Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition [Xbox Live Arcade]
Created by Chilean developer ACE Team and running on Valve's Source Engine, Zeno Clash is, without a shadow of a doubt, the strangest game I have ever played. Literally. Absolute strangest. I brought in my harddrive to show my coworkers how strange it was, and after seeing it, they still didn't get it. There's not a single element of the game that actually feels... normal. Nothing. This isn't meant to deter anyone from playing it, however. On the contrary, every person out there should buy Zeno Clash, regardless of their general preferences, simply to experience the whimsy of this disturbing, brilliant piece of art.
In the world of Zenozoik, there's a town called Halstedom where a patriarchal hermaphroditic creature named Father-Mother has raised a large family. The game opens up with Ghat, one of the sons of Father-Mother, waking up after killing this creature, and, before long, his brothers and sisters descend upon him, trying to enact revenge for the murder. What follows is a strange, nonsensical journey for Ghat and Deadra, his companion, filled with flashbacks that explain Ghat's reasoning for murdering Father-Mother. Over the course of the game, the player will encounter a large variety of enemy types, from brothers and sisters (which appear to take the form of an assortment of different species), strange wildlife, and the mentally insane Corwid of the Free.
This, when mixed with the surreal graphical styling, makes for a fairly disturbing adventure. The creatures encountered are disgusting in appearance, with warped, deformed faces. Some look like pigs. Others, birds. They're all things of nightmares, looking like they stumbled out of Pan's Labyrinth. The unique style might be the best thing Zeno Clash has going for it - and that's not a knock on the game in any way. The style is just so good that it stands out above all else, and the story, while complete rubbish in terms of narrative, manages to stick with you. While playing the game, I found myself wondering why it wasn't more symbolic. Why they didn't pack this strange surreal world with some sort of deeper meaning. Then, after beating it, I kept thinking about it. Thinking of lines of dialogue, characters met. Thinking of Oximeter, who just walks forward because "that's what Oximeter does." Is it a commentary on civilization? Gaming? I have no idea, but I'm thinking about it.
The gameplay is equally off-kilter, without actually being as imaginative. It plays out not unlike Condemned: Criminal Origins. It's a first-person brawler, with occasional weapons thrown in to the mix to make things more complex. Even so, much of the combat is spent going toe-to-toe with strange, deformed beasts, and punching them in the face. Despite the fact that this is usually extremely simplistic, it's fairly fun, and only becomes frustrating when two or more foes attack Ghat at once, as the combat is best suited for one-on-one encounters. Besides that, random battles with other creatures can also turn out less fun than anticipated, since the shooting mechanics simply aren't that strong.
Despite the combat being flawed, and the "story" failing to live up to its potential, it's still remarkably fun to play. Beyond the campaign, there are some other modes of play, from an arena of sorts to a time trial. There are even cooperative modes to fight together online or via split screen. All in all, it's a tight package, and one of the few examples of a title that is much, much more than the sum of its parts.