Clash: Artifacts of Chaos is a beautifully ugly adventure
Zeno Clash is one of those games that people seem to have either utterly loved or never heard of. It was originally published by Microsoft in 2009, and developed by ACE Team, a small Chilean studio also famous for a few other games with similar, shall we say “unorthodox” art styles. Titles like Rock of Ages and The Eternal Cylinder, for example. ACE Team isn’t a studio that shies away from using imagination to produce the unexpected – which is why, despite outward appearances, Clash: Artifacts of Chaos is looking so interesting.
Having recently spent some time with a preview build of the new action fighting game, I can honestly say that Clash isn’t what I thought it was going to be. As I had never played Zeno Clash, and so when I heard acquaintances talking in hushed tones about a new game in the same universe, I wondered what the fuss was about. I have mixed feelings, and while I am still trying to understand the excitement, I can see why others are drawn to it.
This is a world where the ugly is commonplace and there’s bizarre beauty in the unique, no matter how weird it may look. During a recent gameplay presentation, Carlos Bordeau – one of the three founders of ACE (that’s Andres, Carlos, and Edmundo, by the way) – explained that ugliness is a very deliberate choice.
“Our protagonist is definitely not the usual protagonist you see in video games…” Bordeau said. “That’s what we’re going for. The punk-fantasy style of the game really stands out.”
He’s right, too. It really is one of the most visually unique games I’ve seen. The art style is intentionally trying to emulate pencil artwork, with lines and fades that bring the world to life in the strangest of ways. It’s an incredibly bright game and one that’s not easy to identify with anything else out there. “We worked hard on making the game feel visually very different,” Carlos added.
The visuals in this world are wild and imaginative, but the story is rooted in familiar themes, resulting in a perfect balance between the familiar and the fantastical. You play as Pseudo, a formidable warrior who possesses two forms. Pseudo is unexpectedly entrusted with the care of the Boy, a quirky little being with black fur, who is pursued by Gemini, the massive two-headed ruler of Zenozoik.
It apes the ancient tale of the Journey to the West, told and retold countless times over the centuries as one strong, highly capable fighter risks everything to protect a vulnerable but indescribably vital ward against insurmountable odds. Pseudo is a martial artist with a growing repertoire of attacks and multiple stances, and the combat is incredibly tactile. Blows feel weighty and satisfying, while the responsive movement and animations make each fight a small joy.
As you journey through the world and gather materials for crafting equipment and making potions, you will encounter numerous foes, both human and non-human. In order to overcome certain obstacles, Pseudo must transform into a wooden form at night, enabling him to safely navigate through thorny barriers. The extent of Pseudo’s transformations and how they will play a role in the game later on is yet to be revealed, but in the demo, they serve as a means of solving light environmental puzzles and enhancing exploration.
While normal combat is fairly arcade-like, important fights are more measured. There’s a process before each known as the Ritual, where you essentially play the dice for the chance to select a tactical advantage in the coming fight. You may wish to partially blind your opponent with smoke, or have an ally help you out in the battle. It’s a cool system that makes every fight dynamic and surprising.
As you fight you’ll build up a metre that allows you to go into first-person mode. You’ll have increased damage and speed, and more control over where your blows land, but it doesn’t last very long.
It’s as much about exploration as combat though, and the semi-open world is divided into specific areas you can navigate. There are secrets to be found, items to be harvested, and enemies to defeat. It’s a world of dazzling colour and deliberate vulgarity, and the story of Pseudo and the Boy versus the evil Gemini and her minions promises to shed light on this bizarre, unique universe along the way. Whether you’re a fan of the Zeno Clash games or not, there’s a lot to be excited about with Clash: Artifacts of Chaos.
Clash: Artifacts of Chaos is coming to PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X on 9th March, 2023.
Most Anticipated Feature: The Ritual is an excellent mechanic that will add a ton of variety to even repeat encounters.