Generation Zero is a first-person survival shooter and comes to us from Avalanche Studios, the masters behind the popular Just Cause series and 2015’s Mad Max. Set in rural Sweden during the ’80s, you return home to find the land overrun by machines and the population nowhere in sight. Setting out, either alone or with some friends via online co-op you need to get to the bottom of what’s going on while surviving the mechanical menace that stalks you wherever you go.
What hit us almost immediately is that GZ is very vague on traditional storytelling. With no NPC’s to interact with, missions are gathered by exploring the world and finding key items like messages on answering machines, or a scribbled note someone left behind indicating where they might be going, this will then ping up a quest saying, “investigate the bomb shelter” or “search the nearby town for clues”. The audio messages are all spoken in Swedish (subtitles are provided) which we really loved, not only is it refreshing to see the beautiful country being showcased in gaming but maintaining the language really added to the experience. At first, this was jarring but after a bit of exploration and experimentation with the menu system, where you will be spending a bit of time if you hope to piece things together, it wasn’t too long before we were traversing the beautiful landscape and following the clues.
This method of plot provision really lends itself to the realism Avalanche have pushed for with GZ. Looking back to the ’80s, mobile phones and communication, in general, was nowhere near where it is today, coupled with the open, rural setting this adds a strong sense of vulnerability and isolation to the scenario.
Sadly the quest selection doesn’t have much variation, after an hour or so things started to pick up and look promising, we had a selection of missions in the menu to be cracking on with but after a few more hours these missions never really escalated to anything more than, go here and look at this place, now go here and search for clues, now go back here and find a piece of paper. Anyone who has dabbled in an MMO will know all too well the tedium of fetch quests which is sadly what 90% of GZ feels like.
Hot on your tracks, however, are the machines! Don’t expect to see Arnie strutting his stuff across the cornfields or RoboCop shaking his booty down the corridors, these machines are purely military battle units who harken back to the old industrial crash and burn days of sci-fi. The first batch you will come across are dog-like units, agile with mounted machine guns and usually found patrolling in packs, these buggers will be chasing you around so much you’ll think you were in the metal head episode of Black Mirror!
As you venture further inland you will encounter larger, faster and more powerful units, but once again the variation is slim. Once you have encountered the small number of different machines and mastered each type’s weakness the encounters start to become less intense and more by the numbers. Don’t get us wrong, these enemies pack a punch and are not a pushover, but by using some stealth and picking them off or wearing them down slowly with some cat and mouse tactics you will generally see success.
There is fun to be had in co-op, the larger enemies have some brutal firepower and exploiting weaknesses can be time-consuming, having a few friends on hand to run distraction while you line up a saucy shot on a weak spot or set a trap with some propane tanks will make taking them down much quicker and easier. But the game loses something in co-op, what atmosphere and tension that’s built playing encounters solo is completely lost with a group of allies.
When you are not chasing leads and fighting machines you will be spending a lot of time looting. Ammo and supplies for the basic weapons are generous in supply. Going off the beaten track is where you are likely to get your hands on the more useful items. Like the main quests, side quests will be happened upon by exploration.
Early on we found a car that had been in a collision which contained a note from a hunter saying he has left some items at the house. Looking at the direction the car was coming from we followed the road back and down a track where we found his house and the hunting rifle. Snooping around as we went, we found a silencer and a scope to attach to the rifle which came in handy with recon and thinning out enemy numbers while allowing us to maintain a lower profile.
The main appeal to looter’s, from Diablo or Borderlands, is that as you progress and find new area’s and take down enemies you are rewarded with new and exciting weapons and items to choose from. Once again GZ just lacks any real reward, other than keeping your ammo levels up, finding some attachments and distraction items like flairs or radios that will get the attention of a machine, there was not a lot else to find. After we had obtained a hunting rifle, a good assault rifle and a pistol with some scopes and silencers that’s all we needed.
You can find a large selection of clothing to deck your character out with, some of these have added benefits such as reduced noise, fire resistance, bullet resistance and so on, as with most FPS games you rarely see your own character so adorning our 80’s cock rock-inspired character with bright pink shoes was not an issue if they provided heavy noise reduction. Again, the further inland you will find some better versions of these weapons and items along with some fancy tools like rocket launchers but the sense of excitement from looting a defeated enemy or a house wears thin all too quickly. The locations are also repetitive, everything feels very copy and paste. Houses all generally have the exact same interior layout and design, every church is identical and even when you find some of the more interesting locations such as naval and military bunkers, they again are pretty much the same over and over. Luckily each new area you encounter will let you know how many loot items, weapons and collectables can be found so you won’t necessarily have to waste more time than you need to if it’s just a few items you need to top up on.
Generation Zero is a gorgeous game to see in action, featuring some of the most beautiful lighting and landscapes we have ever seen in a shooter. Watching the morning mist and haze lift as the sun rises or the moonlight beaming through the treelines provide some captivating and eerie scenes all coupled with a dynamic weather system which can be used to your advantage, during a rainstorm your footsteps will be muffled making it easier to bypass enemies, all taking place in beautiful Sweden is truly a sight to behold.
Sound design is also right on the money! The primary score is a deep synth affair, guns are loud with shots echoing through the trees when fired. The machines all sound heavy and dangerous with each movement, hearing the heavy footsteps or buzzing scanners as you approach a new area will instantly have you alert for enemies. Wind whistles through trees, thunder cracks loud and hard across the sky and rain hits hard to the ground and onto buildings all adding a deeper depth of atmosphere to the exploration.
Generation Zeros is a very ambitious game that gets lost in all the elements it’s trying to provide. The more I played the more I felt it gave with one hand and took with another, never quite delivering on the brilliant ideas it touched on. A huge map to explore with beautiful presentation was let down by copy and paste locations with a small variation of foes and missions. Gunplay was solid and responsive, yet the fights became tedious quickly. Huge amounts of loot but with no NPC stores or crafting abilities most of it just becomes dead weight and left behind. With a robust skill tree, you can customise your play style but for my taste, GZ offers its best moments in single-player while being stealthy, big boss style. There is fun to be had but the excitement comes in dribs and drabs with a beautiful world filled with potential slowly becoming a rinse and repeat affair. This may be a game that gets some post-launch love to really flesh out the experience and add variation. Avalanche have proven they know their stuff with the before mentioned Just Cause and Mad Max titles but for right now Generation Zeros feels too much like an early access title, albeit a very polished one.
Review code provided
Platform: PlayStation, Xbox, PC
Release Date: 26/03/2019
No. of Players: 1-4
Category: Survival FPS
Publisher: Avalanche Studios
Download link: PSN