Zenith PS4 Review
Noticeably a passion project
Consistently sub 30fps performance
Clunky combat controls
Zenith is tough to summarize in any other way than “it isn’t good.” In fact, most of the time it’s really bad. From terrible performance to poor production value to bad UI to sub-par delivery of generic ARPG gameplay, there’s little left to like or even smirk at. Next to nothing about it is redeemable and that actually makes me a bit sad; it’s very clear developer Infinigon poured a great deal of effort into Zenith. Still, one can’t let go of the unrefined mess of an experience it is.
The humor of Zenith rubs me the wrong way. It’s incredibly self-aware, sarcastic, and over-the-top and just ends up sounding like a script written by first-year liberal arts student that’s just discovered cynicism. Whether hinting at Lord of the Rings lore or making commentary on video game cliches, characters just can’t properly deliver jokes. Most of the time, punchlines are supplanted by pop culture references that barely evoked an “okay” in me, let alone a chuckle. I’m not sure if it would’ve been better or worse if the game had actually featured recorded dialogue as every exchange reads like a pummelling barrage of witless sarcasm and crude self-referential asides.
Character control is counterintuitive, relegating movement and direction to the left thumbstick exclusively, meaning you’ll have to move to aim attacks. Combat becomes much harder than it needs to be and a torturous chore. Executing a dodge roll feels like wildly rolling dice, aiming a spell feels like swinging a twenty foot rod; nothing about the fighting feels precise, despite NPC’s tightly choreographed attacks. Weapons only appear while you perform an attack, defeating half of the usual aesthetic motivation that lies behind including a loot system. The inventory UI is ugly and awkward to navigate and even just equipping your character feels like a multistep process.
Adding insult to injury, a terribly unsteady sub-30 frame-rate made the exploration and combat experience excruciatingly nauseating most of the time. I found myself constantly turning away from the screen, lest the room start to spin. There wasn’t much to see either with animations amateur and textures basic if not poor.
Gameplay aside, Zenith’s tone is incredibly difficult to overcome. Its score defies the melodic standards set by most fantasy media, opting for quirky, Russian folk inspired grooves and melodies that sound directly out of Nickelodeon’s The Backyardigans over the typically modal and droning, Renaissance and Medieval inspired scores. Nothing, however, that I could sit pleasantly and enjoy The Backyardigans more easily than I could Zenith.
It’s a game that makes me sad I bothered – an experience that must be experienced to truly comprehend. There are many lessons the shortcomings and outright horrors of Zenith can teach developers. I truly hope they take them into mind moving forward as Infinigon at least seems to be a deeply impassioned indie studio.