Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition 360 review

There has been substantial argument as of late concerning video games and their position as an art form. Well-known critics like film mainstay Roger Ebert have spoken out against the medium as art, presenting a dated argument that the industry has been all too happy to counter, offering a variety of examples from all genres to show that not only video games have the potential for becoming true works of art, but have been successful in their pursuits. Now you can add another log to the funeral pyre of this outdated train of thought with Ace Team’s bizarre and intriguing FPS, Zeno Clash.

Originally released on PCs a year ago, Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition brings the game to Xbox LIVE Arcade with a few additional bells and whistles over its PC counterpart. Like the original, the game boasts a strange and compelling world, visceral melee-focused combat, and a weird story that will keep you thinking long after you’ve turned off your console.

The story of Zeno Clash involves a young man on the run from his “family” after killing off his hermaphroditic Mother-Father. With the assistance of your significant other, you must run from your family as they attempt to track you down and kill you in the name of vengeance, as well as fend off myriad baddies, including the occasional assassin and several beasts that litter the landscape. The game’s storyline unfolds in a compelling fashion, both in the present and through flashback sequences that give you an understanding of the events that conspired in leading up to your exile and subsequent life on the lam.

The world in Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition is a very bizarre one indeed. The game paints a pseudo-futuristic landscape with a decidedly post-apocalyptic feel, presenting a humanity that has reverted back to a prehistoric society. The characters you meet often have their humanity hanging on by a string, with some of them being mutated creatures and cavemen, and others wearing strange masks like chicken heads and pots. However, there are a variety of technological advancements on offer that will help you with your journey, including makeshift guns and other weaponry, albeit with an ancient (and odd) feel to them. You’ll have dual pistols fashioned from the bodies of fish, skull grenades, squirrels with powder kegs strapped to their backs, as well as rifles and clubs made from bone and rock.

However, while the inclusion of guns is quite handy at times, the real meat of the combat is in the robust melee fighting system. You’ll find yourself squaring off against your opponents in old-school fisticuffs, but the game offers several fighting options, including the ability to perform combos, counterpunches, and blocks, as well as the option to kick your enemies when they hit the ground. This method is often preferred and makes standard gun use feel cumbersome by comparison, which seems to be the effect that the developers had intended.

As rewarding and cathartic as the combat can be, there are still some issues with it. The collision detection is not as spot-on as it could be, and you’ll find a lot of your attacks missing when they should’ve connected. Additionally, you’ll find issues with the targeting system, and find yourself getting hit from behind quite often.

However, what the game lacks in precise combat, it more than makes up for in stellar art design. The crew at ACE Team have fashioned a living and breathing world rife with details, and a unique one the likes of which many gamers have never seen. Just about every object in the game has a level of personality and dilapidation that gives the environment some life, and the characters are strangely compelling and visually interesting.

The “Ultimate Edition” in the game’s moniker stems from some additional modes and features that are on offer in the Xbox 360 version over its PC counterpart. There are some new weapons and moves in your character’s repertoire here, but the biggest (most “Ultimate”?) feature here is the new co-op mode. The game supports cooperative play locally and over Xbox LIVE, allowing you and a friend to tackle the game’s challenges together. While playing this game through split-screen can be a trying experience due to the constant motion of melee combat, the online play is solid and engaging.

Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition isn’t a terribly long game, and gamers shouldn’t have a problem getting through the main campaign in under seven hours. However, regardless of length, the strange, brutal, and somehow beautiful world that ACE Team has created here is one that you won’t want to miss out on.