by Amber Hall
reviewed on PC
Generation Zero is an open world FPS survival game set in a hyper-militarized Sweden. You return home to find something has gone very wrong while you were away. Houses have been left in a hurry, belongings scattered and forgotten. Advanced military robots roam the landscape, searching for survivors, ready to gun down anything that moves. Sounds pretty awesome, right? Well sadly, that's about as awesome as this game gets. The premise got me really excited to try Generation Zero out because it reminded me of the Black Mirror episode "Metalhead" in which humanity must hide from robots that hunt them. It was a thrilling episode that kept me on the edge of my seat, and so I expected much of the same from Generation Zero.
Moreover, upon starting Generation Zero, I was greeted by some decent graphics and a thoroughly unnerving atmosphere that made the whole thing seem that much more promising. In my experience, the survival genre has only had a handful of games that ever were fun to play, let alone well put together or even finished. Usually graphics take a backseat in the genre as well, and so this led me to believe that this game wouldn't be like the others. I sank into the unsettling music, started looting the nearby house, and got ready for some Horizon: Zero Dawn-like robot combat. I was sadly mistaken.
Upon getting a weapon I was prompted to take on my first enemy. I came across a small group of robots that were scanning and patrolling the street. I only had a handgun but figured that the small beginning enemies would be a piece of cake. However I was quickly made aware that these guys hit HARD. I barely escaped with my life and only then after a significant amount of healing and panicking. I decided that stealth would be the best way to handle situations in the future and carried on, hoping to find a weapon that packed more of a punch.
I eventually managed to stealth my way into a heavily guarded church, found a new weapon, and felt positive that the little droids didn't stand a chance! This is when I realized just how flawed the game's combat is. As much as I was fragile, so too were the small enemies I encountered (and later, even the bigger ones were easy to cheese). Getting hit in a fight usually means taking severe amounts of damage, even on what are seemingly tutorial level enemies. On the flip side, the enemies I encountered were taken out with just a few shots. It feels like combat situations are anybody's game and it is difficult to figure out how to get in control of each situation. I think that this issue comes down to the game's lack of mechanics.
Combat boils down to shooting an enemy until they die and that's kinda it. Likewise, stealth means just not getting too close to an enemy while crouching. There aren't any skills or moves to really add some depth to these mechanics. There's a leveling system, but it only serves to make pre-existing basics a little less cumbersome, such as reloading faster or having more stamina. Because the systems are so basic, the only skill I felt I really needed was being able to aim well and run from enemy attacks. This means that there isn't any way to really get one over on the enemy and so battles can go either way. I found myself simply writing off areas with more than a few enemies as a result, which served to make exploration a lot less enjoyable.
Exploration was, at first, something I was very excited to take on. The atmosphere in Generation Zero is so thick and everything feels very daunting and creepy. Storms roll in from time to time and things become appropriately dreary. However, as I explored, the setting became more than thematically empty. The map is huge and the forests are beautiful in their own right, but there is never anything to find or do in them. Big open world maps may be all the rage these days, but they're nothing but a hindrance when they're this empty. Towns and houses have lots of loot, but it quickly becomes apparent that many of the locations are the same general layout, copy and pasted a bunch of times. Usually, in avoiding combat and stealth, I kept in the woods and just walked from one place on the map to the next since quests were largely repetitive and focused on finding new locations and fighting enemies. It made much of my experience feel more artificial than the artificial intelligences I was readily avoiding.
And even when the game is pretty, there are enough graphical and audio issues to ensure that I am taken out of my enjoyment of it every time. For example, the storms are cool, but many times turning my view just a little made the sound extremely loud out of nowhere. This carries over to many of the sounds, such as enemies moving around. This is especially annoying when trying to stealth, because it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly where enemies are that you can't see. And so I found myself stumbling around the map aimlessly, avoiding enemies to escape unfair (and un-fun) battles, going from one house to the next in the hopes that something exciting might happen.
A Dish Best Served Unserved
In the end, Generation Zero is simply too basic and fails to do anything special with its otherwise interesting premise and pretty graphics. The negatives tend to leech into the positives in the game and even some of the smallest issues are magnified when there's nothing more interesting surrounding them. Wrap that all up with some clunky UI and Generation Zero is a beautifully garnished dish that clearly hasn't been left in the oven long enough, if cooked at all.
Great atmosphere, good graphics
Doesn't do anything special, mechanics are extremely basic, confusing sound directions, repetitive gameplay, empty open world, aimless questing