Zeno Clash II – PC
Publisher: ATLUS
Developer: ACE Team
Release Date: Apr 30, 2013
Genre: Action
Reviewed by Dean Engle

Review Score: 4 of 5

Zeno Clash may be one of the weirdest games I’ve ever played, and Zeno Clash II only furthers the insanity of the first game. Most developers releasing games these days are far too safe and comfortable doing what has proved to be successful over the years, while ACE Team has proven to be one of the few developers that wants to make something as unique as possible with both Zeno Clash and Rock of Ages. The developer’s third release, Zeno Clash II, continues the theme of the first game while being the full realization of what the first game was originally setting out to accomplish. Rare is it that a game’s mechanics match up so perfectly with it’s setting and story, but Zeno Clash II’s first person hand-to-hand combat is almost just as odd as the grotesque character designs, unnatural world, and inconceivable story.

There aren’t very many games that do first person melee combat well, but somehow Zeno Clash II takes the well executed melee combat of the first game and drastically improves it while also giving it some depth. The combat in the first game wasn’t bad, but I say it was well executed because it wasn’t nearly as frustrating as many other games with first person melee combat. However, there was very little depth to the combat, and every enemy in the game could be easily beaten with only a few simple strategies. There were guns in the first game, as there are in Zeno Clash II, and although they are fairly balanced due to the long reload times that let enemies get attacks in before you can hit them with a second barrage of bullets, it was still fairly easy to take advantage of positioning in the combat arenas to quickly defeat your opponents.

Zeno Clash II manages to take all the interesting parts of the combat from the first game while making it much harder to find cheap ways to take advantage of the mechanics. While it is still possible to repeatedly kick enemies to death while they are lying on the ground for a few seconds, executing combos and attacks in order to knock those opponents on the ground is the part that is much harder. The movement is slower, and the combos are much harder to execute than in the first game. That’s not to say it’s more frustrating, but it does mean learning combos, block, countering, and carefully planning attacks are a must if you want to defeat some of the tougher enemies.

Along with improved mechanics, Zeno Clash II also adds an upgrade system. As you fight enemies you gain experience that you can then put into various stats like health, stamina, strength, and leadership. There were many fights in the first game where a character named Deadra accompanied you to help in fights by taking pot shots at the enemies, and the leadership ability allows for recruitment of similar allies in Zeno Clash II. The higher the stat, the stronger the enemies you can recruit. The upgrade system gives the game a progression that the first game didn’t have. The difference between the feel of the first fight and the last fight was nonexistent in the first game, while the combat in Zeno Clash II evolves throughout the game as enemies get harder and the players stats increase.

The last significant distinction between the two Zeno Clash games is the new world in which it takes place. The setting is still the same this time around seeing as the story picks up soon after the first game finishes, but while the first game was broken up into separate, isolated chapters, Zeno Clash II is now an open world with some variety and options as to where to go next. That’s not to say the game is one complete open world, but it does fall somewhere between an open world and the strict point A to point B structure of the first game. In some ways, this detracts from the focused nature of original, and the world somehow seems less realized because of this. It might seem counter intuitive to have a less realized world with a more open game, but the insanity of the narrative makes me wish I was being guided through this crazy world just as in the first game.

Despite the openness of the game detracting from the ridiculous reality in which it takes place, the story of Zeno Clash II doesn’t disappoint. As I said before, Zeno Clash II takes place soon after the ending of the first game. I won’t go too in depth about what happened in the first game, or about what happens in Zeno Clash II, because I feel it’s something everyone should experience for themselves, but I will say Zeno Clash II does a really great job of diving deep into the many questions the first game makes you ask. The origins and motivations of many of the characters are explored, but the mystery and insanity of most of the world stays largely intact. Zeno Clash II strikes a nice balance of delivering satisfying answers, while not revealing so many of its secrets that it becomes dull. While many game stories are generic rehashes of old, basic plots, Zeno Clash II is a universe with a story so unique it’s almost hard to grasp what’s actually going on.

Zeno Clash II looks much nicer and controls much better than the original game, and it improves on almost everything that made the first game unique while still keeping it’s odd, unbelievable reality largely intact. It’s about double the length of the first game coming in right under 10 hours, and it’s a great deal for only $20. The openness of the world does strangely detract from some of what made the first game great, and the second game definitely doesn’t have the shock value that the first game did, but Zeno Clash II is still a great follow up one of the most unique games I’ve ever played.