By Mento 7 Comments
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 the First
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.
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 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.
The verdict: Completed. Can't wait for Zeno Clash 2.