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The Ace Team's first game 'Zeno Clash' has just been released, so just how good is it?

Posted by Henley on Apr 24th, 2009
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If you break down what brawlers are, you essentially get kill rooms where you must defeat all opponents in order to progress to the next room. Zeno Clash isn't trying to re-invent the formula for brawlers; it's not trying to hide what type of game it is. It's a white knuckled brawler through and through, but is that enough to make this game great?

Zeno Clash pits you in the role of Ghat, the son of a hermaphrodite called Father-Mother who is the soul parent of the most powerful clan of people in the city of Halstedom. The story starts off in the middle of Ghat's adventure with him killing Father-Mother for reasons unknown to the player. It is a weird feeling, being put in control of a character whose true intentions is hidden from you at the beginning. As you fight your way into the story line the past is revealed in playable flashbacks all the way up to the moment you started playing, giving you the info you need to work out for yourself if Ghat actions where the right thing to do.

The story is told through in-game cut scenes, with some amazing detail using both animation and mise-en-scene to portray emotion and reactions. The voice actors do a great job getting into their characters (considering many, if not all, were voiced by the development team themselves - ed) with the only let down being the script. Some of the lines come off a little awkwardly, but certainly better compared to your typical JRPG localization foibles. Considering the ACE Team originates from Chile, these are small and forgivable details.

Zeno Clash "Corwid of the Free" Teaser

The playable segments in Zeno Clash are from the first person perspective. Given that brawlers are mostly played in a third person fixed-camera, there is so much more that the game needed to do to make the combat both fun and understandable. The key here was to make combat feel similar to how you would expect it to feel and to make it accessible to anyone. Using weight, animations and simple effects, the player is well aware if they do something wrong or something right in combat. For example, never blocking will result the player being beaten a shade of black and blue and the animations will reflect that. Swaying, stammering around and falling on your face are just some examples. This also works for your limited view of the entire arena — being hit from behind will have Ghat stammer forward rather than soaking it up like in most games, telling the player that there is an enemy behind him.

Making the combat varied enough to have the players both challenged and entertained throughout the game must have been one of the toughest design principles to stick by, but the Ace Team hit the nail on the head. Having players notice enemy types and attack them differently gives simple variation during combat. Each class of enemy has their own behavior and attacks. This means you have to approach each foe differently and being aware of the attack patterns for each type does help when things get hectic.

Zeno ClashEnemies will not go down so easily.

On top of your standard fisticuffs — light and heavy punch — you will have access to a few different types of weapons which can help you even the odds in battle. These include variations on melee, ranged and explosive attacks. Using any of the weapons in the game has you at a disadvantage in close combat, due to the fact you cannot lock on to enemies. Enemies will hide to avoid ranged attacks and rush you while you're reloading to knock the weapon from your hands. Anything Ghat drops is fair game for the enemy to pick up and use against you. The gratification you get from laying the smack down on a group of attackers who will use any means to win is amazing. This is a dirty brawler where anything goes: throw that baddie into that table, kick them when they are down and smash them with hammers, it's all fair game here. If you don't take advantage of something within the environment to turn the battle the AI will.

Zeno ClashPow, right in the kissa!

The concept works great, it's simple and it's easy to grasp, yet in later levels of Zeno Clash you will be forced to master the abilities to gain control over your enemies. If I had to compare the combat to anything else it would most definitely be Mirror's Edge. Both games have moments where players are overwhelmed yet due to effective use of melee combos and weapons you can overpower a large number of enemies. Not only that, having weapons in either game has you at a disadvantage in close quarters. Zeno Clashes system is much more rewarding, but if you have ever played Mirror's Edge you will have some idea of what to expect from the fights.

I've seen my fair share of original art directions based within the brush-based Source engine. Yet I've never seen one as focused and developed as the one in Zeno Clash. The most impressive visual element to the game by far is the vistas that the game boasts. I've never seen landscapes and skyboxes so alien yet familiar before. From purple skies filled with stars looking down upon a barren desert as far as the eye can see, to foggy swamps populated by dense thickets of tendril-like brush, the game showcase, if only briefly, many amazing locales. With the amount of work that went into them, I feel that its a shame the player could have been spent more time in some of these areas.

Zeno ClashBeautiful vistas are common place in Zeno Clash.

As the Ace Teams first game, Zeno Clash had some high expectations to meet the fervor generated by the developers in both press releases and trailers. Does Zeno Clash meet them? Personally, I think so as my interpretations of what was offered to the public before the release has only ever pointed to what Zeno Clash is — one hell of a brawler. So if you're up for a high quality, challenging melee experience Zeno Clash is a must buy.

Post comment Comments
PierreOfTheFrench
PierreOfTheFrench Apr 20 2009, 10:36pm says:

This game looked very interesting, I might have to purchase it.

