Zeno Clash 2 Review
An improved sequel with a better world, satisfying fisticuffs and tools that glue the action together
Zeno Clash 2 is a first person brawler that knocks out some of the problems that held back the original. Its predecessor, released four years ago, was appreciated for absurdity and focus on fist fights. It failed to reach its potential due to cramped environments and repetitive combat scenarios. The developers, ACE Team, have followed up with a sequel that unleashes a larger world, empowering players to traverse it in a non linear fashion. New tools bring alternations to combat structure and help eliminate frustration. Zeno Clash 2 continues from the first game with many locations and characters returning.
Players reprise their role as Ghat, a human-like male living in Zenozoik. In the first game, Ghat left his family after he discovered he was kidnapped by his parental figure, FatherMother. Ghat and many others were taken from their parents and raised by FatherMother as her own. At the conclusion of the original, he bested his kidnapper in a fight and liberated his family with the help of a Golem. This sequel begins with FatherMother incarcerated and Ghat’s siblings scattered throughout the land. Ghat’s sister, Rimat, wants to free FatherMother and needs your help to succeed.
FatherMother is one creepy jailbird
It is difficult to follow the story in this sequel and not because you are helping a creepy beast that kidnapped you. Characters use broken sentences and the story pushes you from one fight to the next with little justification. ZC2 tries to overcome some contextual issues by bringing Golems to the forefront. Golems are wardens of Zenozoik that remain secluded from its inhabitants. Just like the player, Golems believe the Zenos are primitive beings that do little more than punch each other. Ghat encountered the North Golem in the original and he will cross paths with one Golem for each point on the compass. You spend much of the adventure in search of your siblings. These brothers and sisters will be reluctant to follow you, but your fists are powerful negotiators.
Finding your siblings is as easy as following arrows on your minimal HUD. You often need to beat up bad guys, or parents, to earn your sibling’s alliance. After recruiting these characters, they disappear from the world until they are needed for specific fights. During such fights, your recruits may distract enemies or run off and attack harmless animals. They might accidentally kick you in the face while you attempt a difficult combo move. Despite this, your allies are still useful and heal quickly between battles. The majority of fights do not involve allies, so you will need to survive in Zenozoik on your own.
The land of Zenozik consists several areas (levels) connected together. There are many familiar locations that have been reinvigorated with Unreal Engine 3. The Corwid Woods return and the Outskirts will be familiar to those that remember the twisted tree stumps. The township of Halstedom is alive with creatures and several interiors. Areas are connected in a linear fashion, but there is room to stray from the direct path. Fast travel warps you from one discovered waypoint to the next. Creatures respawn in areas, so you’ll never run out of things to punch. The levels are more expansive than the original and this pays off when backtracking.
Screens may not do the game justice, but this still looks nice
ACE Team have made Zenozoik feel like a real place. Many of the plants are three dimensional, instead of two dimensional sprites in the Source-powered original. The road to the Corwid woods is the best example of this; twisted plants have volume and cast appropriate shadows. The End of the World is astounding with contorted stone creatures shambling through fog as aurora lights flicker under your feet. The day-night cycle also makes the world feel alive. Shadows drift across the landscape and areas take on a different mood when the Sun goes down. Because of the dynamic world, screenshots don’t do the game justice. The world is a labor of love and Zenozoik feels like a place the artists may have first envisaged.
Zeno Clash 2 is all about fist fights, but without the frustration of the first game. You fight gangs in open areas and special tools make these fights satisfying. The action is less punishing if you forget to block or miscue combinations. You can effectively whittle away most opponents with left and right punches. If you block an attack at just the right time, you can retaliate with enough power to knock them off a cliff. Fist fights are more about positioning than pulling off the perfect attack combination.
Fighting typically occurs in areas that give you plenty of room to manoeuvre. You can run for minutes as enemies slowly trail after you. It is rare to be backed into a corner, unable to move, until you dispose of enemies trapping you. Even the windy roads along cliff faces allow you to bypass groups without getting stuck on the receiving end of consecutive punches. The combat structure allows the player to engage at a time of their choosing, instead of being forced into action like the original. Because of this, impatience is the biggest threat to your own survival.
