There is nothing worse for a reviewer than a distinctly average game. With an experience that is either particularly bad or good you at least have the extreme qualities which both ends of the spectrum allow you to critique.
In the case of Zheros, the player is presented with a fairly bog-standard sci-fi beat-em-up with very little else to show. However for Italian developer Rimlight Studios’ first foray into video game development, and with a team of only eight core employees, they’ve done a remarkable job reaching this level in the first place. Unfortunately, they have done so taking very little risk to make it stand out in any way – arguably its biggest flaw.
Visually the game is quite derivative, borrowing from countless sci-fi tropes and featuring unimaginative enemy design. Its polished visuals aren’t made any better by the overreliance on indoor environments for a large majority of each of the two worlds on offer. The game’s visuals shine the most when the player is allowed to see daylight, with competent lighting and bloom showing off the graphical quality of the engine.
The story is virtually nonexistent, with a generic villain called Dr. Vendetta seemingly deciding on a whim to throw wave after wave of enemies in your hero’s way. Without the blurb of description provided by the developer outside of the game, it makes very little sense. Some would argue story doesn’t have to be at the forefront of a beat-em-up, which is true, but with little else to stand on in the core gameplay mechanics, it is a shame they couldn’t have put in more of an effort making the characters more distinctive and engaging.
The player can choose to take control of either Mike, a ‘Mr. Incredible’ style brawler with light and heavy attacks and hard-hitting ground pounds or Dorian, a more agile and swift fighter with longer and more flourishing combos. Both fighting styles offer very little distinction owing to the fact that both block, have access to a single identical weapon and a similar style of combos. This lack of varied customization or depth of combat carries until around halfway through the first world but soon becomes repetitive and dull.
Enemies put up little resistance and the developer’s idea to counteract that seems to be to throw in as many as possible, especially towards the end of the game, to compensate for difficulty. This is a common problem for games like this, and while it may serve the majority of players well, it isn’t a hallmark of good and balanced game design. To make matters worse, platforming is also introduced as a way of varying levels but with a lacklustre jump and bad spacing of checkpoints, I often found myself having to traipse back through whole levels several times, which wore down my patience very quickly.
That said, Zheros is not without its moments; primarily the boss fights which serve as a much more organic challenge compared to the mindless button mashing that led up to it. After the first few, however, their attack patterns all tend to blend into one another with charges and swipes being the only moves that most bosses have.
Following the excruciating build up of nearly twenty, semi-identical stages, Dr. Vendetta does not live up to his goofy and menacing charm established in the opening scene. The fight lasts around five minutes (an average stage only lasting 10) after which, the player is treated to a two second cut scene of his escape and finito, end credits.
Overall Zheros does what it says on the tin. It delivers a passable brawler, which works best when played with a friend and not forced to pay too much attention to its more noticeable flaws. If you are looking for an in-depth beat-em-up with lots of replay value, this is not your game but if you fancy a quick, light distraction over a weekend with some friends, that won’t break the bank, this title may just scratch that itch.