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Video Game / Zeno Clash

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Zeno Clash is a 2009 First-Person Shooter/Beat 'em Up hybrid game made by ACE Team using the Source Engine. It was published by ACE Team themselves on Steam, by Tripwire Interactive for retail, and by Atlus on Xbox Live Arcade. The main emphasis is on melee combat. You can throw complex combos, and the game is essentially a string of battles. The few projectile weapons are slow to reload and somewhat inaccurate and the melee weapons are slow, meaning that most of the emphasis is on fistfights.

The plot concerns a young man named Ghat who lives in the world of Zenozoik. He is forced to flee his hometown of Halstedom after killing "Father-Mother" a hermaphroditic creature with many children (including Ghat, in fact). He and his Love Interest Deadra flee, fighting their way through the "Corwid of the Free," a group of insane, feral forest dwellers. Ghat recounts the story of how he spent time with them and begins to explain why he killed Mother-Father as they try to put as much distance as possible between them and his enraged siblings.

Eventually they find themselves in a land full of humanoid Living Shadow creatures and meet a mysterious being named Golem, who asks them to return to Halstedom with him after they free him from his prison. On the way back Ghat explains that Father-Mother had a mysterious secret, and recounts how he ended up killing him.

More than a little surreal, Zeno Clash is what you might get after following up a class on surrealist art with a double feature of The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, followed by an eight hour Double Dragon (1994) marathon... while on mescaline. Or as some call it, "Fever Dream: The Game." Oh, and the voice acting's terrible.

A sequel, Zeno Clash 2, was released in 2013 on Steam, XBLA and PSN. Zeno Clash II continues the story of the first game, and introduce a Wide-Open Sandbox, RPG Elements and Co-Op Multiplayer to the mix.

Zeno Clash contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Absurdly-Spacious Sewer: Ghat goes through one when he returns to Halstedom in a flashback. It's so dark, the only thing you can see are small areas where lamps are positioned, sandwiched between expanses of darkness.
  • After the End: From the looks of things, there used to be a comparatively advanced civilization around once.
  • Anime Hair: Many of the human and mostly-human characters, particularly Deadra and Rimat; the former has an enormous afro with ornamental horns sticking out of it, and the latter lengthy, unkempt hair topped by a wide-brimmed hat. Ghat's segmented crew cut also counts.
  • Avenging the Villain: Ghat's siblings are after him for killing Father-Mother, their parent.
  • Badass Long Robe: Hunter wears one during your first encounter.
  • Beast Man: No distinct races are named and many creatures' looks can only be described as "weird", but it's plain that some of them are based off of animals. Examples include rodent-people, elephant-people, (several kinds of) bird-people, pig-people and more. Word of God claims they are based on prehistoric mammals and birds.
  • Big Bad: Father-Mother, although half the story is concerned with the fallout of Ghat killing him/her to begin with, while the other half is a flashback.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Golem at the end of the second boss fight with Hunter, as well as during the final fight with Father-Mother. Both times he utilizes Synchronization, hurting himself or getting hurt to hurt his foe, as well as Ghat and Deirdra.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: All Zenos, no matter how human they may look, are far different from what we would consider "normal". For starters, their skin is like leather and their bones are as hard as steel, allowing them to take the kind of abuse that in our world would kill a person several times over. Next, their reproduction is downright weird, since they can intermarry and reproduce with any other kind of Zeno, even if one parent is a pig-man and the other is a lump of muscle and flesh with teeth.
  • Blind Weaponmaster: Hunter is blind, but is a crack shot as long as he can hear his target. The second time you fight him he proves that he's fully capable of beating seven shades of hell out of you as well.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Characters can and will hit each other with some extremely forceful attacks. And yet, there's rarely a drop of blood.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The Corwid each have their own individual set of morals; some feel that they must eat others, while others feel that alternately training and attempting to a kill a random visitor to their forest makes perfect sense.
  • Bounty Hunter: Recurring boss Hunter, a blind bounty hunter hired by Ghat's family to bring him back.
