Zeno Clash II (PC)

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Friday, May 3, 2013

Zeno Clash was an incredibly bizarre game about punching people in the face. Released in 2009 by Chilean developer ACE Team and Atlus, the title focused around a character named Ghat who was on the run from his siblings after being blamed for fighting his parental figure Father-Mother, the strange creature that has raised a large and influential family in the town of Halstedom. The overall look of the game was striking as many of the backdrops and character models had a surrealistic and fantastical feel, and while there were some flaws with the gameplay it still remained an unforgettable experience. Nearly four years later, Atlus and ACE Team have teamed up once again to release Zeno Clash II and the first thing anyone who has played the original will notice is that everything is much larger in scope. With a new engine in place and less linearity, does this sequel have what it takes to stand out as another memorable experience?

I did a quick story run of the first Zeno Clash the day before starting the sequel so that the events would be fresh in my mind, so it was a bit jarring to see just what a difference the change in engine has brought to the characters and environments. The original game was created using a modified version of the Source Engine, but this time ACE Team has switched to Unreal Engine 3. As a result, all of the character models and faces have gotten a significant overhaul in the level of detail and because you’re going to be up close and personal to them during fights it’s interesting to see that the developers haven’t lost their flair for attention to detail. Every model has a fairly different look and some sort of quirk that makes them different, but you may not initially notice all of them due to the fact that most characters are trying to beat you to death. The majority of the locations were in the original game, but this is actually a good thing as every location is two to three times as big as it was before. Rather than leading you down a purely linear path everything is connected by hubs so it is possible to explore certain areas early. While there may not be as much interactivity in each map as there are in some other open world games, there are secret nooks to discover and each map has a unique backdrop that will have you enjoy the exploration. Additionally, what I really liked was that despite the size enhancement all of the details I remember about these maps from the original game are still present and it’s fun to find all of the old landmarks in each area. The overall look and feel of Zeno Clash II retains a surrealistic and colorful fantasy aesthetic, which helps to keep the journey interesting.

The storyline in the first Zeno Clash may have basically been about family quarreling mixed in with some otherworldly and bizarre elements, but this time around there is an expanded focus. While you were fighting Father-Mother in the first game and seemed to have recruited the mysterious Golem as an ally, this time around Golem has put Father-Mother in jail and seized control of Halstedom. Initially your main objective is to find a way to defeat the Golem, but as you progress and learn more about the world of Zenozoik it becomes clear there is a lot more going on. I don’t want to spoil the plot, but it seems that ACE Team has once again chosen to go the route of providing more questions than answers. Some elements from the first game are expanded upon, but a lot of things in Zeno Clash II just happen and leave you wondering how to interpret them. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it leaves plenty of potential for another title, but what stood out to me is that the story just feels a bit too basic this time around. There’s less of the bizarre Corwids of the Free, which are people that basically live for a singular bizarre purpose, and the cutscenes have a bit less personality than before.

ACE Team has significantly overhauled the combat engine for Zeno Clash II, and has put together a tutorial that can be accessed through the main menu that teaches all the different combos while recapping the plot of the first game for newcomers. Everything feels a bit smoother this time around and I found it easy to lock on to specific enemies and perform combos with relative ease. The lock on function can be switched from one enemy to the other and will break if you start running, making it easy to retreat and analyze the situation. Punching and running both take away from your stamina bar, meaning that if you simply try to punch recklessly Ghat will become tired and become unable to block or perform stronger attacks. Players can once again pick up various guns that have limited ammo and also use them as melee/projectile weapons, but the core of the game is still based around fisticuffs. Some additional gadgets are introduced later on that play a role in both fights and puzzles, such as a gauntlet that lets players link enemies and objects together to deal damage to two targets at once. However, while the fighting remains satisfying there were some issues that resulted in some frustration. It is possible to recruit AI teammates (you have Ghat’s sister Rimat and a slot for one additional ally) to join you in battle, which makes sense considering you will often get swarmed by five to six enemies at once. However, teammates can only take a little bit of damage before they leave battle and enter a healing phase, where they can’t be used again for a period of time. They didn’t seem that capable of hurting enemies that much either, so in most situations I found myself having to take on the entire mob by myself which could be frustrating. Additionally, when AI teammates are enabled friendly fire is on and they like to attack through you to deal damage. It became a bit of a headache, but there is a two-player co-op feature for the entire game and this makes it less frustrating to have another live person playing with you.

