Review: Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: ACE Team
Genre: First-Person Action
Release Date: 05/05/2010

After a bit of a delay in development, Zeno Clash has finally hit the Xbox 360 in its Ultimate Edition glory. Even though the title original release turned a lot of heads in the PC community, including our own Guy Desmarais, partnering with Atlus for its U.S. console release, developer ACE Team has been able to get the word out about Zeno Clash to gaming audiences much more quickly. Both companies gave Diehard GameFAN a live preview of the title back in February and after three months, Zeno Clash is released and available for purchase on Xbox LIVE Arcade. The original title weighed in as a nominee for 2009 fighting game of the year on our site so does lightning strike twice with this revamped effort?

If you’ve already tackled the title on PC, you’ll be sad to know nothing has been changed for the game’s story (aside from subtleties such as a change in voice actress for Deadra). Still, the bizarre nature of the title and its mashing of fantasy and punk styling are most likely worth a revisit and it will no doubt raise an eyebrow or two for those completely new to the experience. To put it bluntly: This game is freakin’ weird. For someone such as myself, this is a positive comment, but there will no doubt be others that will be swayed in the opposite direction. Nonetheless, this approach creates unique environments and characters that are extremely memorable.

In a nutshell, Zeno Clash details the journey of Ghat, a member of a tribe inhabiting the world of Zenozoik. The player is thrust in medias res as Ghat regains consciousness after a crippling battle with Father-Mother, a towering creature of hermaphroditic nature that serves as the universal parental figure for all members of the tribe. Leaving Father-Mother for dead, Ghat soon has a legion of pissed off brothers and sisters on his trail. The only member of tribe willing to aid Ghat, Deadra, tags along with him as he escapes his pursuers, leading both on a fugitive journey that allows Ghat to revisit his past and reveal to the player what exactly happened in the events that led up to the death of Father-Mother.

What then pans out in Zeno Clash is an alternation of past and present that sees the pair fleeing from the tribe and battling the wilderness while Ghat reminisces about the slaying when they have time to rest. The player will no doubt be slightly puzzled by the story in the beginning as they have little clue as to what Ghat’s motives are, but the flashbacks not only give a unique way to tell the story, but also act as tutorials sprinkled among the various encounters. The progression allows for players to ease into a game at a steady pace and allows players to get a feel for the contents of the game. As the story continues on, Ghat will run into a number of crazy characters, but the story fails to evolve much beyond the secret of Father-Mother. The ending is extremely anti-climatic, following a re-hashed boss battle that provides little falling action, slamming players into a brick wall after the climax. Everything in Zeno Clash is so unique and mysterious, players will most likely be glued to the story until the end, but their interpretation of the ending will definitely vary and the constant back-and-forth nature of the delivery may lose a few players.

The story mode will take most players around five to six hours to tackle, but the Ultimate Edition pipes in some more content, even beyond that of the PC version, to extend the gameplay. Exclusive to the Ultimate Edition, a second player can pick up an Xbox 360 controller for split-screen or online connectivity to help clear out hoards of enemies in the tower and pit modes. The tower mode gives players a choice of five different towers to climb in wave-based progression, while three pits exclusive to the Xbox 360 version has players climbing down a pit toward a goal while avoiding plummeting to their death and battling enemies. This particular version also adds in a Zeno Rush mode where players tackle select scenarios in time attack fashion, complete with a brand new hammer-style weapon that reduces the player’s overall time with use. The various side modes also have leaderboards, giving players a lot to do for their $15 and making the deal a little sweeter for those that have already played through the original title. Perhaps the only thing missing here is a true versus mode to take advantage of the addition of a second player and add in some unpredictability and maybe a two-player story segment, but what players ultimately get goes above and beyond most revamped titles.

Seeing as Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition weighs in at more than a gigabyte, I was expecting some serious presentation behind the title and I definitely wasn’t disappointed. While the PC version has a bit of a graphical edge, the Xbox 360 version is certainly no slouch in its visuals, which come in at 720p. Very few titles on Xbox LIVE Arcade reach the level of almost comparing to disc-based games, but Zeno Clash reaches this level with detailed, eerie characters that get right in your face thanks to the first-person viewpoint and dreamscape-style environments that really draw on the imagination. If you get really close to some of the environment objects will appear a bit blocky, but when the entire picture is viewed as a whole, everything blends together and really catches the eye.

The characters really steal the show in Zeno Clash, though. Ghat will face off against other humans, but he will also encounter a number of “alien” opponents, some modeled after animal-human hybrids. While the enemies will eventually repeat themselves, the steady addition of adversaries such as the Corwid of the Free and the hunter will ensure players get some variation. All of the characters animate extremely well also, and the first-person view accurately holds up, even while Ghat is being mercilessly pummeled (which will no doubt illicit some ill feelings for motion-sensitive players). Even though players will see a few hiccups such as squirrel bombs getting stuck in mid-air animations, a few nice touches to detail such as damage, facial expressions and the detail of the world’s makeshift weapons round out the experience.

