Three brothers and their hermaphroditic bird-monster

Chilean game developer creates atypical action adventure

Your average video game stars one of two stereotypes — the grizzled brown-haired marine (terrestrial or celestial) who must use his wits and an impressive array of weaponry to save humanity from some imminent and seemingly unstoppable threat or the mute amnesiac teenager with a mysterious amulet sword or destiny who has pretty much the same task. Zeno Clash — the first game from small Chilean developer Ace Team — boldly eschews all stereotypes casting the player as Ghat a morally ambiguous hero with an awful haircut who must battle strange elephant-headed creatures snuffleupagus monsters with birdhouses tied to their necks and tribesmen who look like they worship ’80s hair metal. His goal is to uh confront a giant hermaphroditic bird monster named Father-Mother that keeps all of its babies in its overcoat. Conventional this ain’t.

Where most games endlessly crib the best bits of Aliens Michael Bay films and the U.S. constitution’s second amendment Zeno Clash’s art director and writer Edmundo Bordeu cites Frank Oz Terry Gilliam Hieronymous Bosch and John Blanche as his stylistic influences. The result may not be focus-group approved but Zeno Clash ‘s vibrant colour pallet surrealist architecture and punk-fantasy storyline certainly can’t be faulted for a lack of originality. Mechanically Zeno Clash appears much more traditional — it’s a first-person action game with an emphasis on melee combat — but even here it proudly trumpets its differences. Recent gameplay videos show off how a clever player can use the game’s exaggerated physics to his advantage in a fight waiting for a larger enemy to recklessly stun some of the smaller ones with an unfocused attack before moving in with a hammer improvised from the bones of some fantastic beast.

“We made a very conscious decision to distance ourselves from other first-person games both with the visual style and the new gameplay mechanics” says Bordeu. “The first-person genre is very well defined and many games add twists and new features but they rarely make these innovations the core mechanic of the game and that is exactly what can make a game unique. Take for example the Thief series. They took the new feature ‘hiding in the shadows’ but didn’t just add it to a standard shooter. They made a whole game where sneaking was the most important thing and the result was fantastic. When we started making Zeno Clash we had never seen another first-person game where fighting with your fists was important. And having your enemies close is so cool — why had so few people done that kind of game?”

Though Bordeu and his brothers Andres and Carlos (the other two founding members of Ace Team) originally wanted to move to the United States to make video games part of the reason they’ve had the freedom to create such a weird and wonderful project is because they were forced into the independent stream of development. After showing Valve Software ( Half Life 2 Left 4 Dead) an early demo of their bizarre world that operated on Valve’s “Source” engine the gaming giant agreed to distribute Zeno Clash using Steam their hugely successful online platform. The game will cost about $20 and will contain four to five hours of gameplay. If it’s successful the Bordeus and their team already have a number of ideas for their next (hopefully higher profile) project.

“A second Zeno Clash is definitely a project we want to make” says Bordeu. “Though the first Zeno Clash does bring closure to the conflict between Ghat his family and Father-Mother there is still a lot that could happen in the city of Halstedom — and we have many ideas for the future of the characters. And of course there are always gameplay ideas we just didn’t have time to add to the first game. Other than that we have an internal Wiki where we add game ideas and we haven’t been able to develop any of those ideas because we have been too busy with Zeno Clash . Carlos and Andres had an idea for a co-operative action game and I have thought of a suspense game where the main character is blind and everything the player sees onscreen is the blind person’s mental image of his surroundings. With unlimited funds and time I wish we could make them all.”