At its outset, Zeno Clash gives you a pair of fists and a mission: to beat the living tar out of everyone you see. The fluid controls and B-movie sound effects seem to promise a game that’s one long, glorious series of barroom brawls. Then Zeno Clash takes its eye off the ball. Instead of reveling in the teeth-clenching joy of its mêlée fights, the game mucks up the works with shooter elements, and hackneyed ones at that. It’s tough to get excited about firing a pebble gun after you’ve beaten down a pack of cavemen with your bare hands.
Zeno Clash never quite recaptures the excitement and freshness of its first 10 minutes, pissing away too much time on diversions like exploding paratrooper squirrels—a concept that, on its face, seems impossible to get wrong. But Zeno Clash gets it wrong twice, because this game does everything at least twice, offering almost nothing new past its halfway point. You fight the same handful of characters over and over, suggesting that the hero is either unwilling to kill or is comically inept at it.
Exploring the game’s world is like flipping through a production designer’s sketchbook. The surreal, Hieronymus Bosch-like landscapes are gorgeous set pieces on their own, but they’re disconnected from each other, and they never feel like part of one unified realm. Nor does the story, which only shines during a few trippy visits with the insane, quasi-pagan Corwid tribe. The rest of the time, Zeno Clash has an annoying tendency to shroud itself in more mystique than its thin plot deserves.
Beyond the game: ACE team, the developer, is an independent outfit of three brothers in Chile who got their start making mods for Doom 2.
Worth playing for: Combos and throws are easy to execute but no less satisfying for their simplicity.
Frustration sets in when: The targeting system has a mind of its own. Picking up an item often takes pinpoint precision, which isn’t easy when a pig-man is bashing in your skull.
Final judgment: A brilliant brawler buried in a mediocre shooter.