There is an exquisite satisfaction in playing Zeno Clash 2. Whether I was pile driving a turkey man, taking down three lumbering crustacean humanoids with but a single swing of my ancient sledge hammer, or scattering groups of enemies like bowling pins off the edge of a cliff – smoothly done by throwing one of their brethren into the crowd after a few swift knees to the face – I couldn’t help but notice the broad grin on my face.
By the end of most games I usually myself avoiding combat as much as possible. I’m not a digital pacifist, far from it, I’m just an ADD riddled man-child who gets intensely bored by repetition. It doesn’t matter how complex your fighting system is, without variation within stages by the array of enemies and weaponry I will very soon become bored and indifferently start throwing grenades until things are dead.
I’m not going to lie to you, as good as the combat is in Zeno Clash at times I was only playing because I felt duty bound to. The screen occasionally floods with enemies with the intention of making a fight harder; the only difference more enemies made was that it took longer to dispatch them all. Fights against large groups were actually easier in my mind, just more tedious, because all you had to do was run in, elbows-a-swinging, then retreat back again while they all started accidentally beating on each other. The AI fails to surround you intelligently until you are already locked in a fist fight, most of the time they just walk around together, like a thick mist of faces in need of kneeing.
Instead of giving me one more identical beast man to kick in the solar plexus, how about different types of opponents to fight? Or some more bosses that aren’t just giant, HP wealthy editions of your fist hungry, average alien brute. The art team at ACE Team have enemy design down to a tee, and they vary aesthetically, but the AI and combat variety among them is lacklustre. The only real difficulty for me was when I forced limitations on myself like “Ok, don’t do that combo that beats him for two thirds of his HP” Or “okay, don’t move from this position”. I’m hardly a Johnny-good-at-all-the-video-games so I was surprised by how easy I found it.
While there are ranged weapons available in the game, they are god-awful. They take far too long to reload, are incredibly prone to breaking and, with the exception of the shotgun and grenade launcher, do about as much damage as an average punch. The only ranged weapon worth using is the incredibly overpowered sun/moon gauntlet which when pointed at the sun/moon (heh) brings down a hail of powerful heavenly explosions that waste the enemies in front of you. It’s a little tricky to get used to, but if you can’t be bothered to fight, line ‘em all up and blow ‘em all to hell.
Zeno Clash II seems to be having a bit of an identity crisis. The first game was a simple brawler with a compelling story line, you went from fight to fight knocking the beaks off birdmen with your elbows and upper cutting gargantuan giraffe/rooster hybrids; It knew what it wanted to give gamers and was proud of it. Zeno Clash II on the other hand just seems to be slapping unnecessary RPG and adventure game elements onto what I think should have stuck to being an exceptional linear brawler. You can level-up your strength, stamina and health to improve your combat skills, but these changes are barely noticeable in practice. The only skill that has any real change on gameplay is your characters leadership which allows you to add stronger allies to your party; even then they just get in the way or accidentally kick you in the back of the head.
If you feel the desire instead to play with people who will kick you in the back of the head on purpose there is multiplayer, allowing you to jump into the game of friends no matter where they are in the story. I didn’t actually feel the need to use it apart for testing purposes, I’m more of a ‘me against the world’ kinda guy when it comes to these sorts of games. There is just something appealing to me about beating some guy’s ass completely by myself without the aid of real life or AI chums. Personal feelings aside, it does work and is a nice feature for people that want to bro-op through the 7-8 hour campaign.
I could denote an essay to how much I love the artistic elements of Zeno Clash. The music, the satisfying ‘THWACKS’ and ‘WHOMPS’ of combat and the creature voices all stimulate the ‘YEAH, GET PUMPED!’ part of my brain, fuelling me through droves upon droves of increasingly insane creatures. The artistic side to the level design is superb, ranging from rolling grassy hills home to glorious alien flora and fauna, gorgeous bright coastlines and horrifying, poisonous gas covered graveyards to attempt by the brave and stupid. I was actually getting annoyed at the designers; it is like they have taken all the wildest ideas that could be conceived in science fiction, literally ALL the ideas! Each house, each door and each man-cage is as crazy and physics defying as the last; you will soon notice the strange effect on the psyche when you’re attacked by a man who collects feet who presents them proudly on a board around his neck and you barely bat an eyelid.
I’m pretty sure the Zeno Clash’s world is based on one man’s peyote trip. Everything bears a twisted, nightmarish, resemblance to our own world with a sometimes unsettling, although always exciting, alien uncanniness. Every aspect of the world is purposefully designed; I walked around the towns and found the mismatched collection of houses are shaped to look like faces contort in agony. I found myself turning the lights back on after entering some of the more… spooky areas.
Open world and Exploration
Now you won’t hear this often from me as I am usually all for open world exploration, but actually I don’t think Zeno Clash II benefited from being open-world at all and probably should have gone with a more linear approach to gameplay like its predecessor. Backtracking around the world map, fighting the same enemies and seeing the same shit took the awe out of the environment after a while and was just dull.
The moment when you emerge out onto the rolling planes of Rath-Bird field took me back to the moment in Majoras mask when I first saw the tree on the moon, a euphoric moment for a younger me. However after running back through it for the 5th time it completely ruins this magical area and makes it something I dread going through. Part of what made Zeno Clash I so incredible was that the majestic, insane worlds were only seen for brief periods, making them all the sweeter. If the moon tree area in Zelda had me returning to it every hour or so I would soon grow as tired of it as I did the majority of the map in Zeno Clash II, which was a real shame because some of the areas really are breath-taking.
Enough with the bullshit puzzle mechanics already Zeno Clash! I came to punch not to think. About a third of the way in you receive an item which allows you to link things together, causing them to share any damage. This then becomes the basis of about 40, practically identical puzzles and it really starts to drag. They are completely unnecessary and just slow down the pace that the game tries to build with hectic combat and a strong soundtrack.
When it’s being true to itself and letting you kick the shit out of things, the game is great. It’s comedic, polished and I enjoyed exploring and interacting with the world through my fists, knees, elbows and hammers. Zeno Clash II successfully takes you to another wholly different and stunning world, but just like the alien planet itself, it finds itself in an unnecessary struggle to evolve from its humble beginnings and try to be something it’s not, hiding it’s chaotic beauty under pointless, out of place mechanics.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.