Seriously, don't take that red pill.
A crazy setting can make for a crazy game in the right hands. That's certainly true for Zeno Clash, an indie PC game by Ace Games that is finally making its way to Xbox Live Arcade in what Atlus subtitles 'Ultimate Edition'.
[image1]Zeno Clash tells the story of Ghat, a tribesman who is suddenly outcast from his village and has to fend off for himself in the bizarre world of Zenozoik. If the wilderness weren't enough, a curious creature by the name of Father-Mother leads an endless army of ogres, trolls, and other strange anthropomorphic creatures bent on killing him.
Aside from the unique setting and cast of characters, Zeno Clash likes to set itself apart by referring to itself as a first-person puncher. Similar to the Condemned games, the main means of attack is brawling, with very little attention given to actual weapons and firearm. Enemies usually swarm you at every turn, but thanks to a relatively flexible fighting system, the fights are as exciting as fighting a weird rooster creature mano-a-mano can get.
That's not to say there aren't any weapons whatsoever. Knocking down heavier enemies requires attacks using blunt object, and some guns do make an appearance. But it's clear that hand-to-hand combat is the focus of the game due to how easily you can get disarmed.
[image2]The trigger-based controls take a while to get used to. Attack tend to take a little long to cancel, which sometimes leads to frustrating encounters if you are not patient during fights. Still, the fighting system is deep enough to give incentives for extra playthroughs of the two-hour main story mode.
Zeno Clash offers two additional modes. Tower challenges are sort of coliseum rooms divided into levels, each containing a specific combination of enemies to fight. The Pitt type of challenges add the danger of long drops to fighting enemies. Both are fun and offer much more difficult situations than in the main adventure.
If you think the challenge modes are too tough, Ultimate Edition adds the option of to tackle these challenge modes cooperatively. In most cases, though, getting someone to help makes the game a little too easy, especially since there's no option to raise the difficulty in any way. Sadly, online co-op does not extend to the main story mode, which would have made a lot of sense due to how there are two main characters during most of the story.
[image3]Zeno Clash's presentation is wildly stirring. The characters have a very unique look to them and the world is just strangely charming. It's surely an achievement, considering it started out as an indie game made by a small group of people.
On the other hand, it's disconcerting how expensive the game is on Xbox Live in comparison to its Steam counterpart. The online co-op mode doesn't really justify the added price in my mind, even more due to how quickly everything can be finished.
Zeno Clash Ultimate Edition has a lot going for it, considering all other first-person games on Xbox Live. If you get a chance to buy it after the inevitable price drop sale in the future, you can't go wrong with Zeno Clash, but at fifteen bucks (and one huge 1.5 GB download), it might be worth holding on to that red pill for later.