bennyishere's Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition (Xbox 360 Games Store) review

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A game that is not enslaved by reality.

Let me start off by saying that I don't play many "weird" games. I usually stick to IPs I know. When I saw the Quicklook of the XBLA version of Zeno Clash however, I was intrigued by the story. It was definitely weird and unconventional, and as an aspiring game designer, I felt compelled to see what Brad found so crazy about it.
Yeah, it's pretty crazy, but it's not because it's horrifying or ambiguous like a David Lynch movie. It just has a very specific art design and a story that is not bound by conventional storytelling. Luckily this is backed up by game mechanics, graphics and character animations that make it an unforgettable experience.

 Ghat and his female companion, Deadra.
 Ghat and his female companion, Deadra.
You play as Ghat, who lives in the town of Halstedom in a world called Zenozoik. Halstedom is an interesting town, as all of the people are part of the same family, with a hermaphrodite creature called Father-Mother as their singular parent. Like many other characters in Zeno Clash, he is not a typical human and possesses features of other animals. The game starts off in medias res, meaning it begins in the middle of the action instead of building up to it. Instead you will relive the earlier events as part of flashbacks. It actually works quite well in this game and is not as confusing as it sounds. Suffice to say, not everything is well in the town of Halstedom, and the game takes some interesting directions in storytelling that I enjoyed greatly. The cutscenes are well animated and the facial animations are better than many retail games. The story has some interesting twists and great moments, while still being mystical and leaving questions open for a sequel.
 The scenery can be breathtaking at times. This screenshot is poor quality, however.
 The scenery can be breathtaking at times. This screenshot is poor quality, however.
What is truly interesting about the game is the fantasy world of Zenozoik. The game designers let their imagination run free and created a fantasy world of animal hybrids and prehistoric technology. Ghat says that some of the characters aren't enslaved to reality, which can be said for the design of the entire game. The characters you face are vastly different, ranging from bird-like humans to elephants on two legs. In many games this would just look stupid, but thanks to the excellent Source engine, the game can still be considered beautiful even when you are fighting pigfaced humans. It is simply one-in-a-kind, and I think the game deserves a lot of credit for that. Strange skyscraper-sized animals walk around as you hunt dog-like rabbits, and the corpse of a chainsaw-mouthed whale lies on the beach. You never know what to expect from this game.
The gameplay itself focuses on First Person shooting and fighting. You may have experienced first-person fighting in Oblivion or Riddick, but I assure you it is much better in this game. In the tutorial you learn everything from evades to counters to charged attacks, and when you form your own fighting style it becomes very rewarding. My fighting style wasn't as focused on evading and blocking as it was on stepping away and charging or simply running elbow first into enemies. The controls are good, relying on triggers for punching, A for blocking and bumpers for sprinting. The AI can be predictable and my tactics of running and punching works a bit too well, but for an Arcade game I will allow this. Regardless, I found it fun as hell. The combat in the singleplayer is challenging, but never too challenging. You rarely fight more than four people at a time. Meanwhile, in the challenge sections of the game, a lot more action is going on on the screen, and I found the challenges extremely entertaining.

The second part of the gameplay is shooting, which a lot of people seem to scoff at. I actually enjoyed the shooting very much. One of the reasons for this is the design of the guns. One of the best weapons in the game are the fish guns, which are indeed guns made out of fish. What really makes the gun portions great is how intense it gets. If you bring a gun to a fistfight, you will have to expect to be charged by people trying to knock your weapons off, and with the extremely low magazine sizes, keeping a gun is a lot more challenging than it sounds.

 Elbowing dudes is my favorite thing to do.
 Elbowing dudes is my favorite thing to do.
The game is available on Xbox Live for 15$, which sounds steep, but I really think it's worth it. For starters the campaign is very good and will last you for hours. Granted, I finished it in a day, but this was because I really enjoyed it. I don't know how many hours it is, maybe five. Either way it is longer than most games on XBLA, and the story is memorable. The number of hours doesn't matter if you want to play it again, and I will gladly play it again. There are also challenge modes, co-op modes and leaderboards to add to the value. Overall this is one of my favorite games on XBLA, and I am eagerly awaiting a sequel. The only bad point about this game is the fact that it is not a 60$, 10 hour retail game.

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