It seems like straight up brawlers are a dying breed in the gaming world. It's understandable as technology evolves and the FPS continues to be gaming's most popular genre, the side scrolling beat 'em up of yore seem dated. Hack and Slash titles like God Of War and Retro Fighters like Castle Crashers are the best examples of the beat 'em up today outside of the ever releasing back catalogue of arcade and console classics. Considering the idea of this 'Bloggers Wanted' was to talk about a downloadable titles for consoles, I wanted to choose a game not a whole lot of people would be talking about as stuff like Super Meat Boy, Limbo, Fat Princess, Flower would go quickly and the idea that a game that spoke more to my tastes and possibly not as ventured was appealing to me. Castle Crashers seemed the obvious choice....until I hit the bottom of my Arcade titles and there it was Zeno Clash. Gaming's answer to the Beat 'Em Up done with a modern sensibility, as a brawler alone it would be an okay title. Being that Zeno Clash takes care to create it's own lore and let's the player explore this fascinating world amongst it's story makes Zeno Clash a stand out title on the XBLA.
Obviously Zeno Clash isn't the first game to feature a First Person view in a brawler. One of my other favourite games this generation The Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay featured a combination of brawling and gunplay from the first person perspective and Zeno Clash is no different. However where that could have been the end of it, Zeno Clash offers so much more. Developed by ACE Team using Valve's Source Engine and released under Atlus on the Xbox Live Arcade the player traverses the cavernous plains, villages, mist filled pathways, long forgotten temples at the edge of the world set below multicolored milky skies making the world of Zeno Clash one of the most unique I've ever encountered. The world of Zenozoik is not only alive with color, it's alive with character as well. The best way to describe it's world is that it just is.
Before that though let me explain about what Zeno Clash's story about. In the game you play as Ghat a stoic hunter, strong fighter and member of 'Family' of children from many different races under the watchful eye of their "Father-Mother" a lanky hermaphroditic bird like creature that gave them life. Ghat has learned a terrible secret about Father-Mother and in the ensuing conflict kills he/she and flees Halstedom, the home of the Family. Accompanied by Deadra, who looks like she's straight out of a cover of Heavy Metal, Ghat recalls to her the events leading up to him killing Father-Mother and escaping Halstedom. During this first tale Ghat relays his time with the Corwids Of The Free which not only sets the pace for the story telling but happens to be my favourite part of the game. The Corwids are the insane inhabitants of the forests near Halstedom, known for their single minded nature no matter the detriment to their well being. Erminia a female Corwid, pissed all over herself and starved to death because that was what she had set out to do. Oxameter, a large creature wearing a moo moo, huge sandle pads on his feet and a metal helmet with a guiding handlebar protruding from the helmet, must continue to walk in a straight line no matter what gets in his way. Helim has come to the understanding that as Ghat puts it "He must pluck the eyes out of all whom he encounters so he can be invisible, but I can still see him". It's the attention to detail in creating a living breathing world outside of Ghat's journey that makes Zeno Clash stand out.
As Ghat and Deadra's journey to the end of the world continues they come across a valley with giant Muscalosaurus, a creature not unlike a Brachosaurus where the two come to hunt for food and take rest. Later confronted by a Hunter sent by 'The Family' to kill Ghat he challenges him to a sniper battle, with primitive weaponry standing in for the modern equivalent. Zeno Clash is peppered with fights that involve weapons from crossbows to hammers for the bigger enemies. In between all this Ghat has recalled his journey before his confrontation that killed Father-Mother. As they continue on they reach the end of the world, a dimly lit path covered in deep fog that ends with the pair discovering Golem a mysterious seemingly all knowing being. Strapped to a chair in the temple they discover he will do more than solve the conflict between the Family and Ghat by the time their journey is done. Braving the lake's filled with crazy Muscalosaurus Worshippers which look like a cross between a brown ghillle suited sniper and a Shy Guy from Super Mario Bros. 2 to fighting on the streets against the Northern Gate Gang trying to get back to Halstedom, Ghat chances one more confrontation with his former Family to reach his final goal...to reveal more would be a crime unto itself.
One way ticket to midnight, alright, Heavy Metal
At the end though, Zeno Clash is a brawler and as such if you don't like fighting games you may not enjoy the fundamentals of it's gameplay. Metamoq a Corwid of the Free teaches you the basics of combat early on, you can block with the X button, which when using the stick left or right dodges in those directions. Used directly after an attempted blow the game slows down letting the player know that using the Right Trigger directly afterwards will land a devastating blow. Ghat also has a powerful charged punch that compliments his standard jabs which when getting fighters to an unconscious state and be used like wrestling's version of an Axe Handle to smack them to the ground. Ghat can run and elbow his intended victims, grab unconscious enemies for throws, there's enough there to give the player a chance with weaponry, especially with melee and ranged weapons. It's the fighting in Zeno Clash that's the most captivating part of this First Person Brawler. When a game like Call Of Duty presents exciting set pieces and action the movement of the character is mostly determined by what is happening around the player as with all FPS the basic action of the player is usually stationary. However considering the nature of this title and it's presentation, Zeno Clash lends itself to really putting the player into the fight. You feel every blow, the camera moves with every swing and jab of your fists, lowering the angle of the camera as Ghat grabs a dazed opponent, slams their face into his knee and then powerfully thrusts his knee upward sending the fighter flying the camera catching every hectic moment of combat.
While I love what other games do for their genre, looking back on the games I've picked up as either the latest fad that came and went or something that atleast reflected a game more suited to the downloadable market, Zeno Clash always stuck with me as a game of quality, something that could be appreciated outside of the basic brawler fare but was still fun enough from a gameplay perspective to actually feel like a steal for the amount of quality the title exudes. It's definitely not the longest game out there, warranting it's downloadable status, the fact that out of all the titles I own on the XBLA it actually feels like a game that should have gotten a full retail release. If the sound of an imaginative brawler appeals to you I highly recommend checking out the trial on Xbox Live Arcade.