While the audio isn’t equally impressive, it still holds up very well. The music does get repetitive with its very few samples, but each fits the mood perfectly, such as the journey down the river in chapter 12, for example. There isn’t much to the sound effects, either, but the first-person view allows for the effects to be a lot more up-close and personal. Landing a blow on an opponent is satisfying thanks to the over-exaggerated combat sound effects and any blow delivered to Ghat is exaggerated even more to accent the first-person perspective. The voice acting in Zeno Clash is also serviceable at best. None of the voice acting is horrible, but most of the human characters come across without emotion. The “alien” characters have distinct voice traits that make them stand out much more than the main characters and these voice samples also spill over into the gameplay as enemies taunt, shout and yell during battle.

Obviously, the real question many interested gamers have about first-person titles is “how does it control?” In the case of Zeno Clash, ACE Team didn’t sweat the transition at all, carefully mapping the entire PC version controls comfortably onto the Xbox 360 controller. Surely, there are still players that find a keyboard and mouse layout more comfortable, but the conversion here is spot on, resulting in responsive controls with the controller. The triggers take the place of the left and right mouse buttons and the dual-stick controls make for a natural fit to the console. Players can use commands to lock-on to enemies, making control during one-on-one combat a painless process. While a few of the commands, such as kicking and stringing combos, make take some time adjusting to, the controls hold up extremely well and quickly become second nature.

First-person titles are certainly nothing new as gamers have enjoyed FPS titles for years and entries such as Breakdown, Sudeki and Mirror’s Edge attempted to take other genres into first person. While the attempt isn’t entirely original, Zeno Clash does quite enough to separate it from other titles while still nailing the fundamentals that make the title fun to play. The hand-to-hand combat is definitely Zeno Clash’s bread and butter and where the game shines the most. Again, the experience allows players the in-your-face feel of a fistfight and the range of offensive and defensive moves gives players a lot to respond with. Players won’t get very far hammering down on the right trigger to punch endlessly as enemies will definitely block and the player’s stamina bar will prevent Ghat from doing much of anything once it is depleted. Zeno Clash allows players dodge and counter like Little Mac, sprint at enemies with guard-breaking attacks or even deflect attacks with timed blocks to access another set of counterattacks.

Thanks to the easy controls, this process is painless and the fist fighting easily becomes the highlight of the game. Zeno Clash does attempt to sprinkle in some variety with firearms and a unique weapon known as the torch. While the torches break up the gameplay with more of a defensive focus, the shooting aspects don’t always hold up so well. The title features a handful of very unique weaponry, often constructed from bones and other natural resources. Certainly, these rudimentary weapons couldn’t be considered to be as powerful or accurate as something a player would find in Modern Warfare, but the low power and constant need to reload these weapons frequently isn’t as fun or effective as using your fists. Even so, most of the enemies fall for the same tactics over and over, leaving most of the difficulty merely in the number of enemies the player encounters at one time. The earlier levels do allow players to ease into the game as the enemies “wait their turns,” but toward the end of the game, their patience is gone and enemies are more than happy to blindside you or camp on the sideline with a projectile weapon.

Much like any brawler game, though, Zeno Clash will get a little repetitive. Ghat and Deadra will wander a little; something will impede their progress, Ghat fights and the pair moves on. This formula is repeated quite often with a few changes in the characters here and there, but players will find themselves repeating the same process through most of the 19 chapters in the game. Still, players that can deal with the endless brawling will have a lot to go back to with the multiple modes and leaderboards and there is a bit of an addictive nature tied to Zeno Clash thanks to its mystique and visceral combat, but few will probably come back to the story mode that answers very few questions and piles on a thousand more.

As a comparison to the PC, if players are debating, I would some up the decision as such: If you are looking for better performance, sharper graphics and like using a keyboard and mouse, go for the PC version. If you would like slightly better controls, patched gameplay, more features, multiplayer and better accessibility, go with the Xbox 360 versions. Despite a few flaws, both entries are very solid games that are chock full of weirdness and originality, but due to the long download time and slightly poorer performance, fans of the PC format will most likely want to stick with the original.

The Scores
Story/Modes: VERY GOOD
Graphics: CLASSIC
Sound: GREAT
Gameplay/Control: VERY GOOD
Replayability: ENJOYABLE
Balance: GOOD
Originality: GREAT
Addictiveness: GOOD
Appeal Factor: VERY GOOD
Miscellaneous: GREAT

Short Attention Span Summary
Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition is a worthy revamp of an already capable title. The experience is one-of-a-kind, the first-person perspective is handled well and there is a lot of new content to be seen in this new version. There are of course some fallbacks such as repetition, mechanics that fail to break up the gameplay in an entertaining manner, a hard-to-follow story and a very unsatisfying conclusion that do hold the title back from being top-notch. If you dig brawlers, you’ll get a lot of mileage out of Zeno Clash and the content is tweaked especially for the Xbox 360 format. With great presentation and such a bizarre game world, Zeno Clash is a definite attention grabber.



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