Zeno Clash 2

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Put ’em up against dozens of enemies on a quest to discover the truth.

PC Release: April 30, 2013

By Ian Coppock

Few feelings match the anticipation of the final encounter. There’s something special about waiting in the wings for one last battle… and a chance to overcome an enemy. Those who are truly lucky may even discover higher truths about the world around them, sometimes as a direct result of defeating that foe. This is the motif and the final rallying cry of Zeno Clash 2.

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Zeno Clash 2 is the direct follow-up to Zeno Clash,  a first-person puncher and ACE Team’s debut title. After taking a break from Zeno Clash to develop the fabulous Rock of Ages, ACE returned to the fold of its weirdest world to continue the story of Ghat. Like its predecessor, Zeno Clash 2 takes place in a surreal land full of anthropomorphic animals… and emphasizes punching, kicking or throwing any that stand in the player’s way.

Zeno Clash 2 begins shortly after the end of the previous game, in which protagonist Ghat returned to his home city of Halstrom and defeated its baby-snatching ruler, Father-Mother. Ghat didn’t come home alone, though; he brought with him a blue-skinned Golem intent on giving law and order to the city. “Law” and “order” being foreign concepts to Halstrom’s colorful inhabitants, Golem’s arrival has sparked unrest in the city and made Ghat rethink his decision to bring him home.

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Anyone else getting a “Dr. Seuss meets Alejandro Jodorowski” vibe?

After punching his way out of the local watering hole (since punches count for currency in Halstrom), Ghat bumps into Rimat, the woman who led the effort to hunt him down in Zeno Clash. Rather than put him in handcuffs, though, Rimat proposes teaming up with Ghat to investigate what Golem really wants in Halstrom. The pair do a little detective work and discover that, yes, Golem’s mission to provide law and police to Halstrom is much more than a random act of philanthropy.

Golem doesn’t take too kindly to snooping, though, forcing Ghat and Rimat out of Halstrom and back into the wilds of Zenozoik. Once again Ghat is forced into exile, and once again he must punch, fight and headbutt his way to the truth of a grand conspiracy. This time, though, he’s got Rimat by his side, a woman who may have once been his most persistent enemy but is now intent on exposing that same truth. Together, the pair strike out to fight their way across Zenozoik.

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Ah, good to be back in the land of freaks.

Like its predecessor, Zeno Clash 2 is enthusiastic about first-person fighting. Ghat is an accomplished pugilist, and solves most of the problems thrown his way with a pair of bare fists. Players can also use guns and other ranged weapons on occasion, but they’re pretty rare; Zeno Clash 2 scales back Zeno Clash‘s enthusiasm for firearms to focus more on punching. Players can also use grenades if they want to make a real show of force (and if the opponent is too slow to move out of the blast zone).

Zeno Clash 2 is also more faithful to ACE Team’s original vision for the series. The developer initially planned to make Zeno Clash an open-world title but didn’t have the resources to do so. It would seem that ACE found the cash to make the Zeno Clash experience that they always wanted to, because Zeno Clash 2 is set in a small but vibrant open world. Players can tackle the main story or take on side quests at their leisure. There’s all sorts of fun to be found in Zenozoik.

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What even is that thing?

Zeno Clash 2 is chock full of refinements for the series, including some meaty improvements to the fighting system. The original Zeno Clash‘s arsenal of punches and kicks was serviceable, if simplistic, but Zeno Clash 2 streamlines Ghat’s abilities to allow for more advanced combos. Ghat can more quickly string up combos, and it’s also easier for players to throw punches of varying power. The controls are smoothly implemented on a keyboard and mouse as well as Xbox gamepads, so swing away.

Additionally, Zeno Clash 2 throws a wider variety of foes at the player. Enemies of the same weight class often have different attacks; a far cry from the original Zeno Clash giving each weight class the same roster of moves. Ghat also encounters these foes in a much more random variety than in the first game, which keeps the combat feeling fresh and keeps players guessing what malformed bird-creature will jump out of which oddly colored tree.

