that punching things in the face is the best way to take out foes. As I was beginning to enter a rut where all I did was punch things in the face, I ran across an enemy that not only dodged my face punches, but responded with some painful counters. It actually took me a moment to realize the game developers had figured out how to make a game retain the player’s interest by putting in enemies that change things up just when you get comfortable. It’s nice to see a game that makes gradual changes to improve the difficulty by making characters that fight differently. It’s something you don’t see much.
Sit Down and Listen - Zeno Clash II takes place 4 years after the events of the first Zeno Clash (correlating quite well with the titles’ release dates), and it’s a refreshing change from most other stories. It’s a story of rebuilding a family of adopted children as they overcome personal weaknesses and barriers so they can work against a common foe. It’s one of those stories where you’re paying attention to the ride more than the beginning or end making for a more satisfying experience.
Prettier Clash - Zeno Clash was pretty, but it was a bit rough around the edges. This was primarily due to the fact that it was a small, relatively cheaply funded game. Now, with a larger budget, the sequel is beautiful. There’s a larger variety in enemies, the designs have been improved, and the game is now a world of its own that players can get used to. It’s an artist’s dream.
The Open World - Part of the issue with the first Zeno Clash was that it was a beautiful world that you couldn’t explore. You went from fight to fight with cut-scenes bridging the violence as you were hard-lined through a world you couldn’t properly appreciate. Zeno Clash II didn’t seem to like that design choice and has opened up the whole world to players. Everything you can see you can explore, and the wide variety of options makes you feel like you’re in a different world every time you move to a new map section.
OW, MY TEETH
Map Sucks - Zeno Clash II’s open world is part of its downfall for more reasons than one. Yes, it’s a brilliant idea to have a sandbox world you can explore and appreciate. However, it’s an awful idea to take that same world, and make the mapping program terrible. Basically, it tells you which segment of the map you’re on, and nothing else. I suppose this would be fine if the game’s level design was simple, but it’s not. There was more than one occasion where I ran around in circles for 10 minutes looking for a particular exit that I couldn’t access because the turn-off for it was 100 meters in the other direction.
Let’s Play the “Eat Resources” Game! - An issue I’ve been noticing with indie games that aspire to maintain the quality of AAA titles is that the developers don’t seem to know some of the shortcuts the big name developers take. For instance, one area of the world, the forest, destroys a computer’s processing powers. Literally everything in the forest is alive to some extent, and while it’s beautiful, there was more than one part where my frame rate dropped to 2 frames a second simply because there was too much activity on the screen. Even after dropping the graphic settings to minimum, my relatively good computer that runs games like Crysis 3 without breaking a sweat was groaning in agony. Problems like this almost make the game unplayable.
Not for Everyone - The problem with Zeno Clash II is that it’s not for casual gamers. It’s a beautiful, unique game, but it’s not something I’d use to pull a newbie to the gaming genre in. It’s unforgiving, and relatively unfriendly, making it a niche pick designed for a specific audience of gamers. The first person boxing, crazy inhabitants, and lack of many popular tropes can quickly turn away people who casually enjoy games.
Zeno Clash II has me torn. I like that the developers noticed flaws in their first installment and improved on it. However, it seems that every step forward is met with a dark step back. Open-world gameplay is countered by a clunky, unforgiving map. On top of that, the resource hogging makes it almost impossible to play the game on a low end computer. However, if you’re a serious gamer who enjoys a challenging, unique game, then Zeno Clash II is definitely for you.
*This review was based on the PC version of the game with a review code provided by the publisher.*