+1 vote     reply to comment
bomblol
bomblol Apr 20 2009, 11:09pm says:

You cocktease! Oh god I can't wait another day

+3 votes     reply to comment
Mkilbride
Mkilbride Apr 24 2009, 8:30am says:

Played a lil bit the other day. You guys have to buy it. It's absolutely amazing. It renders large open areas which most people believe Source can't do well...but I suffer no performance issues in this.

As said, the Art Direction really shows how awesome Source can be.

Gameplay is pretty damn fun, I can imagine many more games trying to adapt more gameplay like this, made me think Butchers Bay.

Story so far seems epic on a scale rarely seen in most games these days. Technically, it's not their first game though, they released some for the Atari back in 1988...lol.

Overall, I hope they'll continue and this will inspire other professional Teams to try out Source and not call it "Outdated", and "Overly complicated"

I've been seeing alot of Source based Retail games lately, and I say, it's ABOUT DAMN TIME. It's taken far to long for third party developers to really start chugging out Source games.

You should ALL try this, I didn't have any expectations, but as a rule of the thumb, I try out all Source based games, and like most, it rocks.

+4 votes     reply to comment
Kasplatt
Kasplatt Apr 24 2009, 9:52am replied:

yeah, with the new OrangeBox engine updates it's really awesome!

+1 vote     reply to comment
oscilloscopa
oscilloscopa Apr 24 2009, 7:53pm replied:

yeah right but i wonder why they didn't used the newer Left4Dead-Engine. I was very Happy of that, cause my Graphiccard broke a day before Zeno Clash was releases and my other Pc only has a Geforce 4. Well i was able to play the Game :).

-1 votes     reply to comment
AlCool
AlCool Apr 27 2009, 4:37pm replied:

Why would they use the L4D SDK? Why do they need film grain and mass zombie AI and the director?

+3 votes     reply to comment
chikken1337
chikken1337 Apr 25 2009, 11:10am replied:

It took me 4 and a half hours to beat this game. This game has some very unique and fun to use weapons. I loved the whole storyline and all of the characters. Extremely fun game (somewhat challenging in some parts.)

+2 votes     reply to comment
Nozzy
Nozzy Apr 24 2009, 8:40am says:

This is worth a go, really. I was anticipating this since I first heard of it and it was better than I expected it to be. It's a bit on the shirt side but it has replay value. That's really the only gripe I have with it, I just wish there were more. The tower challenges keep it fun after beating the main story mode, though. Overall it's WELL worth what it costs.

+3 votes     reply to comment
JubalHarshaw
JubalHarshaw Apr 24 2009, 8:56am says:

The fighting is too difficult in the beginning, it should be more gradual. I've been beaten so many times at normal difficulty that the game became boring and I lost the wish to continue playing. Yep that seemed to be a good game, but the initial difficult must be balanced or a easy combat difficulty should be implemented and the commands must be introduced in a more gradual manner to give you time to master them. Well I'll let it leave a little more in my HD and try it again when I'm in masochist mood. But this is only one side of the game, the art is great and the story is compeling, try it if you like to suffer or are a quick learner with very good reactions.

-1 votes     reply to comment
AlCool
AlCool Apr 27 2009, 4:39pm replied:

Reminds me of dark messiah for the difficulty curve, but both of those source gems are well worth the time and effort to complete.

+1 vote     reply to comment
JubalHarshaw
JubalHarshaw Apr 30 2009, 1:24pm replied:

Glad you went for all the trouble to answer to my little comment. I'm still trying, without success, to beat an insane guy that throw explosive squirrels from the top of the head of a big odd monster. I tried more than 10 times, and the guy keeps killing me. I do believe that, for some people, this is fun, but for me, it’s not.
So, what I’m trying to say is that the game needs an easier difficult to make it playable for people like me that don’t have same quick reactions of players that are younger (yes I’m an old man, but still like to play action games) or more used to this kind of game.
If anyone of the team that made this game is reading this, please, in your next patch, enable an easy difficult (for noobs!!! (or old noobs if you prefer :) )). I really liked the game and want to play it to the end. The game is really surprising and I loved the concept, story and art, so fans don’t be emotional or angry, not everyone is equal and different people, has different needs.

+1 vote     reply to comment
sauerfreak
sauerfreak Apr 24 2009, 9:24am says:

Excellent review, but where's the score? From the sound of the review, it should be around 8.0-9.0.

If anyone else doesn't know yet, the game is 4-5 hrs long and goes for $20.00 USD on Steam. An excellent value, really; this game rocks. :DD

+1 vote     reply to comment
Henley
Henley Apr 24 2009, 10:36am replied:

Personally the staff here at ModDB don't like assigning a number to a game.

