I wanted to like this game. I really did. Generation Zero had little buzz surrounding it in the months leading up to its release, much to my surprise when I learned of the game’s existence. A co-op open-world shooter set in 1980’s Sweden with a kickin’ synth soundtrack? That checks so many boxes for me! Why was nobody talking about this game? After spending some time with Generation Zero, the reasons became incredibly apparent.
Game Name: Generation Zero Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC Publisher(s): Avalanche Studios Developer(s): Avalanche Studios Release Date: March 26, 2019 Price: $39.99 ($34.99 on PC)
Generation Zero is an open world shooter developed by Avalanche Studios, the team behind Just Cause. It’s set in an alternate history Sweden where the country poured a ton of money and research into its military following World War II. You play as a teenager who returns home from a trip to find that everyone has gone missing and murderous robots now roam the land. You (and up to three friends) explore the countryside, looting houses and finding audio logs, all while trying to figure out what happened to everyone in your absence. The game opens strongly, dropping you outside a house in the woods. As the synth-heavy soundtrack picks up in the background, you’re given a gun and set loose to explore. Unfortunately, Generation Zero‘s solid opening is marred by, well, the rest of the game.
Any semblance of wonder or mystery that Generation Zero builds up with its brief intro is quickly lost the moment you gain control of your character. Playing Generation Zero is awkward, to say the least. Moving and aiming feels stilted, and trying to fixate your reticle on an enemy during a fight can be a battle in and of itself. The terrain is very easy to get caught on, too, which frustrates to an even greater degree thanks to the game’s poor controls. It baffles me that certain things even made it into the final game. You have to jump to enter some buildings. That’s right, your characters cannot physically enter some buildings without jumping through the door because they get caught on the floor. Hiccups like these are omnipresent in Generation Zero, and they’re even more infuriating when trying to utilize a stealthy approach to combat encounters.
Stealth is just about the only way to deal with combat encounters, especially if you choose to play solo as I did. Playing Generation Zero solo is tremendously infuriating. The robots have super precise aim and can down you in just a couple hits, which is no joke when they usually attack in packs of 5 or more. Sneaking past enemies is just about the only viable strategy for those who prefer to play alone, but the aforementioned door jumping ruins stealth plans because it forces you out of crouching, which will almost immediately alert any robot in the nearby area. Not only that, but stealth straight up isn’t allowed for certain missions. The game regularly tasks you with clearing areas of hostiles, forcing you into combat that is clearly designed for a four-person squad. You won’t have nearly enough ammunition or health to tackle these missions without heavy preparation, especially later in the game.
Luckily, I came across adrenaline shots during my looting endeavors, and these shots proved to be integral to my survival in Generation Zero. These shots let you revive yourself upon death, so I hoarded them when I first encountered them, hoping to save them for a particularly challenging fight. It turns out these aren’t exactly uncommon. I had upwards of 10 or 15 on me at all times without even going out of my way to look for them, and it’s very clear that this is the intended means of progression. You’re supposed to die a lot when you’re fighting the machines because you’ll have an abundance of adrenaline shots to save you. However, this just made me feel like I was cheesing my way through the game, not like I was barely scraping by in my war against the automatons. The resurrections feel cheap and unearned, eliminating any tension that the encounters might have had in the first place. Sekiro this is not.
Trying my hand at combat was equally frustrating. Like Horizon Zero Dawn, Generation Zero‘s combat revolves around shooting critical parts of the robots to deal massive damage. This is easier said than done though because aiming is imprecise and there’s some really intense motion blur that you can’t turn off. Trying to find a safe spot to line up shots isn’t the most reliable strategy either, because the enemies seem to always know where you are. Not only that, but I was frequently shot through walls and other solid objects. But none of that matters because I would just use an adrenaline shot and have another go at it. Not like those are hard to come by or anything.
