generation zero key art

Generation Zero Has Zero Reason To Exist

March 26, 2019

By: Alex Santa Maria

 
 

The best part of Generation Zero, the new survival-themed first-person shooter by Avalanche Studios, isn't a combat scenario. It's not a mission, it's not a weapon you pick up, it's not a robot you fight. The best part of the game, by far, is a music sting that accompanies the first load screen. It's a classic synth riff that tugs at a specific nostalgic part of the brain, firmly letting you know that Generation Zero is an 80s game. Unfortunately, this is also a clear indicator that Generation Zero is trying to distract you. It's trying to latch onto just about anything to avoid letting players focus. Generation Zero needs to deceive the player into continuing down the road, going further into its barren open world. It needs to delay the inevitable discovery that it's a road to nowhere.

Things start off well enough. A text crawl sets up the world, an alternate timeline where Sweden invested heavily in war machines after the fall of Hitler. You're just an average teen heading back home only to find nary a soul. Every town is a ghost town, empty cars litter the streets, and the only movement comes from hostile robots. It's a tense opening, a great setup with no payoff. You move forward on your opening quest chain, going from house to house, searching for another soul. You get a few basic weapons, just enough to fend off the metal dogs howling at your back. Once you find one potential stop, you find directions to the next one, each location farther and farther away. By the time an hour goes by, you realize that no one awaits you at the next waypoint.

 

generation zero computer setup
Did we mention the 1980s? Do you like the 1980s? Remember Chewbacca?

If that sounds familiar, it should. This exact setup and payoff played out last year for many gamers as they discovered the empty wasteland of Fallout 76. It turns out that Generation Zero has a lot in common with Bethesda's online experiment, although it's probable that 76 had more content at launch. Every scrap in the story comes from collectibles, audio clips and letters providing the barest of plot threads. You can also find new bits of apparel for your character, all themed to the 80s. It's a nice touch, but there's just nothing compelling to keep pulling you in.

 
 

In theory, there doesn't have to be anything like that. Plenty of people are currently playing The Division 2 and loving it, and that game barely has a narrative leg to stand on. What that game does have is compelling gameplay, something that Generation Zero lacks. Sure, the robots are impressive creations, and combat with them can be tense. The way they break apart is novel, and the guns are fun to use against them. However, when they're the only dynamic part of the experience, you begin to notice when you're fighting the same robotic dog over and over. When other enemies do come in after the first few hours, they'll overwhelm you, especially if you're playing solo.

generation zero co op gameplay
Prepare to unload hundreds of bullets to take this thing down.

 
 

At least Fallout 76 was playable solo if you wanted to experience what little content there was. Advertising Generation Zero as a game you can play solo is a straight up disservice to players. Your character stumbles forward at a methodical pace, wandering through long stretches of nothing. When you get to a new location, you try to sneak through, inevitably get caught and the robots kill you. If you're out of stim packs to revive yourself, your only option is to spawn back at the last safe house and make the lonely trek once again. Eventually, the enemies are so big that it's impossible to take them down without a group, so you're forced to slowly sneak around and pray you don't get spotted or team up with friends and share the pain.

If you do manage to scrap your way through a battle, your mission will likely have you looting houses to find the map that leads you further down this lonely road. Each house feels identical, with the same layout and similar rooms. You'll quickly begin to lose track of which houses you've been in because you can only go through so many small bathrooms directly to the right of a stairwell. The outside is just as bad, with the scenery only occasionally broken up by some abandoned military equipment. Everything just blends together, which is a problem in a game already chock full of repetitive enemies and missions.

generation zero hovering robots
Low-hanging scaffolding! My only weakness!

All this doesn't even begin to mention how janky Generation Zero is. You'll see grass clipping through concrete floors, loot crates hidden inside other solid objects and objective markers that blink in and out of existence. You'll experience momentary hitches that summon the crash reporter and shut down the game even as you can still play it in the background. Enjoy an open world where trying to swim across a river to avoid combat leads to an invisible wall before you even hit the water. Marvel as you shoot giant red propane tanks that don't explode. Avoid jumping in barrels when bored, you might just trap yourself forever. You character hovers just off the ground as you desperately wiggle your joystick in an attempt at freedom. At least you can perform dance emotes while trapped, perhaps as a signal for help.

 
 

No aspect of Generation Zero is remarkable. It feels like a hollow husk of an experience waiting to be filled in by players who will never come. Just like Fallout 76 or the earliest version of We Happy Few, it feels like an online test. Here is the open world, we just haven't put in the campaign yet. It's entirely possible that Generation Zero is a fine time with friends, but anything is fun with friends. There are literally thousands of better games and hundreds of other activities that are also better with friends. I implore you to choose any one of them over this disappointment.


TechRaptor played Generation Zero on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.