+2 votes     reply to comment
sauerfreak
sauerfreak Apr 24 2009, 2:11pm replied:

So it's more of a "We Recommend" or "We Don't Recommend" sort of thing..

Gotcha. :>

+2 votes     reply to comment
Henley
Henley Apr 24 2009, 11:05pm replied:

Exactly!

+2 votes     reply to comment
Crispy
Crispy May 11 2009, 6:49am replied:

Scores are treacherous territory. The critique-versus-review approach is best, especially for a site about making games.

+1 vote     reply to comment
abordeu
abordeu Apr 24 2009, 10:10am says:

Thanks for the great review guys!

+4 votes     reply to comment
UnknownTarget
UnknownTarget Apr 24 2009, 3:06pm says:

Great game, but I lol'd hardcore at the sound stutters - game performance was perfect, but the old HL2 sound stutter marred the experience a bit and made me chuckle. Absolutely stellar and original game though, check it out for sure.

+2 votes     reply to comment
windlab
windlab Apr 28 2009, 1:14pm replied:

HL2(both original and OB) has never stuttered in my experience.
Are you sure it isn't just your PC?

+1 vote     reply to comment
Killer_man_1996
Killer_man_1996 Apr 24 2009, 3:37pm says:

You are making me think that I need to UPDATE my PC to play Zeno Clash and i don't have money.... :(

0 votes     reply to comment
Pheist
Pheist Apr 24 2009, 4:56pm says:

Purchased the game at 2pm. Beat the game at 7pm. this was in normal mode just so I could take the time to view the vistas. Next is to beat it on hard. Even on normal there were frustrations that made the game fun. My favorite was the Rubix Cube. Also, there is some basic strategy needed as some will charge you while others hang back and lob grenades at you. My favorite visual was the stepping stones that appear out of the ground as you walk with the torch. Then there is a challenge part of the game where you fight your way up into a tower. It kind of reminds me of Legend or Mortal Combat. Overall, I would say it is worth the price. But, I would say more value would have been added with a multiplayer team vs team feature. As the game has players haleping you by sniping from a distance, this could make the game one of the best. Loved the game, will play many times. I love the original weapons, too. It's about time someone did this.

+1 vote     reply to comment
DucTTapE
DucTTapE Apr 24 2009, 5:38pm says:

this game is great

+1 vote     reply to comment
smokeythebear
smokeythebear Apr 24 2009, 5:38pm says:

No offense but the author of this review doesn't know how to write a review! Be critical! Zeno clash got mixed reviews everywhere but this review makes it sound like a flawless game. Same can be said for all reviews on moddb.

+1 vote     reply to comment
MrTambourineMan
MrTambourineMan Apr 24 2009, 6:22pm replied:

Mixed reviews? There are 4 now on metacritic, the lowest being 70/100 which is still well worth buying for a budget game and Eurogamer gave it 80 which tells a lot since they are die-hard critics (like 1UP).

+1 vote     reply to comment
StarcraftHybridsDev
StarcraftHybridsDev May 2 2009, 6:52am replied:

Gamespot gives it a 6,5 with some good arguments (like it's way to repetive).

+1 vote     reply to comment
Draken101
Draken101 May 2 2009, 12:13pm replied:

Gamespot is terrible, and really have no idea what they're talking about in all fairness.

+1 vote     reply to comment
oscilloscopa
oscilloscopa Apr 24 2009, 7:57pm says:

I just read on hl-portal.de and in the official Forum that the ACE team will release a second patch, an SDK for custom Maps and free DLC.
For all that have not bought it yet, they also will release a demo of the game.

+2 votes     reply to comment
MrTambourineMan
MrTambourineMan Apr 24 2009, 8:00pm replied:

And they're working on demo (very good idea!).

+1 vote     reply to comment
nubblecakes
nubblecakes Apr 25 2009, 1:12am replied:

SDK for Zeno Clash? Perfect. Now hopefully people can mod the hell out of the game and add tons of new features to it. I think if that's the case, then the game can utilize the great potential it has.

As for the game, I definitely enjoyed it. I played it on Hard right away, and I did get frustrated at times. I REALLY hated the guy that's being kicked by Ghat, in the second picture in the review. He really got on my nerves because all he did was bum rush me like an idiot and just got in the way of EVERYTHING I did. Most of them tend to do that, but not as often has he did. Perhaps it's because of his massive head!

The review said that each character has their own unique personalities when fighting, but from what I experienced, they were all very much the same. Some were just harder than others, and attacked more frequently. Some had a move or two that were unique to them, but they did generally the same thing; beat the living crap out of you.

