Zeno Clash was just $10 on Steam last weekend, so I tried it out.  Amazingly, it was put together by a tiny team of people, using the Steam engine.  We need more, much more of this, so go give them your money so they can do more.

Let’s start with the main attractions: the art direction and the combat system.  The art is mind-blowing… reminiscent of Hieronymous Bosch, Dave McKean, and French comics.  This goes for the characters as well– you fight some seriously strange creatures.  A lot of the fun of the game is marvelling at this sheer exuberant creativity.

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Much as Mirror’s Edge did parkour, Zeno Clash does fisticuffs.    “Visceral” is the word that comes to mind… these punches and kicks look like they really hurt.  The system isn’t all that complex, but it’s made a lot harder by the fact that you’re often fighting several enemies at a time.  With a little running around you can generally keep just one in front of you, but the ones farther away have a tendency to pick up ranged weapons and fire at you.  (You can use these too– my favorite is the fish gun– but their disadvantage is the long reload time.)

At some point one just has to bring up the parachuted squirrel bombs.  Yep.

The biggest minus: it’s really short.  The main campaign took me about five hours, and there are quite a few repeated enemies.  There’s a challenge mode, but it’s kind of annoying– a death makes you start over at the beginning.  There are also a few unpolished features… e.g. you can’t save a game, and a couple times I killed all the enemies and the plot didn’t advance, so I had to go back to an autosave.

Some reviews say that the plot is nonsensical… this tells more about the reviewers I think; some people have a low tolerance for strangeness.  It certainly raises more questions than it answers (e.g., the main character knows a secret, but it’s never revealed how he knows it); I hope the producers come up with good answers in the sequel.  You get a female sidekick, who’s nice to look at but seems to have no story of her own and doesn’t help much… I think she fires a weapon occasionally.

There are a few moves that are frustratingly difficult (e.g. you can deflect an enemy’s attack, but the timing is fiddly); on the plus side and the minus side, you hardly need them anyway… I got through most of the game barely even blocking.  We’re also back to minimal movement land… the player character can’t jump at all, so ankle high barriers stop him cold.

Here’s a good interview with the main creator, Andres Bordeu.

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