Getting from place to place is an exercise in boredom. Traversing Generation Zero‘s rather large map feels like playing PUBG by yourself. There’s a whole lot of nothing, just vast expanses of trees and bushes, and when you do come across a town, every house is the same, and I mean every house. You can only loot the kitchen on the left before going upstairs and checking the bathroom immediately on the right so many times. The houses even have little embroidered messages in the living rooms, which I thought was a nice touch, or at least I did before they started repeating in every other house. You loot the same guns and the same items in the same places, only to cross a samey patch of forest just to do it all over again. At least the visuals are a sight to behold. Generation Zero is a very pretty game, and the lighting especially makes certain areas jaw-dropping. At other times, however, Generation Zero looks like an early PS3 title. The graphics are very hit or miss.
You can’t even sprint across the vast stretches of nothingness. Robots can sense you without seeing you first, and a detection meter slowly starts to fill up, even if you’re far away. While this is probably in place to encourage a slow, tense travel experience, all it really does is make me stop and crouch until the meter empties before I start sprinting again. The fact the meters even show up at all kills any tension in traveling because you know where the robots are before you can see them. You’ll be running through nothing a lot in Generation Zero because you return to a safe house upon death. The game didn’t start registering that I had discovered safe houses until several hours in, though, so I found myself back at the start of the game several times, treading the same familiar ground over, and over, and over again.
This mind-numbing tedium is only made worse by the game’s frequent crashing. Generation Zero crashed on me not three, not four, but five times during my playthrough, and to make things worse, three of those crashes happened while I was managing my inventory, causing me to lose several items and weapon attachments. So not only did I have to walk all the way back to where I was, but I was also sad that I had lost my cool stuff.
Playing with friends makes the experience a little more bearable, but trying to find a team of randoms is needlessly complex as a result of the game’s terrible matchmaking system. The only parameters you can set are the number of players in the lobby, so you just have to keep joining and leaving lobbies until you find a group on the exact same quest as you, because Generation Zero won’t save your progress unless you’re at the exact same quest as the host. I joined a lot of games that were way ahead of me in the story, and I ended up getting some future quests spoiled for me because of it. Having a full team also makes combat encounters trivial, especially when all four of you have lined your pockets with adrenaline shots.
Generation Zero‘s story reminds me a lot of Fallout 76‘s story, only I found 76‘s tale of the Overseer and Appalachia to be more compelling. Generation Zero‘s story is told through audio logs and notes that you find strewn about the world, and pretty much all of them consist of people saying they’re going somewhere, and when you eventually end up there, there’s another note saying they’ve gone someplace else. After trudging through the game’s story, there isn’t even a satisfying payoff, and I can’t remember a single character or plot point that stood out.
There are some things I can praise about Generation Zero though. The sound design is amazing. The guns are loud and have a satisfying pop, and the clanging metal of the robots sent chills down my spine. The soundtrack fits perfectly with the 80’s setting and gives the game a completely unique sound. If I had to use one word to describe Generation Zero, it would be that: unique. The game truly has its own identity and has a feel unlike any other game out right now. The premise is original and the atmosphere drew me in. The vibes I got playing this game were unlike anything I’ve felt in a while. It’s a shame that what little good this game does is wholly overshadowed by its glaring issues.
Maybe with some patches and fixes, this game could end up being something truly special. It isn’t telling the most exciting story and it doesn’t have the tightest gameplay, but I can see this game being remembered as a cult classic if Avalanche irons out the bugs. The setting and sound alone set it apart from anything else on the market, and it does bring a lot of unique things to the table, but the pacing problems, technical issues, and poor combat make it really hard for me to recommend Generation Zero in its current state. Even if the major bugs get fixed, the core foundation is still flawed, and this game will always have problems regardless of how polished it is.
Review Disclosure Statement: Generation Zero was provided to us by Avalanche Studios for review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please go review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.
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I went into this game with the highest of hopes and the lowest of expectations. Even with the most open of minds I could possibly muster, it’s still difficult to find good things to say about Generation Zero. Overall, Generation Zero‘s incredible atmosphere, mostly beautiful visuals, and great soundtrack feel wasted alongside countless technical issues, horrendous pacing, unbalanced combat, and an almost nonexistent story.