Is the sequel to this first-person brawler worth your time?
By Adrian Forest on May 7, 2013 at 3:11 pm
If you didn’t play the first Zeno Clash, get your life together and correct your mistake immediately. It wasn’t the slickest game, but it was bursting with fascinating ideas and visual spectacle, and the sequel picks up the story from the first game’s conclusion, so it won’t make much sense if you haven’t played it.
What Zeno Clash 2 does most is turn up the scale. The original had disconnected, relatively small and linear environments, and focused exclusively on the story it was telling. The sequel, by contrast, delivers a semi-open world that dazzles with gorgeous and gargantuan vistas, and adds a scattering of side-missions, easter eggs and collectibles to reward exploring every nook and cranny.
Where the first game gives you its signature brand of high weird fantasy in concentrated doses, Zeno Clash 2 spreads out a buffet of spectacular landscapes that look like the architecture of Antoni Gaudi as viewed through the visual imagination of Hieronymous Bosch, or whatever other simile you choose for describing ACE Team’s unique mix of surreal and grotesque sights.
It’s this magnification where Zeno Clash 2 reveals its weaknesses. In the effort to make the sequel bigger and better, it seems to have lost some of the original’s focus. The brawling has changed from a precise system of short jabs, strong punches and kicks to use in a pinch, to an elaborate combo system with a power meter and special moves that must be memorised. But where the first game required specific tactics for specific enemies, Zeno Clash 2 lets you mash your way through almost every fight.
The exception is boss battles, most of which return to the first game’s cleverly-crafted encounters requiring specific tactics you’ll have to figure out for yourself.
However, the greatest sin this expansion leads to is one that strikes at the heart of what made the first Zeno Clash so compelling to play: simple familiarity robs many of the game’s elements of their weird charm and sense of wonder. What was startling when you first saw it is now safe and unremarkable, because it’s a known quantity.
This is especially true for the many locations and characters that Zeno Clash 2 revisits. The semi-open world puts those disconnected locations in a context that makes them seem more logical and less weird, and so many of the characters are made less opaque and inscrutable. In fleshing out the world, ACE Team have eliminated many of the spaces where the player’s imagination could run wild, spurred by the glimpses the first game offered.
Where the first game used Source, the sequel uses Unreal Engine 3, and the visual slickness so common among games using that engine adds to this impression: it’s almost as if the eye slides off the gnarls and knobbly bits that make ACE Team’s visual aesthetic so remarkable. And the addition of co-op is welcome, but designing for it means enemies are less distinctive and more prone to swarming tactics, as well as making a solo player reliant on sub-par companion AI.
The overall impression is of a delicious meal spread just that little bit too thin across less-interesting-but-still-tasty bread that threatens to overwhelm it. Zeno Clash 2 is not the sequel its predecessor deserves, but it’s still a worthy effort, and it’s a joy to get more of that wonderfully bizarre world.
- Bigger in every way, especially the wonderfully weird landscapes that now take on massive proportions
- More developed combat system
- Longer and more satisfying story, where the original’s felt a little unfinished
- Familiarity breeds contempt for the wonderfully weird
- Expanded combat system makes the player a little overpowered
Zeno Clash 2 is available on Steam for $19.99. The reviewer purchased this copy at their own expense.