  • Calling Your Attacks: Every enemy with a gun has to loudly announce when they're about to shoot you. Of course, suddenly getting shot in the back of the head in a first-person beat-em up with no prior warning isn't very fun, and there's a chance they're doing it to warn their allies that are currently trying to fist-fight the player.
  • Cast of Snowflakes: Every enemy has a unique model, voice, and moveset, except for the Shadows found near the edge of the world.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Absolutely mandatory if you want to live. Fighting honorably with your fists is all very well, but you literally cannot beat certain opponents unless you make use of guns and/or blunt instruments, and not using grenades and the terrain to your advantage is sheer folly.
  • Crapsack World: Downplayed. It seems pretty horrifying to us, but its inhabitants are clearly used to it and go about their lives. According to Word of God on the official forums, Zenozoik is a very primitive place where neither writing nor government has been invented yet, amongst other things.
  • Dark Secret: The Father-Mother's secret is that he is biologically male, and all the members of his "family" were infants he kidnapped to raise as his own.
  • Dead Person Conversation: Metamoq—the Corwid whose obsession was fighting and who taught Ghat to fight—shows up during the intro after Ghat hits his head, offers some muted praise for Ghat's fighting ability, gives a brief tutorial and reminds Ghat that Metamoq is the dead one, not Ghat.
  • Difficult, but Awesome: Holding back and the heavy attack button lets you unless a powerful haymaker that breaks guards and sends enemies flying, but it has a very long wind-up time and requires getting familiar with its reach so that you don't whiff 6 inches from your opponent's face.
  • Everybody Lives: The only characters confirmed dead either died before the game even began, or was a minor character who appeared in only one level. Even Father-Mother, who's death kicks off the events of the game, turns out to be Not Quite Dead.
  • Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting: Surprisingly few people you meet are NOT reasonably skilled armed or unarmed combatants.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Hunter, although this may be his real name... it's hard to tell given the setting.
  • Eye Scream: Ghat killed the Father-Mother with a skull grenade, blowing one of the Father-Mother's eye. In the end, when we discovers that the Father-Mother isn't dead, he wears an eyepatch.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Averted; part of the game's charm is how atypical it is as a setting. Despite how primitive it is, they still have their own versions of guns, locking mechanisms and even bars. Also one Rubik's cube, but it could come from a prior civilization.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: There are grenades and a few firearms, but they are very ineffective so that most of the time you fight with punches and kicks.
  • Finishing Move:
    • The game lets you deliver a powerful uppercut to foes that are stunned. This often is enough to finish them.
    • The game lets you deliver the final blow to Father-Mother after the final boss, letting you charge up a hammer as much as you want to end it.
  • Flunky Boss:
    • During the final battle, Ghat has to deal with several of his brothers as well as the final boss. The final level of the Challenge Tower ramps it up a notch: you have to fight the entire Family at the same time, Father-Mother included.
    • Employed to an extent when you fight Hunter. His only means of attack is to send squirrels strapped to powder kegs to run around you, then blow them up, as he is blind and uses the squirrels' squeaks to find you. You have to devide your time between shooting him and kicking the squirrels away to defeat him.
  • Funny Schizophrenia: The Corwid seem quite amusing...until it's noted some are cannibals. One of them chooses to keep walking in one direction until he gets stuck and dies in the desert.
  • Gameplay and Story Integration: Prior to the battle with Chneero, Ghat mentions that as long as Chneero keeps playing his music the Corwid won't stay down. However, Ghat himself lived among the Corwid for some time, and mentions that the music affects him too - and during the course of the battle, if Chneero is still standing, Ghat really is also healed by his music.
  • Genre-Busting: It's a first person melee brawler shooter. Except for that bit with the shadow people. Also there's the rail shooter section and ummm... well at least we know it's fantasy. Unless it's sci-fi...
  • Go Among Mad People: Father-Mother says this about Ghat when he spends time with the Corwid.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: Your primary method of combat. Your enemies tend to use spinning kicks and other elaborate moves, but this avails them little against Ghat's fighting style. This style, taught to him by Metamoq, is to punch people in the head until they are stunned and then bash their faces in with his knee. Very simple, very brutal.
