After playing through the original Zeno Clash, I didn’t know what to expect from ACE Team this time around. What do you do after making a first person brawler set in a fantastical world where you sort out differences through a bout of fisticuffs? The answer is simple, continue the adventure and add a co-op partner so you have double the flying fists. Zeno Clash 2 does not diverge from the obscure, relying on those brave gamers who want to try something out of the ordinary. Zeno Clash 2 is no blockbuster, but it delights in just enough oddity you may want to put down your guns and stray from the path of first person shooters. It’s like Portland, Zeno Clash 2 wants to stay weird and live in a more primal time where everyone talked with their fists. So join hands with me on this perilous journey, through one of the weirdest games I have played since Zeno Clash.
I punched a ton of things in Zeno Clash 2, but sadly this is not the most satisfying aspect of the game. ACE Team created something special with their first game and people latched on to it. In this sequel, it almost feels as though they wanted to do too much and it sort of crumbled under the weight of itself. The game isn’t a train wreck, but it all seems forced; from the dialogue to the combat. I’ll admit the game is beautiful and the world they have created once again is mental to explore. I simply expected better. Zeno Clash 2 should be a game with tons of character, soul, and focus, but it lacks all three and made no connection with me like the first one.
Meet exciting animal people, and smash them.
Zeno Clash 2 retains its own brand of combat, the first person pugilism which is as gratifying as it is frustrating. First person isn’t the best point of view for brawling, especially when dealing with crowds. The targeting system isn’t built for crowds, and you will bounce from enemy to enemy when trying to focus your attacks. I quickly found myself resorting to punching whatever was in front of me until it fell down and then worried about the guy beside him. This is unfortunate because the majority of battles involve mobs of non-humans which make it almost impossible to target individuals. I find if you run away and then take out the dude most eager for an ass whooping at the front of the pack works wonders for group fights.
That being said, combat goes much smoother when you have a co-op buddy beside you. Thankfully Zeno Clash 2 has full drop in/drop out co-op and a partner makes things much smoother in the brawling department. There is the option to add an AI companion to select fights, and its act as a nice distraction while you catch your breath, but it is no replacement for a real human. I was able to play the entirety of the game with several lovely people who decided to hop into my session. Much like Journey, they sort of just appear in your game and you can do everything together. In fact, you have to almost do everything together because you cannot leave an area without your partner. Both must survive combat in order to proceed, so taking care of each other is paramount to success. Difficulty scales locally, which affects how much health you lose when you block a punch with your face.
The landscapes are outlandish, yet beautiful
When not locked in combat, I spent most of my time exploring the crazy landscapes of Zeno Clash 2. It tries to do a semi-open world, but the missions had me going down a distinct path. There are plenty of crevices to explore, but you don’t stray from the path too often. The reward for exploring are health and special meter pickups as well as skill points, which I immediately used to increase my leadership skill. Little did I know the AI was nothing more than a punching bag even at the highest level. I strongly recommend putting points into strength and stamina to beef up your dude before anything else. I didn’t have trouble with any of the encounters but it was nice to have some more health and stamina so I could last longer in fights without running away.
Zeno Clash 2 definitely expands on the scope and scale of the environments. Each area is very different and I spent my time wide-eyed just looking at the architecture and design of mountains, buildings, and horizons. The colors are distinct and thoughtful, bringing life to mostly empty places. The music is eerie and comforting, making me feel at peace and disturbed at the same time. It’s totally surreal. The world of Zenozoik is unlike anything else I have witnessed and there is simply more of it to take in. It truly is both breathtaking and frightening, making it the biggest reason to check out Zeno Clash 2. The design of the world outshines the combat and story in every way. I can’t help but feel like I was on a trip to another land.
This is Golem, he is a total jerk. He doesn't even have a mouth
I can’t go into the story without ruining the plot of the first Zeno Clash (which I still suggest you check out) but you play as the protagonist (Ghat), accompanied by his sister Rimat (played by your co-op partner). The siblings seek to rid their home from an overzealous Golem who has power over not only their world, but the creatures within it. Sick of being oppressed, they do what they do best and try to solve their predicament using their feet and fists. The writing is laughable and the story does little to make you care about the characters, most of which return from the previous game. There are some interesting themes revealed towards the end, but the journey is plodding so I won’t hold it against you if you don’t stick it out to see the end.
I fell in love with the quirkiness of the original Zeno Clash, overlooking many of its flaws. This set up high expectations for the sequel and I wanted Zeno Clash 2 to be much more than it is. There are flashes of brilliance across Zeno Clash 2 and I couldn’t stop staring at this weird, wild world that ACE has revisited. The combat system is better, even if the battles are a little unfair but, you can toss in a co-op partner for some balance. I can’t say that Zeno Clash 2 is for everyone but, if you do taste this primordial stew you will find a ton of originality with little focus.
A copy of the PC version of the game was provided for review by the publisher.