Reviewed on PC
Just Cause and Mad Max creators Avalanche Studios have been busier this past year than I think they’ve ever been. Just Cause 4, the upcoming Rage 2 and the just-released Generation Zero is a rather large line-up for one studio. But are all of these games of quality, or are they hindered by a spread workload?
Set in 1980’s Sweden, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Cold War tensions are at their peak. You play as a nameless 18 or 19-year-old in your first semester of university, the threat of thermonuclear annihilation constantly looming in the back of your head. It’s decided that a camping trip is a good idea, as a getaway, and your friend decides that a small island just off the coast is a great locale.
You grab a couple of coolers—for a cheeky bevy with the boys—and food before setting off. On your return, you get shot out of the water, have to swim to shore, discover that everyone has been murdered and that there are machines roaming the wilderness that are out for blood, and you and your friends are left to piece together the events of the last few days while attempting to avoid heavily armored death, probably all while hungover.
This is the premise of Avalanche’s first foray into a co-op first-person action shooter since theHunter: Primal. At its base level, it feels like an amalgamation of Fallout and Far Cry with a sprinkling of Horizon: Zero Dawn.
However, before you can begin roleplaying your Swedish Rambo fantasies you must first create your character through a fairly rudimentary creation suite. It offers eight pre-set 80s stereotypes to build upon with gender options, face shape and skin tone. We’re not talking Black Desert Online levels of character customization, but enough to give the player a distinct look from their allies.
Generation Zero starts out solidly, prompting you as soon as you make landfall to find a weapon and some first aid kids in the nearby buildings. There’s ammo in a police car parked on the road—sorted. Not long after you’re introduced to the games’ basic enemy machine, the runner. Fast and deadly, they pose a challenge from the get-go and don’t get much easier as the player progresses. Physically, they look like robot dogs or wolves with a fuel tank and a machine gun strapped to its back. Once these machines are dispatched, the game points you in the vague direction of the nearest settlement that might have people in it at one point and lets you off the leash.
It’s certainly not a game that will hold your hand or tell you where every objective and enemy is. The in-game compass functions purely as a compass, it always points north. It won’t tell you where objectives are, there won’t be a red dot highlighting nearby enemies, it just points north. Enemy detection is only signaled by two things: actual sound and a shotgun mic style detection meter.
This would be great if it wasn’t for the fact that both sound and detection are broken. This much becomes abundantly clear when you go into the first underground location you come across. While inside you’ll constantly have a detection bar even if you’ve cleared the entire building of enemies if you walk or sprint—not because enemies are down there with you, but because they’re above ground and can apparently hear you down there. The second time it becomes noticeable is when trying to sneak past a patrol. If they get too close, even moving while crouched will raise their awareness forcing the player to either sit perfectly still or attempt to engage them hoping the entirety of Sweden doesn’t come running.
It’s unfortunate that Generation Zero is consistently marred with technical issues, all of which seem entirely unpredictable. For example, being downed and then reviving too quickly may make the player unable to print at full speed. The next time this happens, the same set of actions may have no effect. Machines locked in steel containers can seemingly warp out of them at will, and then there’s whatever this 28-second clip of nonsense is.
All of this is backed by an 80s soundtrack that fits so beautifully to the design of the machines and the world they inhabit. The game is true for the player character who feels as weighty as their firearms, all of which have great audio-visual feedback. Encompassed in a story about a sudden invasion and a missing populace, never meeting a living NPC, interacting with hastily written notes and skittish recordings—it’s a unique and mystical world trapped in a rugged game.
Generation Zero is a game propelled by its ability to be played with a group of friends. While its technical systems may be flawed, its world and mechanics are still engaging enough for fun-times-with-mates. Once you get into the groove, you’ll find amazing atmosphere, story, and a rocking OST. You’ll also discover busted mechanics, flawed AI and bugs crawling out of every corner.