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Put ’em up, lobster-man!

Even more dramatic than Zeno Clash 2‘s improved fighting is the game’s visual upgrades. Whereas the original Zeno Clash benefited from strong colors but suffered from rough graphics, Zeno Clash 2 kicks Zenozoik into overdrive with exquisitely rendered objects. Everything the game throws at Ghat from environments to characters look wonderfully detailed; certainly much more so than in Zeno Clash. ACE Team made these improvements while preserving the weirdness that gives the series its kick.

Zeno Clash 2 also runs well on PC. The game allows players to punch to their hearts’ content without throwing bugs or glitches into the gears. Zeno Clash 2 has a great options menu for addressing any potential concerns and, unlike the original game, it can run at a standard 1920 x 1080 resolution. Occasionally players may see a bit of texture pop-in, but it’s a are phenomenon. It certainly doesn’t obstruct Zeno Clash 2‘s bright visuals and smooth performance.

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The hills are aliiiiive with the sound of puuuunchiiiiing…

As previously mentioned, Zeno Clash 2 abandons its predecessor’s linear format in favor of an open world. Players can visit regions over and over to find hidden items or take up side quests for Zenozoik’s eccentric inhabitants. Some regions are entirely optional to explore and contain only side quests. Finding all of the corners of Zenozoik (both for the main narrative and side missions) is highly recommended. It’s an open world that features Zeno Clash at its best, with a range of diverse environments and even more diverse (and crazy) characters.

The liveliness of Zeno Clash 2‘s environments goes beyond their being bright and open. Each region is inhabited by its own brand of crazies, most of whom are happy to get into fisticuffs with Ghat if the player gets too close. Additionally, though Ghat starts out with Rimat at his side, players can accrue a small but deadly pool of other side characters to tag team wrestle with. A handful of these are returning characters from the first game, including Ghat’s original companion Deadre. The voice acting and music are hit-and-miss, but both are better than the first game’s.

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Damn. Someone filled the sky with fruit punch again.

Even though Zeno Clash 2‘s fighting improvements and transition to an open world are where the game gets the most fun, the narrative is perhaps the title’s most important improvement for the series. Whereas Zeno Clash‘s narrative was a scattershot collection of flashbacks and stilted dialogue, Zeno Clash 2‘s plot is infinitely more cohesive. Ghat’s new quest to discover the origins of Golem is much more cleanly written than his flight into exile in the first game. The dialogue inevitably benefits from much better storyboard organization.

Zeno Clash 2 also does what all good sequels do by massively expanding the scope of its predecessor’s lore. The world of Zenozoik is given much more backstory and mystery than it had in the original Zeno Clash; the result is a world that recontextualizes the original title and makes the story of Ghat feel more epic for doing so. Zeno Clash 2 drops its hints and its climaxes at an even tempo (despite a slow start), culminating in an ending bout much livelier than a Mayweather-McGregor matchup.

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Guess I’m not allowed to go to the rave.

Zeno Clash 2 is more than a sum of improvements to the original Zeno Clash. It’s one of the most novel beat ’em up games of the last five years and a shining example of what a sequel should do. A sequel shouldn’t just retread paths trod by a preceding game with little to no change; instead, a sequel should strive to expand the scope of what the previous game set down. It should use the preceding installment’s narrative and world as a springboard for a new, grander experience.

Zeno Clash 2 accomplishes that in spades. It’s a game with streamlined, fun fighting set in a world that players want to explore. Its story is a cogently arranged saga of fighting and  truth-seeking with interesting characters. Its dialogue, while occasionally awkward, carries itself with more passion and enthusiasm than that of the original game. For all these reasons, it’s a game worth picking up,  and not just by fighting fans. Its trippy visuals and world may also very well serve as a viable substitute for acid.

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You can buy Zeno Clash 2 here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.