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ACE Team’s creative use of story telling, game play and design all crammed into Valve’s Source engine is truly a product that pushes video games ever closer to an art form.  Zeno Clash is so bizarre and brutal that it is one of the most beautiful games made by any independent developer.  The game redesigns the first person shooter genre from the run and gun type to the more up close and personal melee combat.  It’s a nightmarish paradise mixed with a fantasy reality.  This game is so cunning that it breathes life into the make-believe.

The story takes place in a fictional world called Zenozoik, and begins in a town called Halstedom.  The world is so tough and brutal that it almost resembles a Mad Max meets prehistoric times.  The opening sequence shows Ghat (Zeno Clash’s protagonist) recovering from an explosion, which he set off to kill his single parent, Father-Mother.  The player guides Ghat through a series of environments.  He is forced to fight and elude his brothers, sisters and hired assassins who are seeking to kill him.  Through his journey, a female companion accompanies him named Deadra.


The story is what really stands out over many other games.  For anyone who has had the chance to study Joseph Campbell’s “Heroic Arc Theory” will notice the game closely follows Campbell’s story progression.  A protagonist is introduced, he leaves his home to master his technique, he returns home, he is called to action and he is either rejoiced as a hero or shunned as a villain.  It almost plays out like a short novel or an iconic film.  There is a lot of emphasis placed on the characters and archetypes.  For example, there are two characters, Metamoq and Golem who share the same positions as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda to Luke Skywalker (Characters from Star Wars) respectively.  Both Metamoq and Golem teach Ghat physical combat as well as philosophical reasoning, and from his experiences he learns the beauty and brutality of the world.  Also, there are no redundancies in enemies.  All the enemies have their own story.  The plot is incredibly well done.

The story is the motivation to how the game plays.  Set in a prehistoric bizarre world players rely heavily on melee combat.  Players string together a series of jabs, kicks, super punches, blocks and dodges to deliver a clever combat system.  Aside from that, there are a handful of different weapons that have their own strengths and weaknesses.  My one plight with the melee combat is that players will find it difficult to judge the approximate distance required to successfully land punches and kicks.  Many times players will miss their targets, which will often result in a thorough beat down and sometimes death.


Also, if you’re not a fan of the keyboard and mouse then the developers have allowed players to use a controller, which brings the console to the PC.  Although the controller is a nice touch, turning and strafing is a bit hard to master.  The keyboard and mouse reigns supreme for this game.

Similarly, the art design is entirely appropriate to the theme.  You’ll guide Ghat through a bizarre world that is filled with color and emotion.  The forests are lush with green, the deserts are desolate and the end of the world is stark and evil.  Not to mention, character design is uniquely beautiful and the detail and outlines are smooth.

The voice acting, musical composition and in game sounds are done very well.  The actors speak with diction and tone and you’ll never be bored by there speech.  Although the voice acting is done well, the language deters from the style of the game.  The developers have added unique jargon like ‘Kak’ and ‘Tiff’, but overall the characters speak very properly for such a harsh world.  I would expect more of a caveman type language with more emphasis on broken speech patterns and more use of slang and specific jargon.  On the other hand, the musical composition and the battle sounds are well thought out and add to a believable experience.


Finally, many gamers will find the game to be fairly short, which will last about five hours.  Although the game is fairly short, the game delivers a rich story that is appropriate to the length.  The game is intended for a more mature audience, but I find this game would be appealing for teenagers just as well as adults.  Combined with beautiful graphics, well thought out art design and a combat system that is challenging, this game is well worth its $20 price tag.

Rating Category
9.0 Presentation
The story is by far one of a kind, the art is beautiful, graphics are awesome, use of either controller or keyboard and mouse and a plethora of video options
How does our scoring system work?
8.0 Gameplay
The combat system is well done and the story calls for different combat situations, but being restricted to only fighting brings the game down a bit.
8.5 Sound
The musical composition is done well, the in game sound is appropriate, but the use of language could have been used more creatively.
6.5 Longevity
Players will find the story rich and innovating, but the game stands on that alone.  There are challenges and achievements to play afterwards, but they hardly add to the replay of the game
8.5 Overall
The story is awesome, the graphics are beautiful and art direction is extremely creative. This game joins the upper echelon ranks of independent creativity.
  1. I’m digging all the duck people designs; it reminds me of the splicer masks from Bioshock. Nice review!

  2. I would say this game is the independent / Little Brother version to Bio Shock. Although the games are vastly different, there is a heavy emphasis on story. And now that you mention it, the ‘duck people’ (Corwinds) do share a degree of similarity to Splicers.

  3. This is definitely going to be the next game I buy, can’t believe how awesome it is every time I see more, I love it a little bit more.

  4. I just bought this game for Steam’s Christmas sale and I can’t wait to try it out. Main reason for purchasing was this review.

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