Zeno Clash 2: The only legal way to beat an Elephant with a mallet
The traditional shooting weapons return and this includes a grenade launcher, shotgun and pistol. They operate much like the original, which unfortunately means rather clumsily. It is more satisfying to throw guns instead of shooting them. Projectile weapons will break and you also lose the precious ammo contained within. Guns should be taken when you come across them, but are wasted against the lesser creatures. Open areas favour guns more than the original because weapons are not knocked from your hands frequently. Zeno Clash 2 is not a shooter though, as most of the action involves your fists or the new tools.
The biggest improvement to the combat comes via the four tools you have access to. Skull bombs return and, although they explode with force, enemies are excellent at avoiding them. You can carry five bombs and they prove useful against fallen enemies. The second tool you acquire is a melee chain that unleashes a satisfying whipping sound as you swing it in front of you. It can fend off groups as you chip away at their health. It can also remove wooden shields from enemies who resist punches. The swinging action consumes a chunk of stamina, energy needed to block attacks or sprint, but stamina recharges so quickly that you can use the chain frequently.
The third tool, the Sun-moon Gauntlet, takes the energy from the sun or moon and brings it to the battle. Once you locate the moon or sun in the sky, you point the gauntlet at the light source and bring forth consecutive explosions. Corralling enemies into a conga line, or chokepoint, will yield the most damage. It can obliterate groups of enemies and has a reasonable cool down timer. The trickiest part is finding the moving light source or being in the best position to use it. During one canyon mission, the chain whip held enemies at bay until the Sun rose over horizon so the Gauntlet could finish them off.
Punching linked enemies is the definition of doubling your return
The Gauntlet is bested only by the fourth and final tool; the Golem Hand. The Golem Hand is worn on your fingers and creates a link between two objects or creatures. It mirrors any physical force done to either of the linked objects. It is incredibly satisfying to see one enemy fly backwards when you pummel on his linked friend. If you are the sneaky type, you can link a tough opponent with a less dangerous creature and beat on the weaker foe. Better yet, linking enemies effectively doubles your ammunition cache for those rare weapons. Each of these tools is useful for different reasons and you will alternate between all during battles.
Mission variety is still a problem for this sequel when almost every objective leads into a fist fight. There are not enough puzzles or twists on the standard structure. Strange characters appear out of nowhere to initiate a scripted fight that might not fit in the context of the story. It is disappointing that many siblings need to be throttled before they decide to help you. Treasure hunt quests, or deeper puzzles, could have broken the monotony. The most interesting side objective was searching for eight cubes spread around Zenozoik. If the mission variety was as good as the environmental variety, this sequel would have elevated itself into another tier.
If you prefer to fight with others, there is a functional two player co-op mode. The second player fills the role of Rimat and follows Ghat around Zenozoik. There are latency delays if you play as Rimat (client) and this makes combos hard to execute. You can hurt each other during heavy battles, but it’s safer to divide and conquer. If you suffer fatal damage, you briefly enter a kneeling state and enemies switch focus to your partner. Take enough damage again and you must reload the last checkpoint. You gain full health after death, a blessing in the limited heath environments. Enemies have more health in co-op but progression flows because there is twice the offensive power. It is nearly impossible to find a random game, so don’t consider co-op an option unless you have a buddy on hand. Co-op is a good addition because joining forces is better than fighting alone with AI allies.
Let your co-op partner do the work while you avoid stray kicks to the face
Zeno Clash 2 is an improved sequel but not a flawless one. Zenozoik finally feels like what may have been envisioned. Combat is more enjoyable because it’s lenient and situated in open areas. Sadly, the combat structure repeats with little or no explanation for some arena style fights. New tools breathe life into the melee encounters, as they encourage you to step back from the action and use different tactics. Co-op is a solid complementary feature although it is difficult to find a game in progress. ACE Team have spent four years crafting a fist-fight adventure that bests the original. Zeno Clash 2 unlocks the potential of Zenozoik and stands strong as a brawler with refined action mechanics.