  • Grapple Move: You can grapple an enemy after punching them enough to make them dizzy. Grabbed enemies can be thrown to the ground, or shoved into other enemies. The second game adds the ability to pummel them as part of a combo.
  • Grievous Harm with a Body: Ghat can take stunned enemies and throw them at other enemies. There's a Steam achievement for doing this a lot.
  • A Handful for an Eye: employed by the Hunter on you in your last battle.
  • Handicapped Badass: Hunter is blind. Not that it stops him from being a top-notch sniper using his hearing and explosive squirrels. When you fight him in hand-to-hand combat, he's unbeatable.
  • Heads I Win, Tails You Lose: Almost all the bosses need to be beaten down before they grab you in a cutscene and finish the fight. Despite that, something always gets them right before they kill you.
  • Heroes Fight Barehanded: Most of the combat's done with fists, apart from the occasional shooting level.
  • Hopeless Boss Fight:
    • Metamoq's advanced combat training: when you bring him down to sliver of health, he makes a few unblockable attacks and pins you down. He then commits suicide.
    • The second boss fight against Hunter, once he stops holding back. Luckily Golem intervenes. The first clue on this is the absence of a certain item that would make it easier to survive. The second clue is the Steam achievement related to the fight.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Gabel, one of the Corwids, whose Corwid obsession involves eating people. He looks vaguely pig-like, and wears a strange skull on his head; there may or may not be some deeper meaning here.
  • Improvised Weapon: Besides the homemade guns, Ghat gets a lot of mileage out of hammers and bone rods that he finds lying about.
  • In Medias Res: The game begins during Ghat's escape from Halstedom after killing Father-Mother.
  • Insane Equals Violent: In a Double Subversion, Ghat notes that the Corwid are no threat because they simply do what they want... then they decide they want to attack him.
  • Insane Troll Logic: One of the Corwids, Helim, wants to be invisible, so he takes out the eyes of any creature that looks at him. Oddly, he may be more rational than average for a Corwid...
  • Insurmountable Waist-High Fence: These mark the borders of many levels. Unlike most Source engine-based games, you don't have the ability to jump in Zeno Clash, even an Insurmountable Knee-High Rock is certain to stop you.
  • Invulnerable Knuckles: Ghat does a LOT of punching in this game, and never shows the slightest discomfort, not even when a skull-grenade blows up in his hand.
  • Kick Them While They Are Down: Go right ahead. It doesn't do as much damage as a punch and doesn't prevent anyone from getting back up to fight if they still have more than a silver of health, but it's a good way to hurt people who can't fight back. And it can be used to defeat enemies, too.
  • Kung-Shui: Not much of the environment is destructible, but the parts that are can be messed up by throwing people at them.
  • Large and in Charge: Father-Mother towers at nearly 12 feet tall, making him-her much larger than any other sapient lifeform seen in the game's world. He-she (they?) is also the primary authority figure and parent(s) of a family so large it's implied to effectively be its own city-state.
  • Living Shadow: The creatures guarding Golem. They make metallic noises, look like they're made from black metal strips braided together in a root-like lattice, and move more like robots than ghosts. They leave no corpse behind when killed.
  • Made of Iron: Apparently just about everyone. The amount of punishment that Ghat takes and deals is very much out of proportion to the game's actual death toll. the Hunter takes the first prize for being shot until he fell off a tall edifice twice and still having enough stamina to kick Ghat's ass.
  • The Mad Hatter: The Corwid of the Free, a group of people living in the forest outside Halstedom who each have a single obsession which they pursue voluntarily as a sort of expression of freedom. They're far from harmless, however—they tend to attack outsiders, and some of them are obsessed with hurting people in some way or other.
  • Magnet Hands: Averted; all your weapons can be dropped quite easily.
  • Meaningful Name: Many, but most notably Ghat, Golem, and the setting of Zenozoik.
  • Mle Trois: In one of the last levels you'll be attacked by both the Family and the Corwid at the same time. The two groups hate each other and will fight each other as well as you.
