Capsule Review: Zeno Clash

A first-person brawler and occasional shooter in a bizarre otherworldly setting. An extensive tutorial eases you into the combat mechanics but you’re dropped into the world itself with essentially no explanation. You get to practice the many attack and defensive options while piecing together clues on what kind of place you’re in and what your role is in it.

The melee mechanics are much deeper than in most first-person games, borrowing more from fighting games than beat-em-ups - fights against other people are even introduced with a “versus” splash screen showing who will be fighting. You have a variety of punches and combos and can also kick, block, and dodge, as can your humanoid opponents. Managing your position and timing your attacks is key, and reading an opponent’s telegraphs to make use of holes in their defense is rewarding.

Unfortunately, the game likes to throw several enemies at you simultaneously, and does so right away - your first fights against humanoids pit you against three at once. This gives you much more to keep track of that you can’t really keep an eye on in the first-person perspective - and does so while you are still learning to use the tools at your disposal. It may have been better to ease the player in with one-on-one combat, and then once they’d had a chance to get comfortable with the moment-to-moment back and forth of the fighting system increase the scope and challenge with more opponents to manage.

While I didn’t play for very long and it’s possible that this changes later, at least early on the world is used more as window dressing for the fighting gameplay than for storytelling. There’s a decently well-connected opening sequence that has you escaping from some people who have a relatively clear reason for attacking you, and once you beat them it fades to a new location where you suddenly have a crossbow and get attacked by swarms of the local wildlife to provide a shooting gallery. Beat them and it fades to the next area, where you are attacked by strangers for no clear reason in another three-on-one melee fight. Again, maybe this changes later, but I get the impression that the game is mostly a series of combat arenas with occasional bits of dialog around the edges to provide a bit of exposition or backstory. To enjoy this game, I think you have to really like the idea of playing something between a fighting game and a first person brawler with the exotic setting and atmosphere just as a bonus. If you’re intrigued by the strange world and want to know more about it but aren’t interested in punching your way through it, you’ll be disappointed.

I Stopped Playing When: After about half an hour when it became clear to me that I was going to spend a lot more time fighting this world than learning about it and I was frustrated by trying to deal with three simultaneous melee enemies in first person before I had internalized all the moves.

Docprof's Rating:

One Star: Not for me. While there might be someone out there who'd enjoy this game, I was actively repulsed by it or just found nothing to latch on to.

You can get it or learn more here.