Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition lands on the XBLA with a considerable cult following, built up from its initial release on Steam. The story begins with the main protagonist, Ghat, coming around from an explosion he apparently set off which has killed Father-Mother, a frightening apparition that rules over her tribe of children. Cue a bloodthirsty pursuit across the lands of Zenozoik by her vengeful brood who are looking to exact a bloody revenge.
Zeno Clash is a first person fighting game. Right about now there are probably people recoiling in horror at the thought of titles like Namco`s Breakdown on the original Xbox, but Zeno Clash has a more refined approach. It doesn’t saddle the player with horrid controls and there are intricacies to the fighting that, once they are grasped, will surprise and delight those willing to put in the time and learn them properly. Nothing quite matches the visceral feel of dodging, weaving and landing that heavy blow which incapacitates a foe. Of course you can bash away at the Left and Right triggers and you`ll meet with some success, but learning the ropes will reap dividends later on when enemies stop behaving like interactive punching bags.
You are accompanied on the journey by Deadra, who helped in your initial escape from the town of Halstedom. She can engage in combat when threatened, but mercifully when she is stricken, it doesn’t hinder your progress as she gains a second wind over time.
The world of Zeno Clash is unique to say the least. It would be obvious to label it a psychedelic freak-out, more at home on an Ozric Tentacles album sleeve, but it really is unlike any game you`ll ever see or experience. Lumbering Elephant headed creatures vie with humanoid chicken-things, all of them aiming to separate Ghat`s head from his shoulders with fists, clubs and the games amusing takes of firearms. It`s not very often you can say that you’ve shot someone with a fish gun, but you can after playing Zeno Clash.
Of course this would all feel very gimmicky if it didn’t fit perfectly with the tone of the game, which it certainly does. Every new and outlandish weapon or enemy thrown your way is met with the initial sense of wonder, which then turns hastily combative as you need to focus and set about dispatching them.
While the single player campaign is substantial, there are some addition modes thrown into the mix, split between Pit and Tower challenges and Zeno Rush modes. The former sees the player continually funnelled downwards as they have to breach sections of the floor below to progress, whilst also defeating enemies. Games of Pit become almost strategic as you aim skull bombs at a floor section, hoping to expose a solid platform below, and doing as much damage as possible to any adversaries lying in wait.
The Tower challenges see the player forced to survive a pre-determined set of enemies which conform to the rule of three – the twist being that you have no health to replenish yourself until you finish the round. Survive three rounds and you`ll emerge the victor. Unfortunately Tower doesn’t feel as interesting as the Pit does, since it can make the player feel as if they`re not able to manage the amount of enemies coming from above AND below, creating a dissonance from how you’ve approached combat up to that point.
The final mode of Zeno Rush is, as you`d expect, about brawling against the clock within different arenas based on places from the single player. It creates a nice sense of rivalry for those looking to beat times set by friends on the leaderboards.
There`s a real sense of fearlessness about Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition, one that indicates developers Ace Team were clearly confident of their aim and goal for this title. If their aim was to create something unique and memorable, they’ve certainly succeeded.