Azure Review: Zeno Clash II

There's Cyber Punk,
There's Steam Punk,
There's Stone Punk,
And then there's Zeno Clash 2.

Let me talk a bit about the predecessor first, as playing it is pretty much required to fully appreciated the sequel. The game can be enjoyed by a newcomer, but there are many things one cannot appreciate without having played the first one first.

Back in 2009, ACE Team released Zeno Clash 1. The game has an art direction like no other: It features Stone Punk – Stone Age gone crazy – with a lot of anthropomorphic characters thrown into the mix. In fact, the animals outnumber the humans easily, so this game will give you quite the interesting sight, whether it be the environment or the characters.

Zeno Clash is a first-person melee game. It has an elaborate combat system that allows you to punch enemies with your fists, dodge, defend and do a handful of combos. It's quite the deep system and it really feels like real-life punching to some degree. This game would be quite interesting to play with the Oculus Rift (and using the Power Glove as fists, no less).
Don't worry though, there are more than enough ways to defeat an enemy the cheap way, which might take longer, but if you can't fight good at all, you can still beat the game.

Fitting for a Stone Punk game, only primitive weapons are used: Pistols, rifle, shotgun and grenade launcher made out of bones, wood and animal skin. These weapons only have a few shots though, so you have to use them wisely. But firearms and melee weapons are provided on an occasional basis to keep things varied.

A special mention deserves the music which is truly one of a kind. It's one of these soundtracks that not only are good in-game, but are also good to listen to separately. And there is not a single track in there that is weak. Give it a listen on YouTube if you haven't already.

And now to the new game, Zeno Clash 2.

The first game was linear and you played through one region at a time – now you can rediscover all of these areas and some more since the game is now an open-world game. The developers recreated every building and landscape from the first game, so fans will recognize quite a few areas in the now expanded game world.
Even though you can now go back and forth whenever you please, you still have to go to specific locations to advance the story. But you still can do some exploring in the game world, just don't expect soemthing as huge as Skyrim.
You can do a few sidequest as well as visit older areas and find new items with your new gadgets.
In other words, the game is a Lite version of both Skyrim and Metroid...actually, a Lite version of the Lite version in terms of that in terms of scope, but still nice.

The story takes a rather interesting turn in this game. Things that were unexplained or only hinted at are now finally explained in full detail – for better or worse. However, it also opens up quite a few interesting philosophical questions. As much as the society of Zenozoik, the Corwid, FatherMother and the Golem were all interesting subjects to think about, Zeno Clash 2 adds a new layer of questions to the mix. Some might think that the developers are pulling a Matrix here, but in retrospect I think it's quite fascinating how things turn out.
On the one hand, it partially demystifies the world that Zeno Clash 1 established. But on the other hand, it opens up the scope and the potential for the story quite a lot. If anything, any future piece of story will be quite interesting.

The gameplay remains as solid as always, with the melee combat, the weapons and the boss fights still in place. There is now a skill point system which allows you to increase your stats. However, these skill points are awarded by finding totems in the game world, not by fighting. This results in a “level up” system that is tied to the story progress rather than training, allowing the player to skip a few unwanted optional battles.
There also are a few gadgets that help out in combat. I don't want to spoil too much, but to keep it simple: There is one useful, at times too useful weapon, a tool that is very situational and cannot be used any time and a nice gadget whose function is actually shown in the trailer. It definitely spices things up, especially if you don't have any weapons at your disposal.
Last but not least, the game has a co-op function akin to Resident Evil 5: You can play your session and someone else joins you, or you join a session from someone else. The amount of healing items you can find are automatically doubled up in co-op mode, so there is enough for both players. You're gonna need these healing items, as you can't revive or heal your partner during combat - you need to work as a team in order to survive.

The music still is of high quality this time around, but has a different tone to it. In Zeno Clash 1, the music felt at times strange and calm, at times mysterious, at times hectic, but was still fitting to the stone punk theme most of the time.
In Zeno Clash 2, there are still some highlights like the opening theme, the main menu theme, Halstedom and the titan boss fight. There also are some remixes from the first game, which could be better, but I guess it's hard to top the uniqueness and strength of the first game.
Overall it's a solid score. It sometimes goes a bit too orchestralic for my taste, but it's not bad by any means. Still, a few more tracks in the spirit of the first game wouldn't have hurt.

Overall, the game is a nice experience and a must for fans of the first Zeno Clash, music or not. The price point of 20 bucks (30 for the special edition that includes the soundtrack and digital artbook) might seem a bit too high for just about 10 hours solo campaign and occasional co-op, but trust me, it's quite worth it.