ACE Team’s Zeno Clash was an interesting game to say the least. Using a first-person combat system, it allowed players to feel like they were using their own hands to punch and subdue their opponents. Mixed with the downright disturbing and bizarre visuals, the title also served as an artistic treat. The developers are back with Zeno Clash II, but their attempts at making a bigger and better game ends up being somewhat uneven with some missteps along the way.
The series features a bevy of strange creatures, such as a race with giant tongues for limbs, elephant men and clockwork zombies, just to name a few. Except for some rare instances most of the enemies fight in similar fashion to one another. Although the game looks mostly similar to its 2009 predecessor, with some new artistic features and touches, Zeno Clash II features a brand-new game engine.
The game features a fisticuff system instead of the typical one-button attacks, so players need to control both arms at the same time in battle. The learning curve is initially steep, but after the player adapts to the mechanics it becomes easy to fall into a pattern of using the same moves repeatedly while predicting and reacting to enemy actions accordingly. Additionally, you have access to guns, but almost always it’s more practical to use a bludgeoning weapon, like a club, as guns have little staying power.
Zeno Clash II comes with a number of new weapons, one of which has the ability to link two enemies together and duplicating the damage done from one to the other. However, there are other weapons that can be a bit more unwieldy such as the bracelet that utilizes the power of the sun (or moon) by positioning yourself and the enemy in its line of sight. If you just needed to be in that line it wouldn’t be an issue, but this weapon forces you to actually look at the sky and thus you lose sight of the enemy.
For the most part the combat isn't too difficult - it’s between these fights where an issue lies. Health pickups are few and far between for the damage you’ll incur during battles so you’ll end up dying from time to time, but revived with full health even amongst allies. At times it almost feels like you're being pushed to die on purpose. Considering the game, it doesn’t make any sense at all and tends to make the experience lopsided.
Allies are useful in battle but only in terms of keeping a few enemies at bay while you deal with your main opponent(s). Their AI can’t really be controlled so they're unreliable in any tactical sense during a fight. You can spend points on increasing your leadership, but with how they act in battle there’s not much of an investment in doing so.
Outside of battles, there’s some other niggling issues: there’s an in-game map, but there’s no way to zoom in and the mini-map only shows you the nearest enemies. Instead of earning points while fighting they are earned by exploring your surroundings and finding hidden totems spread throughout the land. Finding them in conjunction with the map system makes for an exercise in frustration that can force one to look up a guide if you don’t want to spend time wandering aimlessly.
The story becomes better as you progress later into the game. It’s very much recommended you play through the original as not much is done to guide newcomers into the narrative, but if you enjoyed the original you won’t be disappointed with the sequel. The voices are pretty well done for the most part, although main characters such as Ghat’s “sister”, Rimat, were particularly annoying.
A nice two-player co-op mode is included. Worth noting is the fact that there is a minor issue where it’s easy to skip levels in single player if you co-op with one who has progressed farther than where you are.
Zeno Clash II feels much more adventurous than ACE Team’s original game, but the developers could have pared down some of their excess and made for a more well-rounded game than a larger title with more rough edges. What worked in the original is still here, but the sequel’s unevenness at times doesn’t push it as far as it could have.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
|» What worked in the original hasn't been broken in the sequel.|
|» The art can be a real treat.|
|» For the most part the voice acting is great for an indie developer.|
|» Some of the gameplay elements are very much uneven.|
|» Rimat's voice acting.|
|» Co-op can mess with your single-player progress.|