Zeno Clash 2 Review
Let’s take a trip back in time shall we? Ok let’s jump back a few years ago when a little game called Dark Messiah of Might and Magic was released. Does anyone remember that game? I know I sure do. It wasn’t anything stellar, but it was a solid game that was pretty fun to play most of the time. I remember at the time of the game’s release that everyone collectively picked on the fact that you could just kick-spam your way out of most jams. That seems sort of ironic now that we’re leaving in a world where most game critics piled praise onto something like Bulletstorm for basically aping the same mechanic. It’s probably because there is something to the act of kicking and punching that is so universal and visceral that lots of people want to attempt to make it relevant in a game. Such is the long tale of melee combat in videogames. Strangely enough though, there seem to be very few games these days that rely almost exclusively on hand to hand combat. Back in the good ol’ days (meaning I’m an old bastard) there were sweet beat ’em ups like Double Dragon, Final Fight, and Streets of Rage to get all of your beating the crap out of people requirements for the day. This makes me sad as a person. I like beat ‘em ups. Love them perhaps. So it was rather high hopes that I entered the world of Zeno Clash 2 again.
Zeno Clash 2 (Xbox 360, PS3)
Developer: ACE Team
Released: April 30th 2013
Some players may be returning to the completely strange and weird world of Zenozoik, and for others, this is going to be the introductory tour of the place. While it isn’t necessary for you to have played the first game in order to enjoy the sequel, it may help you understand it a little better. If you’re the type that doesn’t mind skipping the backstory and you just feel like jumping in, there is a tutorial that helps to flesh out some of the missing details. By and large what you need to know is that your Father-Mother has been captured and it’s up to you to save it. Of course this means that you’re going to have to slog through a series of adventures that all culminate with you punching someone in the face, and collecting things. These adventures will take you throughout the extent of Zenozoik’s environs much like the first, but here Zeno Clash 2 lets you off the leash a little bit.
In fact one of the big selling points of this sequel is that the game is now done in an open world approach instead of the previous iterations level by level design. Where the first game felt like it was just staging boss fight after boss fight, this game feels more like a cohesive breathing world. Albeit a world where people wander around with tube socks and light bulbs strapped to their faces, but a more vibrant one nonetheless. What’s disappointing then is that you soon discover that you still can’t jump, and there are loads of invisible barriers an artificial environmental obstructions to constantly impede exploration. You aren’t encouraged to find your own way toward a goal, and it gives this open world a strangely linear and restrictive feeling. This is even more puzzling when you try to navigate with any sense of direction within the game. Checkpoint markers are infuriatingly obscure and hard to find, made even more difficult by the fact that your map looks like it was drawn in crayon and doesn’t give you the slightest ideas of where the hell you might actually be.
Zeno Clash 2 isn’t going to be solely defined by the environment or unique design though. What is going to make or break the game is the hand to hand action. Should you expect a more visceral and action packed sequel than the previous game? No you should not. In fact you should probably lower your expectations that this game is going to deliver fast paced, combo laden face destruction because it simply won’t live up to the challenge. The timing on blows is absolutely relentless; meaning that if you want to land a combo on an enemy, you need to have precision timing. Even so, when you manage to pull combos off, the longer power moves that some of them require to chain into have wind-ups that take so long that you become vulnerable to attacks from every angle. Add in the fact that your character moves at a staggeringly slow place when engaging an enemy and you have a recipe that allows you to get the living snot beat out of you pretty quickly. Not that any of those combos really matter, the hit detection is abysmal with a fraction of your punches and kicks ever actually connecting.
Zeno Clash 2 has some ideas that could have led to something solid being produced, but as it stands the game we got was mired with bugs and some fundamental gameplay issues. While there is some redeeming value to be extracted from the game’s semi-interesting story, and the understated soundtrack; the core gameplay itself is so fractured and flawed that it is hard to recommend otherwise. You should probably wait until Zeno Clash 2 has been out for a week or so and see how it shapes up with patches before giving it a shot, as it stands right now; the game is something that could have used some more work, depth, and time.