Generation Zero succeeds and fails in equal measure
Generation Zero can be an intense shooter with magnificent scenery and menacing mechanical monsters to fight.
However, it also runs into problems, with repetitive story missions making multiplayer a much-needed requirement to help players create their own narratives.
When I first saw Gen Zero at E3 2018, it instantly reminded me of some of the survival shooters I’ve enjoyed the most over the years.
A distinct flavour of Fallout 3 made me take notice of it, while the appearance of a giant menacing robot, much akin to Metal Gear, also made me want to keep track of this project.
And having arrived in March 2019, it’s safe to say that Generation Zero can be described as flawed fun.
There are parts of this game that really excel when all the mechanics gel together, providing a gaming experience that slowly creeps towards more and more intense encounters.
But it also stumbles when it comes to simple stuff, while the motivation to complete the story elements slowly drop when repetition kicks in.
VISUALS – 4/5 AND STORY 2/5
Measuring these two critical factors alongside each other seems important when discussing Generation Zero. The game certainly does not lack for good looks, and it’s open world, filled with dynamic weather effects and rich landscapes, is one of its biggest strengths.
Moving through a forest, or by the sea, players will notice just how great this game can look. Stormy weather moves in and brings with it the rain and the wind that helps to create a creepy, haunting effect, especially if you’re playing by yourself.
And that’s how much of this game is experienced unless you decide to team up and experience multiplayer. The story centres around a group of islands in Sweden, with the protagonist heading back to the mainland after a trip away.
You find it abandoned by humans and overrun by deadly machines, left strutting around the familiar locations of your homestead. The story is essentially a mystery, what has happened to everyone and where can the local populace be found.
It’s a good hook, but it comes with some severe storytelling drawbacks. Being in this place by yourself means looking for clues, receiving missions via letters, Warboards and tape recorders.
This fits in with the lone survivor vibe of the game, but it also removes the benefits that NPCs can provide when building a vibrant game world. Instead of stumbling across human resistance, you get to explore a world of empty houses, surrounded by angry bots.
This isn’t a terrible idea but anyone picking up this game should know that they aren’t going to find many people hanging about. And when it comes to those buildings, the game faces another repetition problem.
While Generation Zero allows you to explore freely without anything holding you back – apart from the mechanical enemies – part of that incentive may disappear for some. While many of the houses and locations will look different from the outside, the insides can share a familiarity that can start to grate.
From a realistic point of view, this makes sense within the context of where you are, but the copy and paste effect of some buildings takes away some of the fun of exploring.
This is a significant visual gripe for me, especially when compared to how well the Avalanche Team has done with the wilderness between towns and farms, which retains a unique quality.
Some areas can also feel too big for their own good, leaving players to jog through until they reach the next location, a problem that slows down the introduction area of the game significantly.
Wherever you are on the islands, you will eventually run into a band of robots whose sole objective is to take you down. The robots come in different forms and are slowly introduced through the game’s “intro” missions.
Generation Zero is available now
Much of the time you will run into the four-legged variety, which can pack shotguns, machines guns and sniper rifles, not to mention are disorienting physical charge attack.
After slowly building up your arsenal, you will have different options to explore when it comes to dealing with these problems.
And the visual quality of all the enemies you run into is top notch. While they are not without their bugs, the robots look great and really feel like a genuine army of mindless killers, ready to end your time as quickly as possible.
Having destroyed these brutes, you can inspect close up the details of their design, and how well they have been put together.
GAMEPLAY 3/5 AND MULTIPLAYER 3/5
When it comes to gameplay, Generation Zero gets a lot of the most important things right but is held back in other ways. Gunplay feels good, with plenty of different ways to destroy the enemies blocking your way.
Taking out a target with a Sniper Rifle in one shot feels very satisfying, as does flailing around with an SMG at close range. The weaponry available isn’t anything earth-shattering, but the way in which you can scavenge mods for it adds much-needed variety.
Popping on a heat vision sight will provide a welcome boost for those hoping to enjoy a stealthier playthrough. Players can also use a variety of different traps to overwhelm machines, and then dispatch them in an explosion, or an emp assault.
This is where Generation Zero gels well with its open-world surroundings, but there can be times when things fall apart too. Players have to work out much of this by themselves, as well as how the muddling amount of ammo can be used.
The game includes a range of different ammo types, usually multiple different standards for each weapon. This is another way players can customise how they play, but no guidance is provided in-game.