  • Mind Screw: The world of Zenozoik is weird, and has no obvious roots outside of, perhaps, surrealist art, or Dr. Seuss landscapes through a mirror darkly.
  • Mirror Match: The boss fight of the lowest level of the Challenge Pit is Ghat, except all shadow-like.
  • Mook Chivalry: Totally averted. In fact, only the lack of obvious team tactics makes it apparent that your enemies aren't ganging up on you. Your ability to stun and throw people will be critical to avoid being overwhelmed.
  • Mooks: Completely averted, apart from the shadow people, every character you fight has a unique name, distinctive fighting style, and returns at least once.
  • Multi Boobage: On the female rodent-people. Jiggle Physics included.
  • Mysterious Backer: They don't get much more mysterious than Golem, but he seems to know exactly what's going on and what needs to be done.
  • Mysterious Cube of Rubik: The Golem has a Rubik's cube that he fiddles with throughout the game. He finally completes it at the end, and it's revealed that there is a shadow double of the Golem that did the same.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: The preferred method of fighting for... pretty much everyone.
  • Non-Lethal K.O.: Liberally applied to your foes. Despite the brutal and bone-crushing nature of the fights, you don't seem to deal any permanent damage, as they can be back up in minutes or hours (plot-wise) to fight you again. And again. Even if you throw them off bridges or defeat them with explosives!
  • Pardon My Klingon: "Eat kak, you tef."
  • Punched Across the Room: Hitting a stunned enemy does this. It can happen to you too, so watch out.
  • Punk Punk: Stone Punk? Dalí Punk? Daft Punk? Well, it's some kind of punk... Arguably, it's a piece of New Weird, with hefty doses of surrealism.
  • Rail Shooter: A short section has you standing on a boat picking off hostile rock-throwing tribals with a rifle, while Golem and Deadra have a plot-expanding chat. Can also be That One Level before it was patched, as it was insanely easy to accidentally heave your rifle into the water and spend the entire mission trying to dodge tribals.
  • Schizo Tech: Crossbows that fire skulls are the closest thing you find to real world technology. Other highlights include semi-automatic pistols made from seashells, gunpowder rifles made from spines and metal pipes, automated doors which need passwords, bombs made of skulls and... Rubik's cubes. All but the cube have a decidedly stone-age aesthetic, being made mostly from wood and bones. Yes, even the rifles.
  • Spiritual Successor: Likely unintentional, but the game plays very similarly to the Xbox game Breakdown. Both are First-Person Shooter/Beat 'em ups with a half-and-half focus between punching and shooting. Aside from that, they are very different, though.
  • The Stoic: Golem, the mysterious being found at the End of the World. He tags along, offering his advice and commentary, but never shows any emotion.
  • The Unreveal: Subverted, Ghat decides not to reveal Father-Mother's secret, then Golem steps in to Shoot the Dog and spill the beans.
  • Unusable Enemy Equipment: Averted. Any weapon can be knocked out of an opponent's hand (or yours). Any weapon that's lying around can be picked up by anyone, including your enemies).
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: Here's how a typical fight goes: a guy comes at you, you block a punch or two, and then you smack him around until he's too dazed to fight back. Then you grab him and hold him in place while you introduce his nose to your kneecap several times. Then you throw him to the ground, and kick him while he's down until he can't get up anymore.
  • Voice of the Legion: Similar to Guillo, Father-Mother speaks with two opposite gender voices speaking simultaneously. Poorly. It adds to his-her strange nature, at any rate.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Ghat, Golem and most enemies you encounter. Even the women, though they at least wear a strap over their breasts.
  • Wretched Hive: Halstedom is both the largest city on the planet and the most dangerous, a horizon spanning sprawl of violence addiction and general misery. It's citizens either fall under the control of the isolationist Family (Who don't really help anyone who wasn't birthed from Father Mother) and the brutal Northern Gate Gang (Who actively exploit and harm those in their territory). Deadra was willing to risk the harsh wilderness because there was a minuscule chance of escaping Halstedom by doing so.