Zeno Clash is a surreal first-person brawler set in the fantasy world of Zenozoik. You play the role of Ghat who, seemingly, has the whole of this strange world against him save one faithful companion, Daedra. Ghat has murdered a hermaphrodite creature called ‘Father-Mother’ who is, yes, both Father and Mother to himself and a slew of siblings. His Brothers and Sisters will literally chase him to the ends of the earth to punish him for his crime. Daedra just wants Ghat to tell her why.
Thus Zeno-Clash has a dual-narrative; one in flash-back showing the events leading to the murder, the other in the ‘present’ showing the aftermath. This story-telling device pays off, adding intrigue to an otherwise linear story. However the twist ending is a little cliché and other plot threads are left hanging – presumably for the sequel – which unfortunately make it feel incomplete.
At only four hours long Zeno Clash is a short game, but since fighting is the only way you can interact with the world it gets a little repetitive in places. There are areas where you face identical opponents again and again. I’m not quite sure whether you simply knock out opponents or whether they are twins; Zeno Clash is a bit trippy with your character taking actual drug trips so even hallucinations are not out of the question! Nonetheless Zeno Clash keeps you entertained for the majority of it’s playtime with combinations of bizarre enemies often outnumbering you. Only some require specific weapons to defeat leaving you free to play with the games weird arsenal, or simply use your fists, to take them down. It’s fun. I particularly liked sections that utilized the environment.
The combat system is solid although it feels awkward at first. Sometimes button combos didn’t produce the moves I was expecting but it is definitely a case of ‘practise makes perfect.’ It’s good they got this right because it is the core game mechanic. You can punch, kick, use sharp jabs or haymakers. You can dodge, block, hold and beat opponents or throw them – possibly at other enemies! There are also weapons you can pick up however you can only carry one at a time and have to drop one to pick up another. You also drop them if an enemy hits you, so it can be tricky to hang on to the little suckers! Your opponents may have their own weapons or pick up any left lying on the ground, however you can disarm them and steal whatever they have!
Thus far I haven’t really gone into have truly strange Zeno Clash is. The designers went out of their way to make every mundane thing seem alien. Ghat and Daedra appear human but with the wackiest fashion sense, whilst the world is populated by a various human-animal hybrids (and not the cute fluffy kind). Some are dressed, or possibly fused, in kitchen utensils and pieces of junk. You meet a clan called the Corwids who believe insanity is freedom. The environments are spectacularly surreal and have a nice variety. The local colour is truly compelling. It did a great job at creating the illusion of a big, beautiful, crazy world; this is where the game truly shines and I was only disappointed I could explore and interact with it so little. An open world game in this setting would be a marvellous thing.
Zeno Clash is a very arty game: original, inspiring and atmospheric, but you’d better be fond of brawling because that’s all, as a player, you can do. You cannot interact in conversations and the voice acting is extremely monotone. The story seems like it’s going somewhere but ends before it quite gets there. Zeno Clash is imaginative and ballsy; with more development it could have been an amazing game but as it stands it is okay. Zeno Clash is a little game that dreams big. If you seek a walk on the wild side it’s worth a punt. I enjoyed it but not quite enough to fork out for the sequal.