Take a dose of futuristic technology, choose an age for a syringe, tighten the tourniquet as hard as you can and then inject it in the healthiest vein. The subject will roll his eyes over and have psychedelic visions of pastiches made of steam engines, corsets, top hats and Victorian rockets which orbit around Deimos. Steampunk. See specific theses to build up a precise medical case. The treatment is comprised of H.G. Wells, Arcanum, Jules Verne and Cowboy Bebop.
Occasionally, the hallucinations will slide into a dystopian universe in which the most valued resource is information, junkies have found the peak of decadence in molecular-modded scag and artificial intelligences are orchestrating coup d’etats in Eurasia. Cyberpunk. Gibson, Neuromancer, Beneath a Steel Sky, Johnny Mnemonic, Phillip K. Dick, Anachronox are the most common cures, but beware the dosage.
A rare symptom, but a crucial element in coming up with the right diagnostic, is a drop of futuristic technology in a prehistoric universe. Don’t worry, it’s not Lupus. Perhaps the most ridiculous situation (the subject’s sense of adventure will coil around a hysterical laughter), the hallucinations can be leveled by a circular application of Prehistorik, The Flintstones and, since we’re opening the Punk Pandora’s Box, hardcore stuff… such as Zeno Clash.
If the subject doesn’t snuff it due to an overdose, we guarantee an interesting recovery.
The studio behind the present title, ACE Team, is a developer team from Chile who made it their purpose to create a solid combination between a first person shooter and a beat’em up. Built on the Source engine, Zeno Clash is a colorful experience in which the absurd swims in fusion with the ordinary, in which the visual can sometimes be photorealistic and is cartoonish most of the time.
As in any beat’em-up with a backbone, you’ve got a few weapons at your disposal, but none of them bring imbalanced advantages. You don’t always have them and, aside from the marksman sequences in which you absolutely have to shoot something or someone, you’ll get them from enemies after planting a punch in their face, just so you can bring them back to an over-the-top and acid-boomed Earth. Even the GUI and the design emphasize the beating sequences; for instance, before every fight you get to see the combatants in a flash screen much like the one in Street Fighter IV.
The shooter elements are thus used to add some diversity, but the star of the show is still the beat’em up section. The moves aren’t really numerous, but the way you have to use them on the higher difficulty levels warrants a few healthy adrenaline rushes. Every now and then the fights will have a bit of spark in them, but in my opinion a tad more realism for the perspective would have exponentially helped the eye candy.
To be precise, the hands and feet thrown on the screen in Mirror’s Edge or the legs pressing hard against the floor in F.E.A.R. would have been welcome in a game that focuses on the illusion that you’re wrestling various individuals who want to do you in. Here we’ve got a handful of animations which don’t lack any technical elements, but they do come across as static, predefined, few in numbers and less varied than the ones in ME and you can’t even see more than the tip of your feet by looking down.
The storyline isn’t all that long – I’d say 4-5 hours normally – and although the eccentricities are pretty innovative and welcome, there are a few obstacles which Zeno Clash doesn’t hesitate to trip on whenever you’re really immersed in it – like the bloaty scenario which flats out at the end or the sketchy lines.
Some of these flaws might be a matter of taste, and most of them denote the existence of clear budget limitation and production time, which in my opinion absolves the producers of some of the guilt. Especially since the atmospheric design shows a clear penchant for quirky aesthetics, although the slight lack of experience is fairly obvious.
Despite its briefness, Zeno Clash does have plenty variation in design and gameplay – starting with the desert, where you have to beat an assassin who’s tossing explosive squirrels, to the end of the world where you’ll be lighting candles and breaking undead who are trying to put them out with a magical torch as your weapon.
Exteriors are predominant, with superb landscapes overlapping mediocre ones. And the inconsistency in level design is slightly annoying: linear walks on boring roads and not very atmospheric forests co-exist with a desert filled with gigantic creatures – improbabilities on four legs – or a gulf lead to by makeshift wooden bridges to meet up with an old friend.
The bizarre characters are modeled in an almost surreal manner, and their grand majority is deformed in one way or another, while the rest are hybrids between human and various animals. What’s interesting is that the enemies each have their own name. A role. An identity. To be fair, the enemy types are few in number, but when was the last time you got more than 10 models as opponents in an FPS?