By Brian Stasiukaitis
Have you ever wanted to traverse the expansive landscape of 1980’s Sweden without the burden of human interaction? If so, then you may be the target audience for Generation Zero, an open-world first-person shooter from developers Avalanche Studios. And though there are some beautiful landscapes and interesting enemy designs, Generation Zero falls flat with some lackluster mechanics and a barren world that seems so devoid of life, it’s probably best to just let Sweden go at this point.
Things started out in a standard fashion: you were out with friends when you hear the country’s alarm system to mark an invasion. As you make your way back to the mainland, the character creation comes up. Though there weren’t intricate design choices here, the aesthetic and character designs were excellent for the intended time period, making it tough to choose just one outfit. It turned out to be an extraneous choice anyway, as I’d soon find out through looting my first area. Getting off the boat, I saw my first little house to explore and a simple tutorial to explain the gameplay loop.
As it turns out, this is a loot-heavy shooter, asking you to explore landscapes in order to get the equipment necessary in order to dole out the pain on your robotic invaders. I eagerly began searching every corner of the little towns and farms so that I’d be geared and ready for whenever the real fights picked up in earnest. Most of the houses looked abandoned, but that was okay because the quests pointed out how the people had already shifted further ahead. I was in the starting area, so I thought that it would be a bit of progression before I found actual NPCs hanging around. That proved to be wildly incorrect.
Across the dilapidated countryside, each quest promises the company of other people just a bit further ahead. Yet, each time you complete one quest and come up empty, another quest leads you further ahead with the promise of survivors. It’s as if the developers knew the necessity for NPCs in an open world and yet used that concept as a bait to keep you playing all on your lonesome.
It didn’t take long for the fighting to begin, finally allowing me to taste the fruits of my looting labor. Enemies in the game are built to look like mechanical menaces, but I think they look more like weaponized versions of Caterpillar construction equipment. Still, the detail and nuances to the machines are wonderfully done, making for a believable enemy race, even if a bit monotonous. The first fight was just one runner, a dog-like machine that chases you down while shooting a rifle on its back. At the moment it was a tough fight as I tried to piece together my different tools into a comprehensive strategy. Using just the basic pistol, I had to tear through a clip and a half before finally taking it down with plenty of hits taken on my part.
I quickly found out that damage in this game is semi-permanent, with the only recourse being to use the limited medical kits you pick up through scavenging. It doesn’t seem like a big deal until you realize there’s no form of rest or sleep mechanic to heal when you are out of combat. If you don’t have the medkits, you just don’t get your health back until death. This makes fights much more obnoxious than fun, as every point of damage is another medkit gone from your inventory and more looting to find a replacement.
The more I played, the less I’d try and fight, as I just didn’t want to loot any more of the cookie-cutter houses to find one or two healing items. The fights also ramp up quickly, adding in multiple different unit types into large roaming parties that scout around towns and fields. As just one person, there’s practically no chance to directly engage in these fights, leading to me mostly avoiding them entirely or burning through most of my limited resources to win a fight and subsequently loot a few bullets from each body.
Getting through the early parts led to a final introductory mission of scouting out an underground bunker somewhere in my current region. This was supposedly where the people were, so I was excited to finally make real contact. Those hopes were quickly dashed as the whole underground bunker was already occupied by the machines, but I was still able to find a war room. These war rooms are how the game doles out new quests and adventures to keep you exploring the landscape. Most missions are just vague references to different areas, promising great loot or interesting items, but it was always just more consumables and perhaps one slightly upgraded gun attachment. Disappointment abounds in Generation Zero. As I finished this bunker out and looked for the next one, I had a realization.
At this point, I finally saw through the veil that keeps this game running. There were no people to find anywhere in this world, and I was going to prove it for myself. I found the biggest town possible and I set out to run through all enemies on my way to the center. I gave up on fighting and just looked to hop from house to house until I made my way to where the people should be. Lo and behold, it was a giant town of loot, empty buildings, and not a soul to be seen. Sure, there were some massive robotic patrols and some awesome escape sequences on my part, but there were no new revelations to be had. I’d seen everything within the first couple hours, and that was all there was to it.
Generation Zero is the shell of what could have been awesome, and that’s heartbreaking. You can see that the developers had a unique concept with some great ideas, and yet they release the game with just the bare bones for what can be considered a cooperative shooter. The lack of NPCs is astonishing when you think about the size and scope of the map, and yet every quest leads you on to think that they’ll be just one more step ahead. Battles can be tense and engaging, but the lack of meaningful loot from enemies means that every fight is just a waste of the limited resources you get from the painfully dull scavenging system.
I had come into this game with few expectations, and yet I was still let down by how much had been left incomplete in Generation Zero. Veritably, players will look back on this release and imagine what could have been if the developers had just taken more time to fill in the blanks.