Zeno Clash 2: Much More ‘What’, Equal Parts ‘The Fuck’

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Zeno Clash 2 is a perfect example of what happens when an imaginative group of talented developers find a publisher and can make a game the way the always wanted.  Granted, it is fucking bizarre as pink dancing hamsters in tutus tearing apart two cows having a threesome with a Scottish midget, but there is just as much fun and blood involved as the above description.  This game is fun.  It is a ton of fucking fun heaped into a bizarre surrealist world and topped off with guns.  Not to mention, the storyline is interesting as fuck.

So Ghat makes his comeback in this sequel by doing the opposite of what he did in the first one.  Literally, the fucking opposite.  Where before he was trying to kill father-mother and break up the family in order to avenge FM’s baby-thieving, now he is trying to save FM from a much-deserved ass-kicking and reuniting the family.  I honestly think this guy just likes to fucking beat shit up and kill motherfuckers.  I mean, that is what he did as a Corwid, and he hasn’t changed anything but the fact that now he no longer wears a mask.  I would hypothesize that this shows that Ghat is willing to face who he is and give into his dark, true self, but that would almost be too fucking involved.  I think he just likes to fuck shit up.

City of Halstedom, pronounced Hal-stom.  See also churning homestead of wanton fucking insanity.

City of Halstedom, pronounced Hal-stom. See also churning homestead of wanton fucking insanity.

Halstedom has been taken over by the North Golem, Kax-Teh.  You know, the guy you brought to Halstedom to deal with Father-Mother?  The North Golem, the guy with the Rubick’s cube from ZC, has built a jail, the colonnade-adorned head building, to incarcerate criminals in the town.  Makes sense, guy’s a natural fucking philanthropist.  Except one thing.  These people have no idea what this concept of “law” is.  It is literal anarchy.  Whoever wants to rule can, if they can get enough support from other thugs and people in the area.  So he is literally forcing these foreign concepts of law and order onto a city of people that have trouble with the concepts associated with a can-opener.  They are children, and he is ruling them with an iron fist from his head-palace using concepts none of them can understand.  Very little about any of this makes much sense.

With FM behind bars, you would assume that everything should be alright in the world, but Ghat is a more motiveless malignancy than Iago, so he gets tired of starting bar-fights all the time.  Luckily, Rimat, a woman wearing a rice paddy hat from FM’s family, decides to start some shit.  See, after everyone found out about FM’s treachery and baby-stealing, the North Golem told them who their real parents are and where they could be found.  Many went to him, but a few did not.  Rimat was one of those who didn’t.  Her opinion was that you cannot change the past, so she cannot change the fact that she was raised by a giant, hooded man-bird.  And, honestly, she has a compelling point.  This is something that many adoptees have to come to terms with, but Rimat, given the chance to go back to them, prefers to stay with the familiar.  She chooses to stay with those that she grew up with.  Very interesting.  So together with Rimat, Ghat helps to break FM out of jail and seek out the various members of the family.

After they’ve found all their brothers and sisters, they then turn their goals against the golems.  As it turns out, the golems are just the servants of some infinitely wiser entities, and they were put in place to keep the Zenos from leaving their land of Zenozoic.  The term “zenos” is used to describe anyone from this place, too.  I would want to keep these guys out of my backyard too.  I mean fucking look at them!

Ugly is a polite term for these people

Ugly is a polite term for these people. I mean, the police force wear flour sacks on their heads leaving you to imagine the horrors beneath!

Above is one of my favorite features of this game.  Normally, the gameplay is something like a free-roaming RPG, but there will be these areas where you’ll be pitted against a ton of enemies.  Unlike other games such as Half-Life 2 or any FPS by Flying Wild Hog, these arenas are not resolved with a sword or by gutting people with a machine-gun.  These battles are most often resolved with combo attacks and flying double-fist strikes.  Massive battles like this are resolved like street thugs would back in the 1920’s:  Everyone has a nasty brawl and the victors are the ones who are right.  Sometimes you will have some assholes sitting back, picking people off with a rifle or a grenade launcher, but hit them hard enough and they will drop it.  Of course, if there are weapons like rifles and grenade launchers, why even get into pitch brawls like that?  Simple, the guns in this game are few and far between and there isn’t oodles of ammo laying around.  It’s actually somewhat realistic in this way.  Of course, why not grab a club?  Those are around too!  This game forces you to deal with someone via fisticuffs.  Weapons that you have to strike someone with, including guns without ammo, will break and shatter.  The most reliable way to deal with your issues is to beat them to a bloody pulp with your bare hands, as God intended.

