If you’ve had your fill of zombie-based, post-apocalyptic survival games, but still have room in your heart for the genre then perhaps Generation Zero’s robot based carnage will appeal.
Generation Zero is a cooperative online shooter from Avalanche Studios that is set in 1980s Sweden. The brief preamble tells us that since World War 2, the people of Sweden have been trained in survival and the use of weapons, like a sort of pseudo militia. This is helpful, then, when an army of hostile robots begin to tear up the countryside.
And what a countryside it is too. I’ve never explored Sweden and I’ve certainly never experienced its wild forests and archipelagos, but through Generation Zero, I now have a sense of what those places must be like. I’m not saying that this digital representation of Sweden compares to the reality in any way, but it is nonetheless beautiful and impressive in its own right.
The opening hours take place on a small island chain linked by bridges and shallow water. Among the points of interest, players will take in farmsteads, villages and even a ruined castle, not to mention various places of natural beauty including peaks and valleys, cliffs, swampland and more. For a game that centres around murderous autonatoms, Generation Zero offers a lot of natural beauty.
The enemies that players will meet during these early stages are small and relatively easy to dispatch, but no matter how long you’ve been playing the game, a group of them can still pose a threat. The smallest robots are about the size of a large dog and have similar behaviour, seemingly charging round and round the player, sometimes using melee attacks but mostly taking pot shots with small arms or shotgun style weapons.
Further into the game, larger quadruped robots appear, complete with heavier armour and much more powerful weapons, but even these don’t compare to the bi-pedal robots that pose the biggest threat. A couple of these behemoths supported by several larger robots will pose a real threat to even the best equipped and most experienced players.
And that is where Generation Zero’s problems begin to show through. The storyline itself is very sparse, presenting players with tidbits of information via handwritten notes, voicemails and so on. Each of these can lead to the next interesting location, but there’s little to compel the solo player forwards. This becomes even more apparent when you realise that some fights simply can’t be won by a lone player.
If you’re wondering why this is a problem that’s because Generation Zero’s multiplayer system is surprisingly limited when you consider that it should be at the heart of the experience. For starters there are no lobbies, no lists of servers or any of the usual trappings. Instead, on Xbox One, you simply start a game and allow multiplayer, or you invite a friend (or have one invite you).
I’m honestly not sure, to this day, how I would search for and join a game in progress if I didn’t already have the player on my friends list. Maybe it’s possible (and I’m sure it will be made easier in the future) but right now, if you don’t have a friend that is also willing to invest in Generation Zero, you’ll struggle to make a new one in the game itself.
Should you manage to assemble the full complement of four players, then Generation Zero feels a lot like an open-world Left4Dead, which is most definitely when it is at its best. You’ll be able to coordinate attacks, exchange items and weaponry and in general, set yourselves up for better success and a lot more of an enjoyable time — even if the enemies do begin to feel quite samey after only a few hours play.
The developers have always claimed that achievements made in cooperative play would remain unlocked for all players, and items and weapons collected would carry over. Personally, I’ve had a mixed experience here with some items disappearing and some unlocked safe houses definitely remaining elusive in my own game. This is annoying, especially in the case of the latter, which can result in considerable backtracking and often, insurmountable battles.
Whether you play on your own, or with up to three pals (which is certainly better) Generation Zero gets a lot of the fundamentals right. The Swedish landscape, as I mentioned, is superb and the enemies are fantastic until you realise how few of them there are. What really stands out for me is the gunplay, which is superb. The weapons in Generation Zero bark and crack in a way that is rare even in the biggest budget games, making them a pleasure to play with.
For quite a while occasional forays into multiplayer (either with my actual friends, or the randoms who somehow found a way into my game) and solo jaunts up cliffs, into castles or abandoned military bases kept me interested in Generation Zero. The quality of the gunplay and the frequency at which Generation Zero dishes out new weapons and attachments certainly helped, because everyone likes new toys don’t they?
Sadly, that’s not enough to make a game. Generation Zero does offer some intriguing story beats, but it dishes out too little of it over too long a time to really hook the player in. The geographical storytelling is stronger, but the occasional unique building can only make up for the hundredth copy and paste Ikea home for so long. Overall, Generation Zero has a lot of potential, but at this moment in time, it fails to make the most of it.