Please explain. It’s a free-roaming shooter set in Sweden in the ’80s.
Put money aside £30/$35
Analyzed on System Specs: GeForce GTX 1080, Intel Core i5-6600K, 16GB RAM
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Generation Zero contains numerous lofty ideas. Its alternate 1980s setting, in which robots have conquered the Swedish countryside, is both unique and stylish. Though it clearly occupies a specific subgenre of first-person shooters (co-op survival FPS), its mechanics are clearly influenced by a wide variety of other games, including PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and more directly comparable open-world shooters like Far Cry 5. It’s a huge undertaking, and I wish I could say it’s one of the most exciting games of 2019.
… However, this is not the case. Actually, it’s not. The art and a spooky 80s mystery vibe are two of many promising ideas, but they aren’t developed as fully as one might hope. Generation Zero has a lot of off-kilter exploration and combat. A well-planned ambush can be blown by enemies who detect your presence from across a field or forest, and the ensuing chaos usually results in a jerky, janky shootout where the victor is determined by attrition rather than skill or foresight. Similarly, development is sluggish, and it’s not always obvious what steps to take or where to go next. All of these issues are made worse by the fact that rural Sweden is crawling with bugs of every imaginable variety. All of these issues compounded to make the game an extremely tedious slog in which I felt like I was constantly butting heads with the universe for the tiniest of gains, whether I was playing solo or with a team.
Since Generation Zero has been released in such a buggy state, its positives and negatives may be moot. A patch released earlier today addressed a few of the problems I encountered in the pre-release build, but many others persist or have appeared since then. The mouse doesn’t work until you alt-tab out and back in again, which suggests that the hotfix meant to fix a crash-on-startup issue I haven’t experienced actually broke mouse support. I recommend waiting until Avalanche Studios has had more time to stabilize the experience before purchasing it, though it’s possible that these problems will be fixed in the near future (weeks or months).
Let’s talk about how Generation Zero looks and feels, which is the one thing it really nails.
Let’s talk about the one thing Generation Zero gets right—its look and feel—before we start picking it apart. It was the overall look and feel that drew me in, and it did not let me down. You’ll put in a lot of time exploring a desolate part of the Swedish countryside, searching through forests, farms, and towns for documents or locations that initiate missions and searching through toolkits and ammo boxes in every house, barn, and abandoned car you come across. My favorite times were the ones I spent by myself, marveling at the way sunlight sliced through the trees or peering over the edge of a cliff at the town below.
The level of detail in the world is astounding, especially once you reach the town and begin searching people’s houses for loot. Authentic-looking band posters from the 1980s and neon floppy disks set the scene. A strange and frightening time capsule. There is, of course, a finite supply of such props, so certain motifs will inevitably recur.to exhaustionThe setting never really lost its appeal in the roughly 24 hours it took me to beat the core story missions, despite the fact that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of houses across the countryside and only a very limited number of house variations.
What quickly loses its allure is ignorance of your destination. Even though the world is divided into seven distinct areas, each with its own set of objectives, you may find yourself wandering aimlessly and without much direction. Therefore, it can be very annoying to try to track down specific mission locations and goals: Finding a single location on a map can be a time-consuming endeavor if you have never been there before, especially if there is no landmark marking the way. In many cases, you receive absolutely no information. It may be as simple as, “We know there’s a cache of weapons in some old ruins in the area,” for some missions. If you haven’t seen any ruins yet, you’ll just have to keep exploring the area until you do. Sometimes you can find a specific person’s house if you know their last name and check their mailbox, which is ingenious; however, I once had a mission where I only received a first name, and the indicator only showed up when I was next door. This means going from house to house in the entire town.
It can be difficult to know how much time to devote to each mission because it isn’t always clear which ones contribute to the story and which ones don’t. I get the concept that a lost adolescent wouldn’t know where to go or what to do, but in practice it leads to way too much aimless wandering.
Once again, a wide variety of bugs adds insult to injury. On multiple occasions, I’ve noticed that the places I’d added to my map (aside from the fast-travel-ready safehouses) simply vanished. Problems like these occurred so frequently that I eventually had a hard time believing that the challenges I encountered in locating and completing objectives were due to design choices rather than unintentional technical glitches. Generation Zero relies on notes, diaries, and answering machine messages for its entire story, so even a minor glitch can have a significant impact on the experience. I stopped worrying about not knowing what would happen next and started doubting that I would ever find out.
Generation Zero feels like a game best played by people who don’t mind not accomplishing anything.
