A premise so original that it ends up being disappointingly generic
Type: Single-Player, Co-Op
Genre: Adventure, Action, Survival
Developer: Avalanche Publishing
Publisher: Avalanche Publishing
Release date: 26 Mar, 2019
Generation Zero screams potential… and missed opportunity. It’s a game set in the 80’s! It’s in Sweden, with beautiful islands and countrysides! It’s filled with murderous robots and every single human is missing! What happened?
Sadly, the game is so utterly anticlimactic and boring (even worse if you play solo) that it lacks any real innovation after the starting hours once you notice the same gameplay loop never ends until the ending is achieved, which takes too long for the game’s sake.
This is a decent recommendation for a co-op experience and a “wait for a heavy discount” for solo players. The game is still worth playing overall… but not at the asking price, nor with the current state of release.
It is worth mentioning that one of our staff members, JimDeadlock, did a small preview with me in the following video:
Note from JimDeadlock: “Apologies for the silence in the game. There is, in fact, a lot of silence in general but there are good sounds when you shoot robots etc. It’s just that I messed up the sound recording. Sorry!”
The full review will cover a bit more as I’ve played several more times since the video, so let’s get on with it, starting with the core of a video game: the gameplay!
This part ends up being the average part of the game. The guns look okay, feel and sound okay. Everything is just… okay. It’s worthy of praise the fact that the guns are different than typical videogame firearm depictions: Swedish army weapons (for the most part) are the arsenal available, the names and their looks are a bit different than usual and spike the curiosity for first-time users. The animations for reloading and such are great, the sounds are beefy and it’s worth noting that various types of ammo are a thing here, so tactical choice and the use of different bullet types is encouraged thanks to the enemies being robots and thus, having an abnormally larger amount of armor than your typical human enemy in other shooters.
You can carry 2 primary guns and a sidearm. Primaries include anything that isn’t basically a pistol, ranging from shotguns/SMG’s to the all-powered rocket launchers! Variety is quite nice and being able to carry three guns instead of two is something that shouldn’t be as novel these days as it is with Generation Zero.
The inventory system is worth mentioning as being one of the worst I’ve ever had to use, ever. One simple feature of increasing your backpack size isn’t done through scavenging or crafting a better bag… nope. It’s a skill tied to the XP you get from quests and combat. And it’s in the middle of the damn tree! So you have to spend at least 1-2 points to unlock a single extra row of slots. It’s nonsensical!
Staying on the topic of slots and inventory management, inventory is split into rows of slots (squares), each being taken by ammo, grenades, weapons, attachments, etc. However… ALL guns take two slots instead of being balanced by size or weight. The the pistol takes as much space as a rocket launcher, but twice the slots of a boombox (which is bigger) and this is simply illogical.
It is worth mentioning for immersion reasons as I feel this game tried somewhat to be immersive and kind of fails because of little details like this. A bigger problem is the mandatory inventory management when it’s full. The following case is easier to notice when you get your backpack full:
– Imagine you have your inventory full and you have a shotgun with regular buckshot equipped (shotguns have other type of ammo like bird shells and slugs, etc.) and you find buckshot in a random container. It doesn’t automatically go to your ammo count for the shotgun. Instead, it doesn’t let you pick it up as the “inventory is full”. So what you have to do is drop an item to make a clear slot, unequip the buckshot ammo you have, pick up the shells from the container so they stack with your existing buckshot ammo count and THEN equip the buckshot to your shotgun.
What the actual…
– Another case is with attachments: you cannot equip them directly so, again, you must drop an item, pick up the attachment, equip the attachment and pick up the item you dropped.
– Now, picture you have a Tier 1 Assault Rifle (AR for abbreviation purposes from now on) with three attachments you found. You see a Tier 2 AR. Yay! But your inventory is full. So get this: I had to drop five items to manually remove the attachments and put them in the inventory so I can then put my AR (which takes the other two slots, that’s why I said I had to drop five and not three) in the inventory, so I can drop it (because you can’t drop equipped items!) and then I can pick up the Tier 2 AR, equip it, put the attachments on it, equip the ammo I had, and then pick up the five items I dropped to make this possible.
I am really, really sorry if this sounded confusing but I had to explain this the best I could with the most detail so that you can understand that someone released a game where you have to micromanage your inventory so hard, you lose all the fun of looting…
…in a game about scavenging and looting to fight your opposition.
