It’s rare that “you’ll have absolutely no freaking idea what’s going” is a compliment, but such is the case with Zeno Clash 2. The charm of the game’s world is in its absurdity–it’s an enigmatic land that feels like a mix of a Star Wars cantina and a drug-fueled trip into the mind of Dr. Seuss, and it’s presented in such a way that you’ll love being helplessly confused by the lore. Problem is, you’ll also find yourself hopelessly confused by the questing, the gameplay, the glitches, and many other elements that, odds are, you won’t be so charmed by.
Following soon after the events of the original, Zeno Clash 2 throws you back into the world of Zenozoik as Ghat, who continues on his quest to punch a bunch of weird creatures in the face–or, at least, that’s what it feels like. This time he’s trying to rescue FatherMother, the creepy antagonist of the original game. It’s nonsensical in an alluring way, with poorly acted and strangely written dialogue that–for some reason–ends up being incredibly entertaining. You’ll never know if the characters are waxing philosophical about the state of society when they discuss how they don’t understand the purpose of a jail, or if they’re just being quaint and weird. But odds are you’ll be grinning too much to care.
You’ll also be punching too much to care. The first-person combat makes the battles feel unique and fresh. There are numerous combos and skills to learn, but even after you’ve mastered them you’ll likely feel like the gameplay is too simplistic. You’re going to spend a lot of time strafing around weird creatures and bashing them in the head, and then blocking, and then bashing them in the head some more. Scattered weapons help spice things up a bit, and even when it’s at its most repetitive the combat is still entertaining.
Things run into problems between the fist-fights and the strange story segments–and, sadly, this is where a majority of the game takes place. Zeno Clash 2’s world is a series of connected zones, each of which features its own bizarre landscape and set of characters. Exploring them is entrancing, and there’s some great attention to detail in the lush fields of dandelions or strange forests full of curious creatures. Running into the weird, pseudo-philosophical Corwids of the forest is confusing and amazing, and you’ll truly feel like you’re a part of the world as you beat them senseless. You’ll have plenty of time to explore these locations, too, as you’ll spend plenty of time being incredibly lost in them.
There’s no discernable differentiation between a mandatory and optional quest, and it’s far too easy to simply lose track of where you’re supposed to go. Even when you know what you’re doing it takes too long to do it, as sometimes the quest objective markers will simply vanish, leaving you to try to stumble into the right place. The inclusion of a basic quest screen to let you switch between objectives (and be reminded as to what you’re supposed to be doing) would have done wonders to make the game more playable, and while a rudimentary version exists on the deplorable in-game map, it doesn’t do the trick.
Though the visuals are strong, we were surprised at how many glitches we encountered throughout the 10-hour campaign. We’d watch characters fall through the world and quest markers simply vanish, forcing us to reset at checkpoints or restart the game in hopes of fixing things. In one instance we hit a section where the game would repeatedly crash every time we entered an area we needed to go to–and it wasn’t until we joined a co-op game that was past the section that we were able to progress.
Every instance of co-op we played was incredibly laggy, too, making the combat nearly unmanageable. With a game as strange as Zeno Clash you might accept some quirks here and there–if anything, occasional glitches might have added to the absurd atmosphere–but regular crashes and vanishing objectives are unforgivable, especially when they compound the game’s already problematic bits.
Though the bizarre story and satisfying combat will keep you entertained, you’ll spend a majority of Zeno Clash 2 wishing you were figuratively lost in the world while you’re literally lost in it. It’s a charming game, but you’ll spend less time fighting the grotesque foes that make up Zenozoik, and more time wrestling with poor game design–if only punching that in the face would solve its problems, too.
This game was reviewed on PC.