On the whole, combat is perfectly satisfying, but where the game really shines is in the world that ACE Team has brought to life. The unearthly environments are organic and primitive, designed with a 'punk fantasy' theme in mind. It reminded me of Oddworld, in a sense, but others may argue differently. The characters that inhabit this world are the real stars of the game, however, ranging in their deviation from the human form. Feathers, horns, trunks and tusks all blend to create bipedal hybrids that are genuinely unnerving. I like to think they're the kind of characters Guillermo del Toro would have designed if he ever ventured into game design.
It's not just the creatures' outward appearances that prompt raised eyebrows - but their deranged perspectives on life too. In the wilderness, Ghat comes across psychotic savages known as Corwids of the Free, who are driven by strange instincts and rituals. Ghat explains that these beings are 'not slaves of reality' and thus their lunacy is justified. One, for example, is obsessed with walking as far as possible in a straight line, while another removes the eyes from all he encounters so that he is 'invisible' to them. Another still, known as Erminia, urinated on her own body before intentionally starving herself to death.
At times, the brash madness of it all can be quite scary, not in the haunting way that say Alan Wake is, but in a disturbing, uncomfortable Silent Hill kind of way. It's the way the characters stare at you with their wild eyes, or the harsh tones of their voices. Father-Mother, the evil hermaphrodite at the heart of the story is particularly unnerving; a character whose harrowing image I've been struggling to keep out of my thoughts. But, the fact a game can get under your skin so effectively deserves nothing but praise. I honestly revelled in the abnormality of it all. A review of the original PC version (quoted on the box-art, no less) mentioned how the game stays with you long after you've played it, and I wholeheartedly agree.
Being the 'Ultimate Edition', the revamped Zeno Clash comes with a bevy of fixes and improvements. The graphics have been spruced up, some of the more monotonous voice acting has been re-worked, and some new weapons have even found their way into the game. You also get Tower challenges, which allow two players to team up co-operatively for a series of increasingly difficult, floor-based stages. This can be done both split-screen, and over LIVE, but either way it felt too detached from the concept of the main game for me to really enjoy.
Zeno Clash is incredibly hard to explain; it's so off-the-wall that it demands to be experienced first-hand. For a very reasonable 1200 points, it will whisk you away to a land that pushes the boundaries of bizarre. If you decide to drop the cash on it, don't be put off by the intense obscurity of it all; embrace it – as this is exactly what defines the game, and what you'll remember about it years down the line.