Zeno Clash is full of inconsistencies that make it a linear, repetitive and ultimately forgettable adventure.
I’ve always found fascinating how some pieces of fiction can take some elements from real-life and use those to create universes that feel bizarre, weird and simply unique. That’s definitely the case of franchises like Star Trek, Star Wars and Defiance, to name a few of my favorites. And that’s also the case of Zeno Clash, an unconventional action adventure game where the main draw is a first-person mêlée combat that feels like nothing I’ve played before. But despite its unique world and entertaining combat, Zeno Clash is full of inconsistencies that make it a linear, repetitive and ultimately forgettable adventure.
In the game, you assume the role of a fugitive who’s trying to escape from his village after committing a serious crime. Apparently, you’ve murdered a creature known as Father-Mother (remember that the story is both bizarre and dense, so getting use to the game’s nomenclature will definitely take some time) and while you don’t know what that means at first, a lot of angry villagers are chasing you and that’s more than enough to get you going. As you leave your hometown behind, you find more and more grotesque-looking creatures which you need to defeat in order to progress.
Even when there are multiple attacks to take into account, the way in which the combat works is fairly simple: you have access to both light and hard attacks. Additionally, you can block, kick, evade and tag enemies and you can also equip a variety of weapons, including rifles, pistols and bombs. Undoubtedly, the combat is the star of the show and that’s why it’s such a shame that it has its fair share of problems.
For starters, locking on an enemy amid the chaos is hard and I constantly forgot I could do it because I was always surrounded by several creatures. The combat quickly becomes extremely tedious, since you’re always fighting enemies in pretty much the same way (you combine light attacks with hard attacks until the enemy falls, then you kick him and you repeat the process a handful of times until fight’s over.) Something I found frustrating is that while you use pretty much the same strategy regardless of the enemies you fight, most of them have way too much health which feels like a way of making encounters longer. Boss encounters try to break the pace, but ultimately fail, since you can rely on the same attacks and strategies that work with regular enemies.
Although the combat isn’t perfect, it helps that the universe is so colorful, creative and unique. Aesthetically, there’s nothing like Zeno Clash and you’ll be hard pressed to find something even remotely similar. In a sense, the game reminded me of the twisted worlds of someone like Tim Burton or David Lynch, but the main difference is that Zeno Clash is always colorful and cheery. I enjoyed being a part of this eccentric universe inhabited by bizarre environments and grotesque-looking monsters, but despite what the visual aspect lead you to believe, the heart of the game lies in the combat and the story is secondary.
During the tutorial, the game teaches you how to defeat enemies in a graceful way, but why would you do that when pushing random buttons is more effective and takes less time and effort? So you’ll rely on the same moves again and again and that’s what makes fights repetitive. Some specific enemies (usually the bigger ones or the bosses) require you to change your strategy and while this shakes things up a bit, you’re always doing pretty much the same.
The game isn’t that long either. The campaign (which is entirely single-player) lasts about three or four hours and once you beat it, you unlock the tower challenges where you compete against friend’s leaderboards. In these challenges, you need to beat as many waves of enemies as possible in as little time as possible. This feels like an uninspired extra mode that doesn’t capitalize on the game’s strengths, so while you’re exposed to the combat, you’re fighting wave after wave of random enemies only to beat your friends’ leaderboards and there’s no story that encourages you to keep going.
It’s admirable that a small development team was able to craft such a unique adventure, but ultimately, Zeno Clash is a repetitive adventure game where you’ll find yourself performing the same actions over and over. And that makes the game entertaining for only a few minutes.