PC, PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade
Review based on Xbox Live Arcade version
Developer: Ace Team
Release Date:July 25th, 2013
Zeno Clash II puts you in the role of Ghat once more, introducing you to the general hand to hand fighting concepts in the introductory bar brawl against some of the odd creatures of the land. Once you leave the bar, you come to find that the being that created you, Father-Mother, has been locked up, and you are tasked to break it out. From there, you begin a quest to fight various golems throughout the land, rescuing friends and family members, and also saving the live of Father-Mother, all while trying to break free of the land you are essentially imprisoned in, which leads to a rather interesting twist you don’t really see coming, and is more of an after thought than a crutch the designers built this title around from day one.
The story to Zeno Clash II isn’t actually as simple as that, which stems from Ace Team really putting an artistic spin to things that hurt the game more than benefit it. Well, at first, that is. Even some of the dialogue that nearly ever character spews forth are seem like the tortured artist, but end up sounding like children with a melancholic absence in the brain. While this sounds horrible, it does lend a bit of a grand feeling, turning what seems like a okay script and cast of voice actors into something a little more along the lines of folklore in an oddly Shakespearian sense.
But, that bit of audio becomes a truly mixed bag. Some of the musical scores are subtle and help to establish the atmosphere that the terrain is giving off, whether meant to be a bit beautiful or grim, or tense if a foe happens to be approaching. And then there are some sound effects that are horribly out of place and time, such as doors closing or random roars that have been ripped straight out of Doom and Wolfenstein 3D. These can make certain events or situations rather hard to take seriously, but are largely absent during the cut scenes, which is where most of the voice acting occurs to push the story along.
The environments also feed into that vibe, giving gamers some truly beautiful, even oppressive settings with a little bit of grit thrown in for good measure. There are plenty of large structures, and a good amount of detail thrown in that really makes the terrain feel as though you had wandered back in the days of early settlements, some third-world lands you might expect to see from Africa or even South America, all cast in the general mechanical know-how of indians or early settlers. This is perhaps the most impressive element of the game, but also one of the most damning thanks to the engine’s lack of power to keep up with it.
While comparable to Borderlands in how the world appears, the Unreal Engine seems to struggle in making the terrain and enemies as visually spectacular as they are. There are plenty of times you’ll reach a certain area, such as a wall about five seconds away from your character, and the visuals will still be loading by the time you get there, and not in a way that is meant to establish perspective or distance. This does happen quite a while, sometimes slowing things down to the point of lag, especially when it is still loading (or not) when you are swarmed with enemies. While nothing really happens when you go up against one, two, sometimes three general foes, the game starts lagging horribly as it tries to process four or more characters on screen at once, including yourself and and ally. Sadly, these hordes are numerous and happen quite often, especially if you pass a random hostile animal about two minutes away that decides to follow you and hop in the fray.
And then there are the foes themselves. While the bosses are large and spectacular to behold, even the one golem that has to be defeated by running up it’s anus and punching the orb inside right after it releases a large laser out its exhaust that can seriously cripple you (yes, this is a real boss in the game), the general enemies scattered about the land are nothing that impressive, or even challenging outside of a mob. It does become hard to fight when you are swarmed, and not just due to the lag, but because it’s hard to throw punches at those hitting you while you’re locked onto one specific foe. While frustrating, this really isn’t that difficult to overcome half the time since most of the casual enemies move rather slow and have attack patterns as obvious as the golems. Team Ace has a cure for this, however, and it is that you are not told how to take a boss down, you just have to figure out if bare knuckle brawling will take the golem out, if you need to punch somewhere in particular, or if the gear from a previous golem is required to get out alive.
The controls do help mak things a bit easier when it comes to combat. The controls are rather simple, and the game offers a training option that allows you to practice the basic actions like punching and blocking, as well as some of the more complex moves that rely on your timing to be executed properly. The response time in combat is pretty fluid as well, making all but one or two of those intricate combinations fairly easy to executed after only a few attempts. Changing out additional gear you get from downed golems is also a breeze thanks to the directional pad acting as the means to choose which item to use, and each havin a generally simple layout on the controller you can remember, or at least figure out, especially if you happen to step away for a few days.
While the main plot of the game itself is rather short, there are some additional lands to explore. The biggest problem with moving from land to land is that you reach the edge of one part of the world, click a button, and you’re at the next after a brief loading screen. This is the only way to travel, and while it links the many sectioned off lands well, it leaves you never really feeling like you accomplished something. Even when you complete the main story of the game, it all just seems to end with no real sense of closure. You can, however, go back and find allies you missed, level up your character, and perform side quests like defeating a certain amount of enemies or collecting various butterflies found throughout the world.
Some of these quests greatly benefit you when tackling the main story, and does make combat easier since you can pull various allies to help you out. though only get a pool of two, and can choose to put them both in at once which adds to the lag. Sadly, the allies are simply useless, even the ones that require nearly full leadership points you only get from levelling up, which is a surprisingly big drawback. You only level by finding various totems found throughout the world, which is necessary to earn the allegiance of some of the stronger friendly warriors you save or happen upon. But, given how easy some of the non-golem battles are, and how braindead the ally a.i. is, recruiting them ends up really pointless other than for one specific achievement.
The same goes for levelling your stats. While it is a nice benefit to make the gameplay easier, story mode is never that hard that you absolutely must make yourself stronger. There are plenty you will just happen on from time to time as you journey from point a to point b, and those really do suffice for what lies in store for Ghat. Of course the butterflies and kill count side-objectives also really only benefit your gamerscore or amount of trophies if you’re playing this on a console. Given the couple other extra lands to explore, this sandbox style open terrain is fairly limited, making the story quests themselves all you really need to care about unless your an absolute completionist.
So, what does it all boil down to? Well, the graphics are better, the gameplay and controls are solid enough to make the battles worth getting into, and the story, as well as the voice acting, drip with an epic folklore approach despite being a bit eccentric and lackluster in performance. But, thanks to the problems with the engine keeping up with the terrain, as well as with the action on screen, this can become greatly frustrating rather quick. Of course, when swarmed, you now have the option to use guns to pick off enemies from a distance to make the sting of the lag a little more tolerable, but guns and projectiles are so few and far between that, aside using them against a major mob for a few cheap shots, they’re hardly worth tracking down, especially with how few shots you actually get with them. While the pros and cons seem to match one another, the additional side quests, even some complex attack patterns you can use, Zeno Clash II does end up a bit of an upgrade from the previous entry that is more enjoyable and memorable, but still a title worth grabbing when on sale, especially if you didn’t enjoy the first entry.
Digital review copy of this title provided by Atlus.