The landscapes in this game are absolutely magnificent and always always always have elements that make you curious, intrigued and outright confused.  As you wander these landscapes, you might be wondering if you are on Mars.  Actually, the game gives you ample reason to believe that it might be Earth, but the game has numerous regions.  Each region can be explored and explored freely.  Some are more open than others, but each area has its own unique look and feel, and each area has its secrets and stashes.

The two-headed monkey riding on the back of a fire-spitting vulture made the muculosaurus in the desert seem low-key.

The two-headed monkey riding on the back of a fire-spitting vulture region made the muculosaurus in the desert seem low-key.

Two features adding to this are stashes and skill points.  Stashes are places where you can find items (food to heal, totems to fill the special attacks meter, weapons etc) which fulfill a variety of uses, mostly combat-oriented.  These stashes look like giant, horned clamshells and function much the same way as chests.  The art director for this game should be drug-tested hourly.

The other feature are the skill point totems.  These appear as skulls hanging from a crude stand and can be found nearly everywhere.  A couple time I revisited regions only to find a new skill totem that wasn’t accessible without equipment I found elsewhere.  These totems are well-hidden too, almost as if they hired someone from Flying Wild Hog to put in the secrets.  When you interact with these totems, half the present skulls disappear and you get points equal to the number of skulls obtained.  Once you have the points, you can go ahead and start pouring them into the various skills: health, stamina, strength, leadership. Health is health, stamina dictates how many punches you can throw before getting weak, strength is how hard you hit.  Leadership is the most interesting skill, though.  Throughout the game, you will switch out between various characters that will help Ghat and Rimat on their journey.  The higher your leadership, the more powerful the allies that you can recruit to your quest with you.  These guys are useful, too, especially when you find yourself suddenly confronted with a massive mosaic of faces as seen above.  You will be fighting ALL those fuckers, often in close-quarters.  With little space to run and twenty mother-fuckers trying to kick your ass, you will need some friends to mix up the melee.  I poured nearly all of my points into leadership.

The skills are accessible from the map screen, where you can also find some collections.  There are a variety of things to collect, all of which are random and make little sense.  They are a ton of fun, and when you play, you’ll likely see how they add their own pieces of flavor to this game.

Make a left at the canyon filled with testicle-chinned shrimp, pass by the butthole-licking tribe of barbarians and we'll arrive at the city of mechanical, two-headed monkey people.  Remember to pack sandwiches!

Turn left at the canyon of testicle-chinned shrimp, pass foot-collecting barbarian tribe and arrive at the city of mechanical, two-headed monkey people. Remember to pack sandwiches!

Do not play this game thinking you will not be saying “What the fuck” every five seconds.  This game is just as whacky, if not moreso, than the first, but its gameplay is memorable and awesome.  I honestly hope they take this formula and apply to a remake of Double-Dragon or Final Fight.  Can you imagine what it would be like to have a fighting-style free-roaming first-person RPG like this one in a vast post-apocalyptic, future cityscape where gangs tear eachother apart?  You could have some guns in there, but they might be so rare that they are almost a form of currency, so battles are largely solved with blades and fists.  Just food for thought to give Ace Team.  This game itself is a hell of a thing though.  It feels like the greater narrative of morality and law being waged by the golems is the true story, and the rest of the world is made to be ridiculous so a seeking mind is almost forced to latch onto the golems and interpret their story.  Then Ghat comes in and fucks shit up, believing, I guess, that true freedom requires the death of law.  Whatever you glean from this game, it is likely to be memorable.  And the best part is that its Special Edition currently on sale for 2.99$ on Steam, although it is deserving of every cent of the 24.99$ usual asking price.  Go get it now! Seriously!  It’s fucking awesome!

Zeno Clash, Untamed WTF

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Zeno Clash is what would happen if Guillermo del Toro dropped acid and wrote a videogame storyline.  This title is full of weird enemies, surreal visuals, somewhat disjointed story elements and a world so bizarre it defies logical explanation.  I tried to explain the game itself to my wife and she said it defines “what the fuck”.  Yet, everything I just described is merely the flavor of the downright bad-ass, knuckle-cracking time this game provides.

