Generation Zero was one of the many games I had set my sharp stockpiler eye on, ever since its reveal just days before E3 2018. Still hungover from the wonderful co-op moments I shared with Dying Light, Vermintide 2 and Borderlands 2, roaming around a desolate ’80s Sweden fighting gigantic robots was an alluring proposition. Hardly a year has passed and Generation Zero has treated itself to a release on PC, PS4 and Xbox One, with little to no promotion or hype. But the only question that matter here, in my little world, is a simple one- is the game worth buying? Well, let’s take a long, hard look, shall we?
Story & Narrative
The unique thing about the story in Generation Zero is that there is hardly any story. According to the game’s description, Generation Zero is set in an alternate history where robots have taken over the Swedish countryside in the 1980s. Your character returns from a trip to find out that your hometown has been abandoned overnight and is populated by nasty robotic monstrosities. That’s about it. Sure, there are a few cryptic notes and audio diaries to be found in the world that’s supposed to shed light on what happened, but the story outright feels like an afterthought. There are no NPCs in the world to tell you what happened nor there a reason for you to do the things you do, other than for the sake of gameplay. Reminds me a lot of another game from last year. But hey, as long as the gameplay holds up…
Gameplay & Mechanics
Generation Zero was off to a strong start. After an ear-candy synthwave piece, your ugly custom-made character is dropped into a massive island with no sign of life and definitely no handholding. Empty houses, abandoned cars, cryptic notes, and robotic dogs that are just too cute to pet populate the depressing and desolate countryside. After stumbling upon a measly pistol and a clip of ammo, my punk rock avatar took the fight to a wayward robotic pupper without a second thought. And you know what, it felt good. The shooting felt meaty and primal and was accompanied by the satisfying sound of hot lead penetrating whatever metallic the doggo was made of. A few seconds and two health packs later, the canine lay dead at my feet. Like any well-confused survivor, I dug my filthy hands into the motionless body of the doge and walked away with a handful of ammo. Post-apocalyptic life is good.
Oh, you sweet summer child…
An hour or two in and I was unsure of what I was even playing. It surely isn’t a survival FPS, neither is it a story-driven RPG-lite experience like Dying Light nor an objective based co-op game like Vermintide. In these two hours, all I did was go from one location to the next, break into similar looking houses that made me think if a single architect had been commissioned to build houses for the whole island, pick up randomized loot, shoot some mechanical mongrels, rinse and repeat. The main quest I had picked up had broken ever since I arrived at the second location and side quests were little more than go to X and pick up Y. I kept on doing this monotonous cycle before Generation Zero sent me swiftly to my desktop with the standard apologizing message window. I sat there confused and even a little sad. What is this game supposed to be, and why is it so boring? These questions lingered on my mind until I decided to sleep on it and come back fresh-faced the next morning. This time, however, with a few buddies in tow.
We tried, we really tried to like Generation Zero. The gunplay is decent and can be satisfying at times, the enemy design is praiseworthy and there are lots of ways to tackle each encounter (when everything works, that is). Plus, the game looks pretty good (for the most part, more on it later) and has a tonne of atmosphere. Unfortunately, that’s where the positives stop. The biggest crime of Generation Zero is how boring and uninspired the game truly is. Identity crisis is strong here and you can see through the fact that Generation Zero doesn’t know what it wants to be. The gameplay loop of going from location to location, scouring for generic loot and killing the same, respawning machines over and over gets tiring very fast. There are hardly any solid gameplay mechanics to sustain this repetitive cycle.
The co-op multiplayer is barebones, quests are as generic as they can be, assets are re-used over and over again, bugs are rampant, there is no sense of achievement even after beating the toughest of enemies, AI is highly RNG infested and the huge map is devoid of any worthwhile content. Even though there are a few interesting automatons and creative encounters in far-off locations, I doubt even the most devoted player will keep clambering on through the boring gameplay loop of Generation Zero to reach up to that point.
Graphics, Performance & Sound
Generation Zero uses Just Cause 4‘s Apex Engine and as one would expect, it carries over both the pros and cons that were present in the said game. There’s no denying that Generation Zero is a looker as a whole package. The lighting, particle effects, volumetric fog, godrays, reflections, etc are all very well done and blends in nicely with the bleak atmosphere. The visuals really gave me The Vanishing of Ethan Carter vibes while I was strolling through the desolate countryside, watching the early rays of the sun kiss the bright, young leaves good morning. However, similar to Just Cause 4, the anti-aliasing is outright terrible. Even with FXAA+TAA turned on, everything looks murky and blurry. There’s also the badly implemented Depth of Field effects which blurs out objects near you, such as the stock or scope of a gun. The controversial water effects from JC4 also makes a return, although it’s a bit better (not a lot) in Generation Zero.
The game was tested on the following specs:
- Intel Core i5 7500 3.40Ghz
- GTX 1070 8 GB
- 8×2 GB 2400Mhz DDR4 Ram
- 256 GB SSD
Generation Zero ran at above 60 fps at 1080p for pretty much my entire playtime. There was an area or two that dipped the frame to lower 50s, but those were isolated occurrences. Be warned that there are plenty of bugs in the game, including missing quests, quests refusing to complete, missing journal entries and the occasional crash. While playing on the pre-release version, my main quest got bugged out and refused to resolve until the official launch and played with a full party.
Music in Generation Zero just works. Aside from the main theme, there were no soundtracks that will make its way to my ever-growing playlist. Guns sound meaty and loud, weather effects sound like…well, weather effects and overall, it’s a serviceable package. There was this one issue where it felt like sounds like wind howling or rain gushing were originating from a particular spot on the map. If you turned around, they’d stop and would resume when you turn the camera backs towards the specific area.
To put it bluntly, Generation Zero is boring, uninspired and unrewarding with little to no story, lifeless quests and an empty map. You can almost taste the wasted potential that is lurking underneath. The game is described as a live service by the developers and there is a chance that most of these issues could be resolved in a year or so. But for the sake of your sanity and your hard earned cash, hold off the purchase until then.