It’s for this reason that Generation Zero comes off as a game best suited to those who don’t mind wasting their time. It’s at its best when you’re wandering aimlessly, looting cars and houses and fighting random robots instead of working toward a goal or traveling to a specific location. The setting, coupled with a hip, retro-tech soundtrack, creates an excellently eerie atmosphere. As the day turns to night or the weather changes, you may notice the well-crafted fog rolling in, which adds to the eerie atmosphere. There were many instances where everything came together perfectly, despite the fact that many factors, including the weather, are subject to chance. The best time for a Generation Zero moment is right before a battle, when you’re searching the woods for robots while simultaneously dreading what you might find. The moment you realize that you might have to fight a robot, your attention is immediately drawn to the situation with a heightened sense of urgency. You stop thinking about your goal or your friend’s conversation and instead concentrate solely on staying alive.
Unfortunately, the source of that dread changes from fear of your enemies to pure frustration over each fight as you progress through Generation Zero. As a co-op “survival” shooter, you’ll find yourself at a significant disadvantage when facing off against strong robots. Even with a full pack, there is no guarantee that you will have everything you need to succeed; you just have to take the time to gather it. Even with a full party of four players, you’ll have to worry about being overwhelmed by hordes of enemies that are orders of magnitude stronger than you are. If you’re working as a team, you can use boomboxes and gas tanks as distractions and traps, respectively, to thin the enemy population and make it easier to mop up the remaining survivors. In reality, many foes are extremely attuned to your every move and step, making it difficult, if not impossible, to set up a proper ambush before you are discovered. Even if you manage to do so, the sound of a kill will likely attract a second (and third) wave of enemies, leaving you unprepared. My fights usually turned into drawn-out gun battles.
Avalanche has obviously thought this through, as Generation Zero essentially destroys itself to give you a fighting chance. The Adrenaline Shot is one of the many useful items you frequently find and use to restore health to yourself or a friend who is critically injured. If you happen to be carrying one when you perish, you can use it to get back to your feet and carry on as if nothing happened. (Those who have played Sekiro will feel at home here; however, there is no plague to compound the tragedy.) Due to the abundance of adrenaline (I usually had 10–20 at any given time, despite using them frequently) and the ease with which they can be resurrected, it is tempting to resort to brute force when facing difficult encounters.
That sounds like an exploit, but it’s very much how you’re intended to play.
Although it may sound like an exploit, this is actually the intended playstyle, and without it, most battles would be impossible, as many foes can remove up to half your health in a single onslaught. It makes little difference whether there are four players, two players, or just one. Your final actions will involve firing your gun, getting shot, respawning, and firing again. Sometimes the odds seem so stacked against you that you might think it’s best to stay out of battle altogether if you weren’t actually trying to take the fight to the enemy.
Although there is a significant learning curve, there are strategies to master, and I eventually became a much better robot hunter as a result of doing so. All of the robots, for instance, can be damaged in strategic places: To avoid being killed by the dog-like Hunter robots, it’s important to know how to use their shoulder-mounted gun. In a similar vein, the odds become more even and the situation becomes more manageable as you acquire better equipment and develop strategies that work for you and/or your team. Even if those strategies don’t make battles more enjoyable per se—after all, fighting and dying and fighting and dying to chip away at enemy health is not an ideal gameplay loop—there is still some satisfaction to be had in the inevitable progression from inexperienced to experienced.
The online and multiplayer systems in Generation Zero are poorly implemented, especially for a game that emphasizes cooperative play. There is no in-game chat (though you can use Steam Chat or Discord), and the multiplayer menu is confusing and unnecessary unless you want to join a stranger’s game. (A helpful hint for multiplayer games is for one player to invite their friends from within the game itself. Furthermore, the system doesn’t exactly reward cooperative play: When playing co-op, only the host can keep their unfinished missions from before their friends joined. If you don’t stick with the same group of people throughout the game and only play when everyone is available, someone will inevitably have to repeat missions. The game’s multiplayer infrastructure is janky and doesn’t work very well, which is the icing on the cake for a game that knows what it wants to be but can’t quite get there.
Especially the rural Swedish setting and the robot enemies, I thought Generation Zero would make a fantastic co-op shooter, and I really wanted to like it. But when I started playing, I discovered that the majority of these concepts were implemented poorly, making the game a frustrating and pointless slog through horribly unbalanced combat encounters. In addition, it has a lot of annoying bugs at launch that make even the simplest things, like working together with friends, a chore.