Woah, man. I had no idea how freaky and different upcoming Xbox Live Arcade game Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition was until I saw it for myself last week. And honestly, I had no idea how interesting and deep this first-person brawler was, either. I knew what the general concept was, but I was not aware of the bizarre story or the outlandish creatures, both of which are right up my alley.
Originally released on the PC, independent game Zeno Clash is a first-person fighter. In a view where you'd expect to see guns, you only see your character's fists. Enemies that you'd normally take out with one shot in games with a similar view now require knock-down, drag-out, beast-to-beast brawling. Fist to face melee combat is what this title centers around, and that makes it pretty unique.
Zeno Clash comes to XBLA with a number of improvements. In the original, there was a single-player Tower Challenges mode, which are like a multi-tiered time-trial gauntlet. In this new version, cooperative play is added to this mode, so that you may go at it with a friend. There are also new balance changes, tweaks and enhancements. Additionally, the female protagonist originally had a strange voice. Atlus went back and recorded her with a different actress. Also, as the game uses Valve's Source Engine, the Left 4 Dead lighting and shadow enhancements were added.
You play as a guy named Ghat. He's running from his family with his girl Daedra, as he has done something that cannot be forgiven by his siblings. During this escape, Ghat finds out a dark secret about his family, and heads back home for revenge. I don't want to spoil anything, but there's a very twisted story here. Chronologically, the game jumps around a lot, covering everything from when you were exiled to a final confrontation.
What first stands out about Zeno Clash is its unique look. I don't know the development team, but some kind of substances had to have been involved in the creation process, as the locales, characters and art are just plain freaky. Probably the most notable is the creatures, called "Corwids of the Free." These are simple-minded, odd-looking beings that only perform one task over and over. In one story segment, I learned of one that constantly peed on itself and starved itself. A metal headed guy named Oxameter continuously walks a straight line, without changing his path. Another seeks to be invisible, so it rips out the eyes of anything that can see it. Neat.
One of these Corwids lives to eat people. That one ended up being a kind of sub-boss fight. This one, named Gabel, is considered a Heavy. These Heavies cannot be targeted, and prove to be a bit more of a challenge than your typical enemy. He went down with several swipes of a club-like weapon, but he put up a bit of a fight.
The oddness extends even to the sound design. Creatures scream and squawk when they're hit or die One chicken-like beast made a whining noise that had me laughing every time I heard it, as its cry went on for far too long. The punches and kicks all seem to be paired with a meaty, full connecting noise that was kind of gratifying to hear each time.
The few locales I saw were all strange and beautiful. There was a bar where they drank rooster blood. My kind of joint. The doors had mouths and could talk, and the regulars looked way more rough than any bar you've been to.
The most memorable location was a sort of desert landscape, with smooth dunes and odd wildlife. It was all lit in a dusk-like setting, with a striking purple sky. It was here that a twisted and imaginative boss fight went down. We went up against a blind bounty hunter that was out for the head of the game's main character, sent by his siblings. Even though he had killing on his mind, he was kind enough to throw out a gun to be used against him. Since this bounty hunter cannot see, he decides to climb up on the head of a tall dinosaur-ish creature and throws bomb-strapped squirrel-like critters down toward the ground. These squirrel things seek you out, and their bombs serve to both injure you and signal your location, so that the bounty hunter knows where to shoot. Some of the squirrels used parachutes.
The game play is pretty simple at first glance. Hitting buttons punches what's targeted in your view. A power attack is used for good openings in an opponents defense. It gets a bit more involved when you consider that enemies can block and deflect your attacks, so there's a bit of strategy here. Timing blocks just right works as a riposte. Stunning enemies allows you to do things like throws, and some new moves have been added with the update. While it's mostly melee combat, a few guns and other weapons have been thrown in for fun.
If you ask me, you're getting a downloadable acid trip for $15 with this game's unique story and strange art direction. That money also buys you 19 chapters and about a dozen hours of what's probably the closest thing to retail game on Xbox Live Arcade. As I said before, I didn't know much about the game at first, but now I'm totally sold on it.
Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition will be released in April on Xbox Live Arcade for 1,200 Microsoft Points.
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