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Zeno Clash II

Zeno Clash II might be the most unlikely sequel in recent gaming history given the first game’s status as a thoroughly bizarre first-person brawler some consider to be a cult classic. The weirdness continues in the land of Zenozoik with two-fisted warrior Ghat and his sister Rimat, who are on a quest to free their Father-Mother (a genderless bird-thing acting as surrogate parent) and to stop the Golem: a being attempting to civilize the land’s inhabitants through force.

The story is often confusing and poorly conveyed through incredibly stilted dialogue delivered by in-game cutscenes. Everyone in Zenozoik seems to know what’s going on but won’t give the player much of a hint in terms of what’s happening and why certain events are important. It seems like the developers have concentrated on making the world as visually strange as possible in an effort to distract from the plot.

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To a large degree, that works. Zenozoik and the creatures living in it are the sort of thing developers should be unshackled to do more often. The mix of tribalism, fantasy, and combining of crabs, birds, and other creatures to humanoid forms gives Zeno Clash II a visual style that’s difficult to describe just as much as it is to find comparison. There’s really nothing out there quite like it, save for its predecessor. No where else can you find a game where there’s a man with a paint palette fastened to his mouth and for it be considered a normal sight.

It’s the kind of world a player would love to explore more of, but they’re kept at arms length due to strict linearity that has plenty of invisible walls and not much else beyond the basic things to interact with. There’s far too much empty space the player has to run through in order to reach their next destination with nothing but the occasional creature to fight serving as a means of amusement. A few sidequests are available scattered around the world, but the game’s map is so inadequate it’s difficult to find them, let alone what direction you’re supposed to be going in the first place.

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Navigation is a constant source of frustration as the game will decide to leave player’s without an objective marker and no clue as to where to go next. The map doesn’t help either as it only gives a vague sense of how the world’s various hubs are connected. Getting from point A to B is rarely a straightforward affair.

Melee combat takes up the majority of the mechanics and it largely works. There’s the kick, one-two combo, or a heavy swing, which is highly recommended to use on the enemy’s head since it does the most damage. Dazing enemies allows for Ghat to grab them and finish them off with a piledriver while he can use up some of his stamina for an especially damaging blow.

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Other techniques are available like dodging, blocking, and parrying but for the most part Zeno Clash II is a straight slug-fest even when cornered by multiple enemies. Ghat will always have his sister Rimat as backup and depending on how high his leadership level is, another recruit. Allies provide little more than distraction for the enemies while players sneak up behind them for some cheap shots to even the odds.
Zeno Clash II also falls afoul of a few technical glitches. Beyond the map issue there are times when the attacks won’t work leaving Ghat defenseless leading to some unnecessary restarts. The game’s utter oddness is enough to grab the attention of the average gamer, but its on-and-off mission structure isn’t going to keep them for long and once again fisticuffs in first-person proves problematic.

6 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in March 2010.

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