Mento's May Madness More: #1 - Zeno Clash

Welcome all and sundry to 2013's Steam May Madness, which I've tentatively dubbed May Madness More. As with last year's fiasco the goal here is to play as much of my Steam backlog over the month of May as possible. In each game's case, I'll play it for a few hours and then regale you all with my early impressions as well as decide whether or not I intend to see it through to its conclusion at a later time. This way I can sort the wheat from the chaff, as it were, as so much of my Steam library is comprised of exceptionally cheap bundle titles - and because I don't doubt this is the case for many of you, I can give you some idea of the value of the junk/hidden treasures you may have sitting in that enormous list. As public services go, it's not exactly helping junkies off the crack or picking up trash on the interstate, but then it's not like I'm doing this because I have a DUI to pay off.

May 01 - Zeno ClashMay 08 - Sugar Cube: Bittersweet FactoryMay 15 - Noitu Love 2: DevolutionMay 22 - Closure
May 02 - Your Doodles Are Bugged!May 09 - ShatterMay 16 - Metal DriftMay 23 - Basement Collection
May 03 - Wasteland AngelMay 10 - SairaMay 17 - InMomentumMay 24 - Anodyne
May 04 - VesselMay 11 - Rock of AgesMay 18 - Galactic Arms RaceMay 25 - Analogue: A Hate Story
May 05 - UnmechanicalMay 12 - RochardMay 19 - Fortune Summoners May 29 - Cargo! The Quest for Gravity
May 06 - To The MoonMay 13 - The PathMay 20 - Depths of Peril May 30 - Don't Starve
May 07 - Superbrothers: Sword and SworceryMay 14 - ObulisMay 21 - Dead Pixels May 31 - Cthulhu Saves the World

May the First

The game: ACE Team's Zeno Clash

The source: Indie Royale's Valentine Bundle

The pre-amble: Zeno Clash is a first-person brawler/shooter (more of the former) in which the player, as exiled warrior Ghat, is chased halfway across his creepy world by the other members of his clan led by the even creepier Father-Mother. Most of the game is comprised of encounters against multiple enemies in an arena and the player must use their skills and resourcefulness to come out on top.

The playthrough: It's been four years since Zeno Clash came out so talking about how weird it is is probably redundant at this point. What did surprise me while playing it is how creative and schizophrenic it is as a game as well. After watching Brad's Quick Look of the game, I had it pegged as some bizarre anthropomorphic take on Die by the Sword - a game with motion controls that make the Kinect seem as precise as a surgeon on ritalin.

It's also a very pretty game. Well, except for all the ugly-ass people.

In actuality, the game's combat is a bit more structured than that and tends to focus on unarmed hand-to-hand combat. It's actually similar to Condemned 2 if I had to pluck a game out of the ether to compare it to. But while the fisticuffs is the most realised of the various combat systems it isn't the only trick up Zeno Clash's sleeve. There's also guns but they're slow to fire and reload and can be easily knocked out of your hands by a determined opponent. Enemies will also pick up weapons and need to be disarmed in a similar way. There's a few melee weapons that are required for some battles against larger opponents that shrug off your fists, but have a similar issue with their torpidity. The game wants you to use your fists (there's even an achievement for eschewing weapons except when absolutely necessary), but a crafty and evasive player can make use of the other weapons if they have the gumption to pull it off.

That's not even the full extent of what this game has to offer, however. There are plenty of instances which buck any expectations set by the early battles. These include sniper battles, an extended sequence where you're lighting torches and using their flames to defeat enemies, fighting off random beasts and hunting for food. Most of these sequences are repeated for the sake of extending the game's longevity - though this feels more in service to the plot, which has a lot of story moments to fit into the otherwise brief running time - but it's a remarkable amount of variety from a Indie game. Not a single chapter of the game feels superfluous as a result.

The sad end of Oxameter, my favorite character. Also, there are penis dinosaurs.

The story is easily the game's best feature: It is an utterly peculiar tale told in a world with very little internal logic, but what little logic it has is adhered to by its characters. No-one really questions why things are the way they are: as alien as it feels, it's still the only world these characters have ever known. The game's central conceit - that a major revelation gleaned by the player character could change everything - can only really work if these characters have a sense of the world and their place in it prior to the game shattering that belief system to pieces.

If this playthrough summary seems a bit lengthy it's because I actually beat the entire game in a single sitting. I was glued to the plot - to where the game would take me next, to what little information about its world and characters it deigned to provide. For what initially seemed like an odd curio where you punch chicken people in the beak, it sure exceeded my expectations and then some.

Just goes to show, you don't need to have state of the art graphics to make a game that is visually stunning.

The verdict: Completed. Can't wait for Zeno Clash 2.

7 Comments
7 Comments
Posted by Video_Game_King

@mento said:

(Since you can no longer copy/paste tables, I'll have to find a new way to link all these blogs together. I'm thinking just a pair of forwards/backwards arrows. Optionally you can just stick May Madness More into Google and you'll probably find everything I've written. Google's useful that way.)

I imagine you could go into the site's HTML and copy/paste directly into that. I've had some success with that?

(I'd say something about the game if I'd ever played it.)

Posted by PerfidiousSinn

I played the demo for this last year and was so completely creeped out by it that I couldn't finish. Something about the odd character design and the perspective being used for jump scares made me really uncomfortable.

Still, I'm intrigued enough to try it again, because I can't think of another game that got under my skin in that way.

Edited by Animasta

Just in time for the sequel, eh?

Edited by Mento

@animasta: Timing was a tad fortuitous, I'll admit. My plan this year was to go Z-A anyway (it was A-Z last year) and this was a better time than any to finally play it. No doubt one of the crew or the game itself will reveal key plot points from the first game in the Zeno Clash 2 QL (I mean, they'd pretty much have to since it's a direct continuation, and four years is a more-than-acceptable window for spoilers).

Also, forgive me if I'm wrong, but did you happen to come across your name inspiration in this game? I did a double take when "Animasta" started swinging at me.

@perfidioussinn: There's definitely a few uneasy aspects. I'd equate it to something like Dark Crystal in that there's just so much inadvertent (or maybe it isn't) nightmare fuel that it makes for a hard watch for some. But then you have some of the most stunning backdrops I've ever seen in a game and it becomes this weird dichotomy of ugly and beautiful.

Also it's motion-sickness-y as hell. You get spun around so much during the fights and it's disorienting at the best of times.

@video_game_king: I'll give that a go. Used to be I could just copy a table and then paste it and it would still be a table. No idea how the engineers pulled that off though, or if it was just something my browser was able to do with the old site's post-editing code.

Moderator
Posted by Video_Game_King

@mento:

From what I could gather, the HTML on the old site was a lot looser than it is now. In my original Breath of Death blog, I posted this as a link on top of the Katawa Shoujo picture. Couldn't do that with the new site. Believe me; I've tried. (The old link doesn't work anymore, by the way.)

Posted by Animasta

@mento: it did indeed, unfortunately I do not own a sick pre historic diving helmet

Edited by dankempster

Zeno Clash has been sitting in my Steam catalogue for quite a while now, and although it piques my curiosity almost every time I scroll through my collection, I'm still yet to take the plunge. After reading this, however, I don't think that I'll be putting that dive off for much longer. Here's hoping it'll run alright on my modest laptop when I do (if I'm right in thinking it's a Source Engine game, that shouldn't be an issue).

Best of luck for this endeavour Mento. Here's hoping it turns up a fair number of gems like this for you. I'll be following with keen interest.