The game is unfinished, and this is the top example of it. Another example are the bugs: some enemies have telegraphed attacks for you and if you manage to retreat to a house, for example, if they trigger that attack, they’ll simply clip through the walls and move through them and it looks really bad, honestly. In related information, enemies do not enter indoor locations at all from what I’ve played, I even had the funny case of attracting some of the early game robots to a house with a radio and they just sat at the door running back and forth while I pumped them full of lead one by one.
I’ve even had enemies that got shot and just stared at me… until they died.
Now, the enemies themselves. They’re robots! And they act like it… somewhat. They have enhanced detection techniques: sound and sight seem to be much more sensitive. I’ve been spotted even half a kilometer away, the same for hearing my sprinting footsteps. Don’t expect Far Cry stealth, for example, where you can sprint to an enemy until you’re two fingers behind his back, ready for the stab (not that you could anyway here, there’s no melee system whatsoever). They seem to have pretty good detection at night, though not as good as in daylight, as expected. Rain and weather effects also seem to change their detection performance. Your use of the flashlight seems to also make a difference in how fast they find you. I’ve even had a cool situation where I was at 0% detection and turned on my flashlight and I got insta-spotted. The bar filled instantly. It was shocking but also fair; it proves how the game can shine sometimes when it works as you’d expect. The enemy weaknesses are mostly present when in combat, where they shoot standing still, making weak-spot shooting really easy for the player. And even when they don’t shoot, some will just… stand there. Some detection issues are still present, like when I shot some enemies with my silenced rifle from the top of a mountain and they turned and instantly started spamming me with their machine gun fire. To conclude here, the AI is quite dodgy but it’s okay for the most part. The clipping mentioned above is also quite jarring.
The game’s core, of sorts, is the looting aspect. You start the game coming back to the country and need to find what happened, and fight back the machines and their dominance… by looting endless amounts of backpacks, toolboxes and wooden crates.
This would be okay… if the loot wasn’t tied to a terrible inventory management system and it respawned… everytime.
Die and respawn at a safehouse – Loot is back.
Quit the game to cook dinner and kiss the wife before going back – oops, all 150 pistol bullets are back at the barn.
I get the game isn’t “survival” but the feel of having to adopt a careful playstyle: the existence of stealth skills, silencers, the machines being armoured and hard to bring down unless you have explosives or armor piercing rounds (more advanced machines, the basic ones are 2-5 shots easily in the weak spot), the fear or being overwhelmed by these human-hating machines; it all feels like stealth, careful play and resource management is important.
But you can just nope that out of the window: you’ll get HUNDREDS of flares, health kits and ammo in the first few hours of the game. If you can headshot basic enemies decently well, you can loot explosive containers from them pretty frequently tool. And all impressions you had of playing tactically or with any sort of care is just gone once you get your inventory full of combat gear within 2 hours of play. I have no idea how many hours I spent skipping containers as I was full of stuff. The overall combat items you get are just ridiculously overwhelming early-game (and throughout the game’s entirety) that it just removes any tension the combat could have really quickly.
This doesn’t help the combat feel less repetitive at all, because the game encourages this killing mentality. You can refill most of your ammo in a location after wiping it out, so what’s the point of wasting time entering a location carefully and in stealth if you can’t loot anything because your inventory is full of combat items?
The game doesn’t know what it wants to be. And worse even is the how the completion rate of the game is scored: the game works like a typical open world RPG (let’s take, for example, Fallout), you find a location, get XP, and get to explore it, etc. However, every location has a completion rate tied to it, this includes how many boxes you looted out of X, how many missions you activated out of X, how many guns… you get the point.
So, the novelty of getting into a location and finding a new awesome rifle, a note that triggers a quest, etc. is gone… you KNOW if the game has (or not) missions or guns for you at that location. There’s no fun in discovering and looting stuff when you know what the location already has.
So, after looting those 90 containers (yes, some locations are that ridiculous), those 2 guns that sucked and you got another fetch quest… what did you get? Boredom. That’s what you got.
This is an Avalanche game! They made Just Cause and Mad Max and those games were balls to the wall insane, fast and fun! Collecting in Mad Max was cool because there was crafting and upgrades, there was a purpose to each item you picked up, to each area you fully looted. Destroying locations to 100% was fun in Just Cause because of how crazy and fast-paced the game was!
