DONE BY: Ace Team
IT'S FOR: Windows
In a postmortem delivered at GDC 2008, Portal writer Erik Wolpaw discussed the idea that narrative-driven games typically tell two interconnected but conflicting stories. There's the "story-story" presented by the developer (cut-scenes, dialogue, in-game texts etc.) and then there's the story generated by the player as they interact with the gameworld – the "gameplay-story". According to Wolpaw, one of the reasons Portal worked so well was that it lowered the delta between the two narrative streams, combining the "story-story" and "gameplay-story" into a single, satisfying whole. Compare that to something like oh, say, King's Quest V, which does precisely the opposite, and is completely terrible because of it.
Well, okay, partly because of it. There are other reasons, of course. Many of them. But let's not get into that. Let's talk about Zeno Clash instead. See, the reason I bring up Wolpaw's theory is because I think Zeno Clash suffers from something similar to the divide he describes. In this case, however, the divide isn't between gameplay and narrative, but between gameplay and aesthetics. Basically, I think Zeno Clash's style sabotages its substance: the colourful fantasy undermines the brutality a first-person brawler banks on.
Take Riddick as a point of comparison. Riddick (an amazingly good game, by the way) features much the same kind of combat as Zeno Clash – first-person slugfests with an emphasis on timing and combos. The difference is that Riddick takes place in a grimy space jail, while Zeno Clash takes place in a colourful tribal wonderland. With the former, when you smash a criminal's face in with a rusty wrench, you feel that shit. But with the latter, the wince factor just isn't there. You can beat a woman to death with a stick but it still feels like you're punching a teddy-bear or one of those inflatable bop-bags. There's no real violence involved.
That doesn't make it a bad game, but it does decrease its appeal somewhat – particularly in concert with other flaws. For example: though you often face multiple enemies at once, you have no moves capable of hitting more than one target. As a consequence, the best strategy is often to focus on one guy at a time and hope his buddies are honourable enough to resist shooting you in the back. Which of course they aren't. Speaking of shooting: the gun bits are kind of boring too. Not in a toxic fun-killing kind of way, but more in a "maybe you should've just left it out" kind of way. They're extraneous, basically.
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