I've never taken hallucinogenic drugs, but I'd imagine the results of doing so would be largely similar to playing Zeno Clash. ACE Team's first-person brawler is delirious combination of bizarre character models, unpronounceable names and a narrative that was (probably) conjured up during an intense drug induced trip. And yet at the same time, the game world is incredibly cohesive, delivering an outlandish story that works as the perfect complement. Few games nail such a unique atmosphere, and Zeno Clash's is one of the most unique I've had the pleasure of experiencing.
If you recognise the name, it's probably because Zeno Clash was first released on Steam last year. Since then, the game has arrived on PC in a more tangible DVD form, and now on XBLA with the improved and tantalisingly named Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition. Although it's based on Valve's Source engine, and does feature the odd ranged weapon, the game is predominately melee based, and will have you up close and personal with the oddball inhabitants of the deranged world.
Explaining the narrative without sounding mentally unhinged is a challenge for the best of writers, but I'll certainly give it a stab. In the world of Zenozoik, a young man known as Ghat is run out of his hometown after killing his hermaphroditic parent. Father-Mother - as the creepy, bird-like creature is known - had many other children, who have taken it upon themselves to find and kill their murderous sibling. Quite why Ghat decided to kill his parent is shrouded in secrecy, but a surreal trip through the vivid wilderness of Zenozoik eventually reveals (nearly) all.
It plays out like a childhood nightmare, not the horrific Freddy Kruger type stuff, but the fantastical, nonsensical kind. It might not have you waking up screaming in the middle of the night, but it does leave you with an uneasy feeling for the rest of the day. Thankfully, Ghat knows how to look after himself, and with his female companion Daedra at his side, the dangers of the Zenozoik outback don't seem so daunting. Still, the violent wildlife, hunters, assassins and psychotic loons out for his blood still put up a good challenge, and ultimately you'll be relying on his fists to stop them.
The combat system takes a little while to become acquainted with, not due to any short comings in its execution, but because brawling in the first-person is such a seldom used mechanic. Normal punches are mapped to the right-trigger, whilst more powerful blows are on the left. Combine combos constructed from these with grabs, blocks, dodges, counters and a wide range of blunt weaponry, and you have a fairly in depth combat system on your hands. There are long range weapons too, but more often than not you'll be pummelling some dreadful creature's face in with nothing more than your blood stained hands.
Things start to get more difficult when taking on multiple enemies, who will take advantage of the fact you can't see behind you at every opportunity. Learning how to separate enemies and stay out of harm's way in the midst of a three-way brawl is a skill you'll quickly need to pick up. A quick tap of the Y button can be used to lock onto an enemy, but frustratingly, this is the same button used to pick up items and weapons. With a camera that snaps to the nearest enemy every time you try to pick up a dropped weapon or vital healing item, I found my patience was quickly tested. Bar this and a few issues I had with aiming ranged weapons, I was surprised at how robust the combat system was given the first-person perspective.