Some dreams are good, some are bad. Then there are some dreams that leave you in a state of confusion and wondering what the hell it was all about. I had the same feeling when I started playing Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition.
There are some games out there that simply defy any kind of description. Zeno Clash from ACE Team on XBLA is one of those games.
The game is a rather good first-person beat ‘em-up in which the player begins by having to escape from their family who basically want our hero dead. This appears to be because the hero has killed “Father-Mother”, the bizarre creature that has supposedly given birth to him. From here on in the story gets surprisingly more bizarre and confusing.
A tutorial is provided through a series of dream sequences in which the player can learn the basics of fighting, shooting and grenade throwing, much to the misfortune of the chickens on which you get to practice. The controls are relatively simple, offering a small range of basic attacks in hand to hand combat. There is a very useful lock-on function to allow the player to concentrate on one adversary at a time. Being that the game is in first-person perspective, the fighting does feel slightly awkward and not particularly precise. In a way this adds a realistic edge to the game (possibly the only part of the game that is realistic?) as real brawls are rarely the well choreographed events that we see in video games. Is that a good thing?
Moving on to the projectile weapons, these work really well. The only downside is that there are not many to choose from, and the ones that are available are “strange” to say the least. Looking like they have been cobbled together from random piles of junk, at least they fit into the games setting quite well. One thing that I found quite annoying was that my hero dropped his weapon every time he got punched.
The main point of interest in Zeno Clash is the setting. Seeming like they had just stepped out of some freaky acid trip nightmare, the human like creatures that populate this mind-meltingly odd world are certainly varied. Whilst some look like they have simply stepped out of a Mad Max movie and decided to wear the carcass of some poor animal, others are only human like in that they have two legs and two arms. Once you get over the weirdness of these beings and stop to check out the scenery, it will become apparent that the entire game world is equally strange.
For all of the eccentricities in its setting, Zeno Clash is certainly one of the best looking XBLA games that I have seen. It just takes a little bit of mental adjustment to see this. The creatures are well finished and move with a fluidity that suits their interesting appearance. The surroundings are equally well finished and provide plenty to look at in-between fights.
There is a co-op mode that places two players in an arena style tournament where the players must defeat their adversaries within a given area before ascending the stairs to the next area and next set of enemies. Whilst offering some fun with a friend, the whole thing became very repetitive far too quickly.
At 1200 MSPoints, Zeno Clash is not the cheapest of XBLA games. But what you are getting for your money is a game that can be called unique. First-person beat ‘em-ups are few and far between, and the setting is highly original. I can’t see anyone really understanding the setting of this game and some players may even find the freakishness off-putting. But, for those who can enjoy the bizarre without trying to look too deeply, a good game is waiting to be played.