First, your character.  A human named Ghat that starts of the game having savagely disfigured a creature known as father-mother, the leader of a clan in this town. The town of Halstedom.  Father-mother’s clan runs the city alongside the Northern Gate Gang.  It seems like this place is a veritable hive of scum and villainy as nearly everyone is part of either the clan or the gang, and there are very few laws being observed to the outside observer.  At least, few laws outside whatever father-mother says.  This leads one to submit to the supposition that father-mother (henceforth FM) is the monarch of the town, or at least influential enough to be a sort of leader of Halstedom.  Not to mention, FM has his entire clan convinced that he’s their father and mother.

Now, why Ghat has decided to take on FM is beyond me, especially considering that FM is a 10-foot-tall peacock creature.  Regardless, he escapes Halstedom with his hide intact where Deadra, crazy-horny heartthrob, follows him and helps him in his journey.. by being as flighty as possible.  And by horny I mean she has enormous fucking horns coming out the sides of her head. No, seriously.

The horns must be great for extra doughnut storage.

The horns must be great for extra doughnut storage.

Now, I am not saying I would hide my sexuality from her in abject fear of her getting naked, but those horns would definitely do a number on my bedside table.  I, mean, she probably never goes indoors, for that matter, but they do come off once, if memory serves.  This being the only point where she is shown laying down looking dreamily into Ghat’s eyes.  She is very naive considering she follows a known felon, who may have killed the only being either has ever known as father or mother,  into the wilderness and away from the safety of the only home she’s ever known.  To her credit, however, she is handy with her sawed-off shotgun and has some nice legs.

Despite the weak central female character, whose only function is to harass Ghat about FM’s secret and stand defensively out of the way of fights, the game still delivers in the place that truly matters.  Gameplay.  And here I introduce Metamoq and the Corwids.  The Corwids are these guys Ghat describes enigmatically as being not insane, but having chosen to be what they are.  So, they are fucking insane and do everything from eat people to bang their heads on trees.  There is one guy that walks in a straight line and refuses to let anyone change his course.  You find him later dead when he met the only nemesis a nutcase wearing giant iron boots has: a tree.  And he runs into a fucking tree in a desert after making his way OUT OF A GODDAMN FOREST! Sorry.  That is in no way important to the plot, but it was one of many WTF moments in this game.  These not-crazy, but actually fucking insane, mask-wearing guys have some members that border on intelligent.  Ghat was a Corwid for a while, which is how he knows so fucking much about them.  Since each of them seems to really only do one thing, I am going to say Ghat’s “thing” was beating the fuck out of bitches with his bare hands.  He never says what inspired this ascetic lifestyle either, nor what he did before that.  At some point he meets Metamoq, a growly-voiced, mask-wearing, sentient booger that teaches Ghat how to beat people with his fists.

And beat people he does.  This brings me to the best part of the game, its combat.  You can punch and kick people.  You can get super hard wind-up punches in.  You can dodge and strike ’em in the ribs.  You can even knee ’em in the face.  Much fun to be had.  You might expect a fighting game made with the source engine to be less maneuverable , or maybe generally difficult.  Not so, and the first-person fighting makes things challenging in a way that doesn’t make it less enjoyable.  Although this game holds a number of features reminiscent of older-generation fighting games like Double Dragon (ie slide-in versus screens and free-style fights and health bars), it fails to devolve into the button-mashing frenzy of those older games.  And you can’t just use the “powerful attack” all the time since stronger enemies will just dodge that slow-ass punch.  But timed well and as part of a combo, those attacks become devastating cards in a deck of whoop-ass.  I discussed this with my brother, The Game Pirate and he said it reminded him of a game we played on the Nintendo 64 called Hybrid Heaven, and equally WTF-inducing fighting game.  But where Hybrid Heaven focused on using the WWF’s finest spine-splintering attacks, Zeno Clash focuses more on its use of boxing-type moves.  When you get tired of fisting everyone in sight, you can pick up any of a number of imaginatively fucking-weird guns.  They are slow to reload and have shitty rate of fire, but this is a brawler at its heart, and even grenades are tough to use against enemies who do the logical fucking thing and run away.  They also tend to hide if you have a gun and favor moving through cover to get to your position, rather than making it nice and easy by running across the giant open field to get in fist-range.  Some of the boss fights All of the boss fights are weird, and most of this game will leave you scratching your head.  But don’t let that stop you because it damn well might.

