from Ancient Greek ξένος (ksénos
, “alien”) a. Having to do with foreigners, as in xenophilia, or more commonly, xenophobia. b. From a foreign place, as in xenolith.clash noun.
onomatopoeic a. A skirmish, a hostile encounter. b. Opposition, contradiction, such as between differing or contending interests, views, purposes etc.
In my imagination, the development of Xeno
-- sorry, Zeno Clash
-- started when folks at Ace Team got together, got high, and got onto the subject of ancient mythologies (Roman, Greek, Norse, etc.) and how weird they all were. I mean, if you want crazy characters and crazier stories, you need look no further than some of the gods and goddesses traipsing around back in the day. Athena, birthed fully formed out of the sweaty forehead of Zeus; Pan, the goat-god of wanton sex; Artemis, goddess of the hunt, who for some reason was depicted in various interpretations as being literally covered with breasts
; Medusa, she of the stylish snake perm and stony gaze, being some kind of metaphor for psychosexual wackiness (I'm pretty sure we can blame Freud for that); Jeff, the God of Biscuits; and even some nutter who told people to eat some bread and drink some wine and pretend it was his flesh and his blood... I mean, ew, dude. I'm sure we have enough problems without adding cannibalism to it. So anyway, the developers were shooting the breeze about Gods and Golden Fleece and rivers of blood and whatever until one guy, as I imagine it, stood up and went, "Yeah... but like, what if... Dude! What if there were, like, aliens, right? And they were weird, like totally, heh, but then, like, THEY also had myths and ♥♥♥♥! I mean... dude
So that's where this game comes from, more or less. There is a distinct dreamlike quality inherent in the stories of myth, fantastical and larger than life, and that is the feeling you get as you find your way through the land of Zenozoik. It feels deliciously alien and new, in the visuals and in the story (neither of which go out of their way to make a lot of sense, but it's still easy enough to follow). You'll see and hear a lot of weird stuff, and sooner or later, you just go with the flow because it's weirdly seductive. Even running on the old Source engine, and looking a bit dated now in 2015, the art and design and imagination of the dev team comes through in nearly every area so that you will truly think you are in fact running around on an impossibly, impossibly alien world. Luckily, they do at least have one thing in common with us here on Earth: they really like punching the stuffing out of each other.
If you've seen anything about Zeno Clash
you already know the basics: it's a first-person brawler-shooter. Way more emphasis on the brawling than the shooting, thankfully. You, a fugitive on the run, have a modest set of fighting moves at your disposal, such as light and strong punches, blocks, dodges, counterattacks, grabs and throws. Unfortunately, so do your opponents for the most part, although they will also attack you at range if they get a chance. You get a small selection of weapons yourself, and they come in handy once in a while but the majority of your combat will be served in knuckle sandwiches. And they were never so tasty: combat feels fantastic in this game. It's fun, responsive and fast, with a good amount of variety (though there could be more), and it's super satisfying to land an uppercut on some chump and watch him go flying. I didn't really think I'd enjoy such a melee-focused FPS but after playing this I stand corrected, it's ridiculously fun. I even enjoyed the few bits where you are required to tote a rifle or another firearm, although I am glad those bits were few. They're not bad, really -- the rifle in particular sounds great, and it's amusing to plunk away at dudes with the double-fisted handguns -- but save for a couple spots you won't really get that much of a chance to use them because enemies will do their best to rush you if you're shooting at them, and none of the weapons are viable at close quarters.
One thing you will notice right off the bat is the voice acting, and it is... hmm. How to describe it. Well, your first impression will probably be "Oh my god this is bad." And you wouldn't really be wrong, especially with regards to the main character. He is, let's say, from the same acting school as Christopher Walken and William Shatner, only he flunked out hard. His lines are awkwardly paced, and weirdly inexpressive; he speaks in a stilted, matter-of-fact tone. All of that might turn you off -- which is why I'm mentioning it -- but honestly, his weirdness actually fits the game very well. There is often dialogue that sounds so insane on paper, but because of the way he delivers his lines, it instead sounds believable and ordinary, which makes the bizarre setting of the game even more bizarre. All in all, it works for me. It may not work for you.
It's not a very long game (ignore my obscenely long playtime), but it's a fully-formed, enjoyable, weird as all hell story that will have you doing at least one or two double-takes because you have probably never heard sentences like these in a game before. The fighting is hard and fast and so enjoyable, the world is filled with delicious weirdness for your eyes, and the trusty Source engine shines through even for a six year old game. I don't know about you, but it absolutely charmed the pants off me with how little Ace Team cared for making the "right" game, and made a fun, unique, and beautifully bizarre one instead.