Zeno Clash II is pseudo open-world, as everything is connected by hubs and it is possible to fast travel once you have been to a certain area. However, there is still a significant amount of backtracking as certain parts of a location may be locked until you have one of the gadgets gained later in the story. This wouldn’t be that big of a deal considering the environments are big, but enemies respawn and sometimes you are forced to fight the same mob of enemies multiple times. While I was excited to explore the big levels initially, the pacing suffered a bit and I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic towards the middle of the game. ACE Team has also attempted to implement some light RPG elements, as Ghat has characteristics such as health, strength, stamina, and leadership that can be upgraded by activating skull totems hidden in the various areas. Most of the stats should be self-explanatory, but leadership can be useful as it allows you to recruit stronger allies to bring along in battle. I would highly suggest that players try and find some of these totems so they can upgrade their abilities, as having additional health and strength help tremendously in the later battles where enemies come in waves. There are also side quests such as finding moths scattered around the levels and mysterious cubes that activate a hidden desert area. I like that the developers have incorporated these secrets and elements that some players might not even see, as it adds to the game world and encourages additional exploration. It’s also worth noting that while I have some reviews criticize the in-game map as being too vague, I didn’t find it to be an issue and was able to use it to find my way around without issue.

Some character voices have changed in the time that has passed between the sequel and its predecessor, but the voice acting remains fairly consistent and still fits the quirky nature of the game. While the dialogue isn’t always as over the top this time around the voice actors do seem to do their best with the script. What’s interesting is that despite the changes in spoken dialogue, many of the fighting sound effects seem to be the same from the original game. This still works given that the title takes place in the same overall world, and Zeno Clash II might generate some weird looks from people you’re living with if all they hear are the sound effects. What stood out to me the most was the background music though, as the developers have continued to utilize sweeping numbers that ramp up with the action and add to the game quite a bit. There are still a few pieces that I have stuck in my head right now, and that’s definitely a sign that the music was a positive element.

Zeno Clash II took me about seven hours to play through to completion, but I’m still missing a few of the secrets and achievements. Throughout that time period I maintained a consistent love/hate relationship with the game. While it initially impresses with a larger scope and improved combat system, some of the backtracking and AI issues killed my enthusiasm. Additionally, while the plot has its moments the dialogue and scenarios don’t feel quite as off the wall as before and instead seem to be relying more on the backdrops and art design. There weren’t any boss battles that were quite as quirky as the squirrel bomb throwing assassin from the original, which was disappointing. But despite the fact that the game had its issues, the fist fighting action is still a lot of fun and as a result I can still recommend it to players that want something genuinely different to play. ACE Team’s heart is in the right place, but their bigger scope has resulted in a more rough around the edges feel than before and I’m still not sure just where they’re planning to go with the storyline. I’ll have to wait and see if I end up remembering it as fondly as the original, but hopefully the developers will someday be able to take the tightly constructed and quirky narrative of Zeno Clash and the more ambitious open world elements of its sequel and reach the potential they’ve displayed with both.

http://store.steampowered.com/app/215690/
http://www.zenoclash2.com/

System Requirements:

Minimum:
OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz or AMD Athlon X2 4800+
Memory: 2GB RAM
Hard Disk Space: 4 GB free hard drive space
Video Card: ATI 3850HD 512 MB or NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT 512MB
DirectX®: 9.0c

Recommended:
OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7
Processor: Intel Core i5
Memory: 4GB RAM
Hard Disk Space: 4 GB free hard drive space
Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280
DirectX®: 9.0c

The Good

+ Larger world to explore with plenty of small details to discover

+ Improved fighting system with in-depth combos

+ Memorable soundtrack


The Bad

- Backtracking and respawning enemies/fights causes repetition

- Storyline isn't as quirky or memorable as the original Zeno Clash

- AI teammates die too easily and have a habit of damaging your character

Verdict6.5

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