The only issues I kept running into when in a battle was trying to unlock a target without simply locking onto another target when trying to pick up a weapon off the ground, or some fruit to heal yourself. I also experienced non-responsiveness every now and then when pressing the use key on a piece of fruit or something. It could be because the fruit is so small, but normally interacting with objects in Source is very easy and solid. It kind of surprised me how tough it could be just to pick up a grenade or something off the ground.

Anyway, fantastic game, worth the $15 (I pre-ordered). My expectations were met.

+3 votes     reply to comment
vfn4i83
vfn4i83 Apr 24 2009, 10:18pm says:

God this is the best game this year by far. Thosent matter iff its indie or not.

Its awesome.

Great review.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Colossal
Colossal Apr 25 2009, 1:27am says:

Hey, just a question: <SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS>

On the torch level after the door closes and you're in the room, what do you do? I lit the flame and then I fought the stone people for about 45 minutes. It got really annoying. What am I supposed to do?

+3 votes     reply to comment
RED-FROG
RED-FROG Apr 25 2009, 7:52am replied:

lit all the candles in the room.
It takes a while until they really burn.

+2 votes     reply to comment
Colossal
Colossal Apr 25 2009, 12:14pm replied:

Yeah, I didn't notice the other candles. And thanks. :D

+1 vote     reply to comment
Colossal
Colossal Apr 25 2009, 1:31am says:

-Snip-

+1 vote     reply to comment
DuckSauce
DuckSauce Apr 25 2009, 6:22am says:

Played it for about a hour now, on extreme difficulty no less(I always play Dark Messiah on hardcore too :P) it was fun, the fight with hunter was interesting :D SQUIRRELS INCOMINGGGG!

Very fun game :D Also glad I bought it without the discount, Indie developers like ACE Team could use the money :)

+1 vote     reply to comment
RED-FROG
RED-FROG Apr 25 2009, 7:59am says:

Awesome game guys. BUY IT, it's well worth the (low) price!!
DON'T even THINK about pirating it.

+2 votes     reply to comment
SinKing
SinKing Apr 25 2009, 8:04am says:

Funny that an indie-team would create a game with better visuals than anyone else did on Source. I'd like to congratulate the ACE team for the great success of their first title. I hope it will pay out in money foryou, too, as it surely has payed outin praise, already :).
Only thing I keep hearing is the game is a bit short, but adequate for a brawler gamer, because it would get either too hard or too boring, if it were longer. SO how long is the aproximate playing time?

+2 votes     reply to comment
Henley
Henley Apr 25 2009, 8:44am replied:

just over 3 hours on hard, well that was my play time.

0 votes     reply to comment
stenchy
stenchy Apr 28 2009, 3:48am replied:

^ this doesn't include the challenge tower mode though.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Flobulon
Flobulon Apr 28 2009, 12:29pm replied:

3 hours? Took me about double that, but I took my time with it, as there's a lot to take in.

+2 votes     reply to comment
INtense!
INtense! Apr 25 2009, 1:02pm replied: Online

well considering their team is 4 artists and 1 programmer (poor programmer) you would expect the visuals to be as good as they are

+1 vote     reply to comment
FJS
FJS Apr 28 2009, 9:32pm says:

Excellent game, really.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Mkilbride
Mkilbride Apr 30 2009, 12:17am says:

Just beat it. God, I want a MMO of this game, it'd be epic! At least a sequel that has 30+ hours of gameplay. This is one of the very few Western RPG's that has a story as good as a JRPG.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Noesis_Interactive
Noesis_Interactive Apr 30 2009, 3:56pm says:

Yep, I agree. This game is awesome.

Very unique and interesting art style. The melee combat system worked well and you could really feel the impact when you punched somebody in the grill. It was very satisfying to stun an enemy and then knee him in the face before tossing him aside. One of the only problems I had was trying to run away when I was locked onto one of the enemies since I would end up circling that enemy instead of getting away from them. There were definitely both panicky moments and "YES, that was 'effin sweet" moments as well. You really had to realize when it was time to break out and run away from the action and approach the enemies from a different angle. I actually ended up using the run function more than the blocking function. I also thought it was interesting how useless the range weapons became in the close combat situations since the enemies would hide from you when you were trying to shoot them and were smart enough to know when you were reloading. Reloading the weapons was a constant struggle, and rightfully so. Good times.

Overall, great job ACE Team!! We're really looking forward to your next game!!

(Not to end on a bad note or anything but this, unfortunately, was the first review of Zeno Clash I read. Kotaku.com . But look at the comments in response to this review!)

+2 votes     reply to comment
Mkilbride
Mkilbride May 12 2009, 8:30am says:

Kotaku needs to be shot for that review. The story was one of the games STRONGEST POINTS!

I admit it was short and that sucked hardcore, but the story, characters, and world felt so alive. THE OPPOSITE of what they said.

+1 vote     reply to comment
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