So it can take a while to get used to the system, which is also hampered by the UI in parts. Replacing one weapon with another is never a smooth operation and is something that can rarely be pulled off in the middle of a fight.
The same can be said regarding ammo types, meaning you can end up running into a battle with the wrong things equipped. Gen Zero also includes a cosmetic system where you can change clothes and gain small boosts to specific stats.
It’s a nice touch being able to customise your character, but the system itself feels a little underused and half-baked.
When it comes to other core parts of gameplay, the enemy AI usually stands up to a good level of difficulty and can prove very challenging at times.
As you progress through the game, the robots you face will start getting upgrades, and it will become essential that you learn about all the different mods and ammo types.
As the difficulty grows, the ability tree suddenly becomes more essential. Inventory space is an issue through most of the game, meaning you have to start choosing what guns to keep.
You can open up more slots by using ability points, but this feels like a waste which might have been circumvented by allowing for bigger backpacks to be found. Really, you want to unlock stuff that helps you fight robots, and there are ways to boost your battling ferocity.
Hacking enemies is great fun and easy to do when you find yourself some Binoculars. It also a great way to get around enemies, creating a distraction so that you can slip by and find shelter.
But another way that Generation Zero fails to hit its full stride is through its maligned stealth mechanics. Generation Zero feels like a game which would be perfect for sneaking around.
One of its best attributes is being able to take down different parts of a machine by destroying specific units found on it. You can slow them down by damaging the legs or eliminate their weaponry via a sneaky shot to the top stack.
But while this is fun to do, Gen Zero doesn’t give you enough options, so that stealth play is viable. Players can sneak by using the tall grass, but if they want to pull off a tricky ambush, it usually ends up in a straight fight.
There’s also the question of the survival mechanics used within Gen Zero and how they work. Players will start by finding tons of health packs and adrenaline shots, the item used to bring you back to life.
And it’s not unusual to have 50 shots, providing you with plenty of chances to come back to life and finish a fight in your favour. As you progress further into the game, you will start running out of these important items, making you question if you should take on the fight in front of you.
But if you don’t, the story missions themselves won’t be enough to keep you entertained. During my time with Gen Zero, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s better to be able to rejoin a fight straight away, then face respawning somewhere else.
It keeps the narrative going, and it’s a relief not to have to worry about starting again, like in most of the traditional survival titles available on the market. Ultimately, it will be up to you to decide whether you like this quirk of gameplay, or if it ruins the whole experience for you.
Another massive part of the game is the Gen Zero multiplayer option, which makes it possible to play with friends. It’s a very basic system when used to play with a stranger, leaving few options other than dropping into a random game.
But if you find someone to explore Gen Zero with regularly, it can help create something far better than the story missions. You can build your own narrative while sharing the island with someone else and is something that many gamers would enjoy.
There’s a lot of people who would like that exact option in Fallout 4, and the benefits of multiplayer are clearly showcased. It removes the sense of complete loneliness from the game and also helps make up for the lack of additional NPC interactions.
It doesn’t solve all issues though, and it can create problems for those who decide to use it. Joining someone else’s game will mean keeping a part of the progress you have built up during that game time.
All missions will stay completed when you drop back into your own game but the places and locations you have visited will not. Rediscovering places you have already been doesn’t feel very rewarding.
And this isn’t a bug but a way to manage the randomness of the multiplayer matchmaking. The good news is that you keep all the loot and gear you find, making it a great way to build up supplies.
You can’t talk about Generation Zero without having to tackle the big issue of gameplay bugs. It sometimes feels like the dev team just didn’t have enough time to catch them all, as many seem to be obvious.
Not being able to complete specific missions is the biggest problem, as is disappearing weapons. For those worried about these issues, it appears that they are now being handled by new updates and the worst should be removed in the near future.
Generation Zero is a fun but flawed game, which suffers from silly bugs and repetitive story missions that drag it down at critical points. The intro missions take too long, some areas are too big for their own good and parts of the map can feel suddenly overwhelmed by enemies.
But the biggest test of a game is if you enjoyed it and I have to say that even with all its faults, I liked exploring Generation Zero. Multiplayer feels like a must, and if this ever appears on the Xbox Game Pass, I can imagine that many teams would enjoy exploring this world together.
By yourself, Generation Zero risks becoming a walking simulator, but with the right friends, it can be transformed into something worth your time.