Why am I looting the same containers, with the same items, all the time here for 100% in each location (there are dozens if not hundreds!)? There is no crafting here, no “materials”, the upgrades are strictly tied to stealth, combat success or doing quests (and destroying radio beacons which is essentially a “collectible” activity), so the game motivates you even less to loot and scavenge for stuff after your inventory is close to full, if not full because of how generous it is at giving you everything every 10 seconds of sprinting.
The world is gorgeous and atmospheric. The feel of emptiness hits really well but… after a bit, when you notice you have to sprint ALOT through empty and very similar looking forests and fields to get between locations, you start getting bored and noticing the gameplay loop of running -> location -> kill/stealth through enemies -> loot -> micromanage -> repeat and that’s when you notice the game is as large as an ocean (for real, the world is HUGE) and shallow as a freaking puddle!
The game lacks NPC’s so everything is told through notes and audio logs (reminds me of another game… hmm) that always, ALWAYS tell you to find something in location *location name*. Enjoy sprinting for 10 minutes straight there to pick a note and finish the quest and receive a disappointing 250XP, where you can get 300 at least from a basic combat sequence.
And this is my final point. Imagine doing this repetitive gameplay loop of exploring for loot you usually cannot pick up, of fighting and restocking in ammo right after, of picking a note, running around, kill a couple robots and pick another note to finish a “quest”.
That’s it… until the very end. For hours.
It’s just so disappointing… I’d prefer a smaller world, less open fields of nothing, more interesting locations, more notes on the backstory, different house designs (they all look the same), and some NPC’s. Maybe resistance members hiding, that would give you quests and you could run around and ask for their support in combat, learn ways to revert machines into allies, be able to salvage machine parts (one of the collectibles is robot blueprints… and you can’t do anything with them) and use the collectible blueprints to craft your own. I know not every game can/should have crafting but this had so much potential and not a single cool, original idea was put here, in my opinion.
Maybe the ambiguous story direction is somewhat refreshing because it’s told through notes and doesn’t handhold you or show you the path to the next quest. That is done through investigation and scavenging the locations until you find a note or an audio log, for example. That is cool, it’s a shame the design of the quests themselves is repetitive and disappointingly shallow. There isn’t a single quest where you feel like you can tell people how awesome it is because it’s all so uneventful…
I’m beating the dead horse here but I really wanted this to be a gem and seeing it as a mediocre “another open world co-op shooter” is just sad beyond belief for me.
Solo players get the short end of the stick, but I doubt co-op players will have much fun after they fight enemies and explore locations for the 50th time and feel like they’re doing the same thing for the 50th time and not finding something new that makes them keep going.
At the price of 34,99€, I can only recommend for the technical aspect, which is never a good reason to buy a game.
The graphics are stunning. One of the prettiest games I’ve played. A true “print screen spammer” game. Great lighting, good physics and considerable attention to detail are the core parts. The fact grass and plants you walk over will move and flatten to the ground after you walk past them is just something I must praise in the game.
The audio is mostly great. The voice acting is really good. I don’t understand Swedish, but the weight of the words, the emotions in the acting can still be felt. Sighs, deep breaths, voices cracking just ooze atmosphere of a country that crashed and burned right before its population’s eyes. It’s truly great.
The 80’s feel is somewhat there. Your character can be customized with a surprising attention to detail (though you can only choose between about 6 faces), and apparel items can be looted from any container in the game. There are dozens of them to allow you to get your character nailed perfectly to your liking. The true feel of the 80’s shines in the soundtrack. My goodness, the soundtrack! While the combat music is just “good”, the ambient sounds are pretty solid and the actual music for the menus, radio and boombox items is fantastic! The menu theme is one of the greatest I’ve heard in a long time for a game. It nails the 80’s feel phenomenally and reminds me alot of Stranger Things, a TV Show I really like.
It starts great, but the novelty wears quickly. It can be fun but I don’t think most players will enjoy the repetition.
In the end, I cannot recommend Generation Zero for solo players at all unless it is at a massive discount. I still recommend checking it out for updates as the developers have claimed the game will evolve and be updated over time with content, changes, etc. so this review may become really outdated after a year or so, which I honestly hope happens since that means the game may become a much better version of what it is now.
For co-op players, I can give this game a stronger recommendation (though still not at full price) as the skills and the gameplay are more fun with friends and helps the world feel less empty and lifeless.
The game is a huge disappointment but I’m keeping my hopes up. There’s a hidden gem hidden around here, it just needs to be found and smoothed.