So at some point you wander through a dark wasteland on the other side of a desert and find this guy named Golem waiting for you.  He calls you and Deadra by name and says he was left by a long-dead race of wise people.  Why everyone always thinks the “long-dead race of ancients who are wiser than us” thing makes sense I will never know. But if they were all that fucking wise, why are they ALL FUCKING DEAD?! Anyway, this guy has a human torso and a head, arms and feet made of blue playdough.  He follows you around and even helps you kill a blind assassin, who uses squirrels with parachutes and powder keg backpacks to kill you.  Then at some point he sits down and starts working on a fucking Rubick’s cube.

Big, strong AND he maintains his mental acuity

Big, strong AND he maintains his mental acuity

You bring him with you back to Halstedom and after finishing off FM, he reveals the secret FM has that Ghat is too much of a pussy to tell.  Y’know, that the father-mother guy everyone is defending steals babies from their beds and raises them as his own. Also, he’s a guy.  And he replaces the babies with baby pigs.  You even run into a woman that seems perfectly happy with a new baby pig, too.  Just bringing up baby Peter, or whatever.  Once FM lays dying, the big blue guy pulls out his Rubick’s cube and it starts to glow.  He says that he can help bring peace by bringing everyone in as part of a new connection that can never be broken.  Screen zooms out, you see this weird guy with a telescope standing next to a completed Rubick’s cube and everything ends.

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Shiny naked metallic dude, just looking at everyone else with a telescope like he has nothing to hide. Whatever, not the weirdest shit in the game so far.

Now, this guy looks remarkably like one of those metallic shadow zombies that infested the wasteland where you find Golem.  So part of me thinks his idea of peace is quite a bit more morose and sad than his words imply.  All that just makes me want to play the sequel even more.  Just bought it and set it to download.  No game has had me as excited to play as Zeno Clash has since Half-life 2, and perhaps Hard Reset, so hopefully the sequel upholds all these points while gracefully embellishing upon them and simultaneously polishing its rough-points.

So, given everything about this game and how much fun it is, what bothers me the most about it?  I have never said ‘what the fuck’ more times in more ways and for more reasons than I did while playing this game.  I mean, the blind assassin first shows up and fights you from atop the head of this floppy elephant/brontosaurus.

Is it just me, or does that thing have hairy testicle sacs hanging from various spots on its face?

Is it just me, or does that thing have hairy testicle sacs hanging from various spots on its face?

The whole father-mother thing.  Baby thievery being the basis for an entire city!  Using squirrels as purveyors of fiery death!  Giant horn-headed chick! Mostly-naked masked men dancing in the woods!  There is a point where a Corwid spins in circles and plays music while hopping on one leg!  Grenades are human skulls hollowed out and filled with explosives!  The only non-caveman humans in the game seem to be wearing rice paddy hats for no reason! Did I mention this game was made by a bunch of Chileans?  That rifle’s sight up there is a piece of wire! Regular-sized crabs spit vomitous goo!  The giant chicken-dragon also vomit green goo!  You can get a double-slingshot-crossbow as a ranged weapon!  The ammo for said crossbow uses rocks that have faces!  The faces have noserings where the trigger mechanism attaches!  Oh, that rifle is reloaded by inserting a long rod with an orange-hot end into a metal loop on the back of the chamber and shutting a little door with it!  This game deserves a what the fuck of the year award for the year 2009, when it was released.  Seriously.  I don’t think I will ever say what the fuck as many times in a row ever again.  Oh, right there’s a sequel.  The thing is, even this element of the game gives it a unique-ness that really cannot be matched.  You could say that anything this bizarre couldn’t be called ‘art’ or ‘artistic’, and it doesn’t really have a deep moral meaning outside of ‘beat up baby stealing assholes with your bear hands’.  But if you think bizarre cannot be artistic, just look at anything by Salvador Dahli.  How about all that crazy, though awesome, music out of the 1970’s?  (Pink Floydd, Led Zepplin, Jimmi Hendrix et al)  This game’s unique approach and winning gameplay are guaranteed to lock you in and wtf you until the games conclusion.  Which makes no more sense than nearly anything else about it. Surrealist art. Period.