360 XBLA Review - Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition

17th May 2010 - Originally released on PC about a year ago, Zeno Clash is a wholly unique game that will really freak out and intrigue those of you with an active imagination. If you want something a little different, something a little strange and a little slice of genius, then keep on reading to find out just why Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition is the game for you.

What may be considered an off-putting factor is arguably one of Zeno Clash’s strongest points; its story. You take the role of Ghat, a citizen of Halstedom, a town in the land of Zenozoik. The game starts moments after Ghat has a little unfortunate run in with his tribes Hermaphrodite leader and parent ‘Father-Mother’ that leaves it dead, resulting in the rest of his brothers and sisters attempting to lay the smack down on the poor fellow as he takes his only begotten friend arm in arm and makes a run for it across the weird-yet-wonderful land. Yes, you read that right - a Hermaphrodite being and its legion of crazed children trying to hunt down another, who ended its miserable life for unknown reasons. As the game progress’s, you will meet many spectacular creatures and characters and slowly unravel the still strange story piece by piece.

But the way in which it unravels is what would make a few less open critics hold a grudge against it. The game continuously reaches a story climax point before assuring you it wont be letting on just what happened with Father-Mother and why Ghat killed it, but I stress to you now that its all part of Zeno Clash’s charm. The game is weird, there’s no doubt about that, but that’s essentially the point of it! To criticize the story structure and the story itself but love the unique art style of the world of Zenozoik would be completely hypocritical. We’ll get to this art style a little later though, for now is time for…

Engaging combat
That’s right folks, Zeno Clash, at its core, is all about the combat. Taking a first person perspective, the game teaches you the detailed ways of hand-to-hand combat with multiple trigger attacks, counters, dodges and above all; stylized beat downs. As you master the ways of the fist, but also melee weapons and the occasional makeshift firearm (all equally outrageously designed), Zeno Clash will continue to throw challenging waves of enemies at you in all manners of environments.

Its in these environments that you will see just how a game should pan out. Each level is very different from the ones before it, yet in a way that you don’t have to keep on adapting to a new way of playing, so the campaign never gets boring. It’s a great way to play, however while the levels and the way they play is different from one another; the combat isn’t. Throughout the campaign, you will surely get tired of the games combat during the larger fight scenes and really just do anything you can to win without the enjoyment you will have had for the first few missions of madness, but that still wont keep you from loving every moment of the game otherwise.

Now, lets get onto the art style I’ve praised so. From the very first cutscene to very last, thought provoking moment of madness (I mean madness literally - The games characters constantly keep you believing they are in fact insane beyond repair), Zeno Clash will thrill and excite any imaginative mind. The locations are impressive and one cant help but wonder how the developers came up with such extravagant places and environments - There are deserts, jungles, towns and even an ‘end of the world’, all of which are in their own way marvellous and ever so different from one another.

But just because Zeno Clash has some lovely designs and ideas, its unfortunate that it doesn’t mean it looks just as spick. While the design is there, Zeno Clash fails to uphold the torch of graphical resilience to the same stunning quality. Character models all look a little dodgy to be blunt, and the environment comes across as very rushed and blocky. It certainly brings down the experience, and is perhaps the games worst point, but for an Xbox LIVE Arcade title, its still pretty good to see what developers can do with a small title.

The same can be said about the animation. Its not top-quality, but for an XBLA game, its sure better than a lot of the other games out there. But look past these iffy factors, and the design and style of the game will remain atop of chain for uniqueness in a video game.

Another standout point of the game is the dialogue, which for the majority is nothing like you’ve ever heard in anything but a Tim Schafer game. Its whacky, wild and full of charm. With a constant, and rarely repeated, string of hilarious lines, the games entire cast just seems more and more insane by the scene. Of course, Ghat and his faithful companion do think straight, its just it seems more like a type of Brad Pitt from 12 Monkeys kind of thinking straight, without the physical actions behind the thought tough, because that would just be creepy. The cast may not be greatly talented Hollywood voice actors or anything, but they know how to deliver the goods in a way that really suit’s the games whole pretence and it makes it all the more immersive.

Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition also has a pretty neat musical score. It’s nothing like a Halo soundtrack or anything, but it lets you feel the scenery just that little bit more. It, like the voice work one could say, isn’t of any particularly great quality, but it suit’s the game and that really should be what counts, given that it is in fact a game.

For a 1200 Microsoft Point game, Zeno Clash is surely of a high quality. 1200 MP is really not that much at all for a whole game, and with its price tag you get a decent amount of content. The main campaign, however, is a little on the short side. The very short side. On my first playthrough I beat it in around 3 and a half hours, which is a joke. But consider a $120 game you could go by from the game shop down the road would probably only give you around 8 or 9 hours these days, its still a good amount for its price tag.

But Zeno Clash’s real value for money is in just how great this short campaign is. Easily replayable if you enjoy the style of the game, and just as enjoyable the second time around. Perhaps more, since you now know to really knock some sense into the opposition.

But wait, there’s more!
Indeed there is more! As apart from just a campaign, Zeno’s Clash also gives players some more enjoyable gameplay. This comes in a form of a decent amount of ‘Tower Challenges’, which see your character plow through floors of a spiralling tower with increasingly difficult scenarios. The actual enemies don’t get tougher, but rather the way they are set up and paired out thoughtfully increase the difficulty in ways the eye cannot see. There are 8 to be had all up (5 ‘Tower’ challenges, and 3 ‘Pit’ challenges), and you can play them solo or join up with a Split-Screen or online buddy to really give it to the crazies SOB’s.

Its good to see a game can still be a completely unique force in this modern age of games. And with complete value for money, Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition is a game you can really sink your teeth into. The combat is deep, the script is great, and overall, the game is a well designed, idea heavy romp into the crazed minds of a very spectacular fictional land. If you can look past the games little flaws, most of which simply add to its charm, then there’s nothing not to like about Zeno Clash. To sum it up in just a few words; Zeno Clash is an instant gem and has all the making of a cult classic. You wont easily forget this one.


+ Amazing character, level and game design and style
+ Enjoyable and perfectly deep combat; from fists to firearms
+ Tons of replay value and content for 1200 Microsoft Points

- Campaign is very short; can count hours on one hand
- Games graphics are somewhat dated and simplistic
- Combat can become repetitive ad the game gets on


Reviewed and Written By John Elliott