Combat is largely unchanged from the unrefined brawling of the original. Ghat lumbers around the battlefield, throwing jabs and hooks from a first person-perspective, pausing occasionally to let his stamina regenerate. Each attack has a hefty windup and cooldown, so you'll often feel like you don't have quite as much control as you should, but the well-realized animations and sound effects give each successful blow a satisfying sense of impact. Ghat can block, dodge and counter, but even on hard mode the key to a successful defense is positioning rather than timing or savvy skill use. Ghat also has a selection of power moves, complete with a separate meter governing their use. Ostensibly, you can use these skills to create combos, but there's no real creativity to be had here. All the combos are pre-defined, meaning you'll likely be using the same seven or so attack patterns throughout the game. The camera has a nasty habit of zooming in on enemies when you focus on them, meaning shorter opponents often end up throwing punches from outside your field of view. Imagine trying to box a midget, only you can't look down and he keeps throwing haymakers at your genitals. Not fun.
Zeno Clash II throws far more enemies at you than its predecessor and relies on a handful of new mechanics to balance things out. Finding totems dotted around the maps let you upgrade the usual assortment of stats; Health, stamina, strength, but there's also a fourth stat, leadership, which lets you recruit stronger NPCs to fight alongside you. At most, you'll be going into battle with two NPCs at your side. They're not the smartest, but they do tend to draw enemies away from you, letting you focus on whittling down two or three at a time. The stats system feels largely unnecessary to the combat, as the stronger and more numerous enemies stifle any sense of character growth. Instead, it serves a convenient excuse and reward for exploring the game's environments.
The game also adds a handful of new abilities, four in total, but only two of them are worth the time it takes to equip them. The skull bombs are fiddly, and enemies tend to flee at the sight of them, while the chain is used for a simple crowd control attack that isn't worth the stamina it takes to perform. Far more interesting are the Sun/Moon gauntlet and Golem Link abilities. The former, once charged, sets off a string of explosions when you aim it at the sun or moon and press fire. Lining up enemies between you and the sun/moon while not getting hit can be awkward, particularly since the game has a fully-realized day/night cycle, but the damage it does to crowds is well worth it. The Golem Link is the ability you'll likely use the most. By aiming at one enemy and then another, you can link them together so that attacks on one affect the other. Does one enemy have a strong defense? Link him to a weaker enemy then punch away, you'll do damage to both. The same trick can be used to take down out of reach or flying enemies. Likewise, linking two enemies then punching one off a cliff will send the second tumbling after him. It's a clever mechanic which rewards experimentation, but, with the exception of one boss fight (which happens to be the only interesting one in the game) and a handful of environmental puzzles, it's criminally underused.
Ultimately, Zeno Clash II is a far more ambitious game than its predecessor, but with ambition comes the potential for failure. It isn't any worse than the first game, but nor is markedly better. If all you wanted was to see more of Zenozoik and its inhabitants, you won't be disappointed.
Bottom Line: Zeno Clash II is a beautiful, mature adventure that isn't quite as polished as it is unique.
Recommendation: Those looking for a polished example of the craft of game making should look elsewhere, but for anyone with a basic knowledge of art, or even just a taste for the pretty, the strange or the fantastic, should definitely pick up Zeno Clash II.
This review is based on the PC version of the game.
Game: Zeno Clash II
Developer: ACE Team
Platform(s): PC, XBLA, PSN