Release Date: March 26th, 2019 (Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Playstation 4)
Genre: Action, Adventure, First Person Shooter
Publisher: Avalanche Studios, THQ Nordic
Developer: Avalanche Studios
ESRB: Teen (Language, Violence)
Generation Zero is a cooperative first person shooter exploration game with light role playing elements. From Avalanche Studios, known for the Just Cause quadrilogy, Mad Max and theHunter series, Generation Zero includes something for everybody. Deadly robots roam a mysteriously deserted land with only yourself (and up to three co-op friends) left to find out where everybody has disappeared to. Within the beautifully rendered forests and excellent robot design, the game design space is packed with familiar gameplay elements and story beats, but its cohesiveness might be stretched thin.
In Generation Zero, the player controls a youth in 1989 Sweden who is coming home on a boat when it crashes for unknown reasons and the player is left to survive and figure out why everyone is missing. The game is played in first person and has a lot of the familiar trappings of a First Person Shooter, including health bar, iron sights and ammo count. There is also a quick-use menu bound to the d-pad with which one can assign healing items or other useful objects, which is akin to a stealth or action game. There is a compass at the top of the screen that shows direction and nearby points of interest that is similar to open-world role-playing games like Skyrim.
Gameplay is explorative and the journey begins with a few buildings spaced between forested areas and roaming enemies. After arriving at the first town and searching several empty houses, cars, barns and roads for ammo, health kits, pieces of clothing, gun upgrades and fireworks or road flares, the repetitiveness begins to seep in. The buildings are all largely the same, with one barn being the same art asset as the next. Houses had some differences, but after visiting one town, I knew exactly what to expect when visiting the next town over. There are dreadfully few set dressings as well, with the same boxes, broken bikes and trash in every location. While traveling through these repetitive environments, missions are automatically assigned to the player’s journal. There are no quest markers that the player may be familiar with from popular open world games like Skyrim or Fallout 4, so it is up to the player to read through the mission text and figure out what activated the mission and where to go next. In a game where pausing is available, this can be a rewarding puzzle to solve. When one cannot pause because the game is “live” it makes reading the mission text and searching the map rushed and frustrating. The mission system works, but it lacks ease of use or explanation.
Items that the player finds, such as road flares and fireworks, are used against the various robotic enemies, which seem to be at the root of why everyone is missing. Enemies roam the map and guard specific areas, but when they are alerted to the players presence, they attack on sight, call in reinforcements, and are difficult to escape from. This game encourages stealth, with the fireworks and road flares used to distract or confuse the enemy. The system works well, but the enemies are never difficult enough to warrant not fighting them and death is not a deterrent (more on that later). The XP and loot rewards for downing the robots was always a preferable choice, unless I was bored or wanted to get to my objective quicker.
Generation Zero can be played solo or with three other players. When played solo, the game has a solitary feel and exploring the beautifully rendered forests is a rewarding experience. The soundtrack fully encapsulates the 1989 setting with synths and weapon sound effects reminiscent of a James Cameron blockbuster of that era. When other players join the game, the constant mission prompts, random mission dialogue, and lack of easy communication with one’s teammates takes away from the vibe of the world. Interruptions like these are at odds with the structure of the game itself, which feels like it was designed to be played with three other people, in the same area, while on the same mission, which was never the case when I played. None of the other players that I played with had their mics on and the default emote wheel only had 80’s dance moves and finger pointing, so communication was nil. (I later found that other, more useful emotes were hidden in the menu system.) With no communication, everyone was playing their own solo game, together.
Moving on to the XP system, Generation Zero allows the player to upgrade their avatar and there are seemingly robust character specialization perks to choose from. The amount of XP needed for the rewards appeared unbalanced, so I largely ignored that screen after choosing a perk that seemed useful, but I never got the chance to see in action. Within the menu system, there are also clothing choices to make from clothing looted throughout the world. The clothes are faithful recreations of 1980’s fashion and some of the clothing has stat changes associated with them, so making a character that both looked appealing and was useful can often be conflicting. My character ended up having all red clothing because those were the pieces that had stat changes I wanted. Needless to say, he was an eyesore.
The gunplay in Generation Zero is serviceable. There are modifications the player can make to their weapons, such as adding a scope or increasing magazine size, and there is a plethora of different ammo types. However, the player can only equip three weapons at a time: two large and one handgun. The weapon options are somewhat limited, as I encountered only four weapon types in my playthrough. Additional copies that I found had the same stats, which makes me wonder how far into the game one needs to get in order to find improved weaponry, if at all. In a game like The Division 2 where the player has dozens of weapons available to perfect their three weapon loadout, when only a handful are available, why not have them all available? Inventory space is at a premium, so even a collection of many weapons and upgrade options is out of the question.
My time with Generation Zero started with intense exploration and stealth. The threat of deadly robots was real and I had limited health and ammo to survive. Searching abandoned homes was scary and intense until my inventory was filled to the brim with ammo and health items. However, between frustrating co-op, repetitive exploration, average gunplay, useless stealth and confusing RPG elements, Generation Zero tries to be too much and in the end, was not enough. (Steven Domingues, Game Reviewer)