The sun is slowly rising over the Swedish countryside, reflecting off the puddle laden roads littered with abandoned vehicles. As you gaze across the deserted yet eerily picturesque vista, the serenity of this peaceful and calming moment is shattered by an unwelcome appearance: a patrol of quadrupedal death-bringing machines slowly marches down the road, while a floating reconnaissance robot surveys the immediate vicinity. Reloading your assault rifle and realising you’re down to your last med kit, you inch your way past, always remaining at a safe distance. Suddenly, a high pitched whine indicates that your cover is blown as the quadrupeds make a beeline for your position. Sprinting towards a nearby house, you close the door behind you and, as the robots swarm around the building, you take pot shots at them through the windows...
Generation Zero is littered with moments such as the one described above, and it’s during these confrontations that you’d think this open-world 1980’s set FPS would be at its absolute best. However, what should be a tense and exhilarating take on a robot uprising never comes close to realising its potential. Coming from Avalanche Studios - the Just Cause and Mad Max developer, not to be confused with Avalanche Software - Generation Zero sees your voiceless character of choice returning home after a few days away, cut off from civilisation, only to have your boat fired upon. Injured, but able to make it to shore, you quickly realise that the entire region has been evacuated and you begin your journey to discover what events transpired, the origins of the killer robots roaming the land and, above all else, a means to rejoin humanity.
Along the way, you’ll scavenge supplies - from med kits and distraction tools to various firearms, ammo types and explosives - and traverse the countryside, either engaging with the mechanical menaces or attempting to stealthily evade their attention. If you’ve ever watched Black Mirror, then Generation Zero will instantly give you a “Metalhead” vibe and in the opening moments there’s a constant sense of dread. Your health doesn’t regenerate if you retreat and huddle behind an obstacle for a few moments, and med kits won’t instantly restore you. But during my time with the game, that tension dissipated as Generation Zero’s myriad of issues gradually exposed themselves, chipping away at my willingness to overlook them and sucking any potential enjoyment out of the experience.
Generation Zero’s most immediate problem is that its huge region is comparatively barren compared to other contemporary open-world games. Devoid of any human NPC’s, it’s up to the environment itself to reveal to the player what exactly has occurred and provide them with their next objective. The issue here is that the environmental storytelling almost entirely non-existent, relying solely on letters, military dossiers and voice recordings, with the main mission and side quests being bound equally by the same constraints. Almost every new objective you receive amounts to reading or listening to a piece of intel that hints at a location that may be harbouring survivors, heading to said location and discovering further intel that tasks you with heading to another location. Aside from a few missions that nudge you in the direction of areas that may provide you with useful supplies, Generation Zero never asks anything else of the player. It’s a constant trudging to new towns and settlements only to be told you're unfortunately one step behind your fellow humans, and the monotonous gameplay loop wears itself out rapidly.
That repetition isn’t restricted to the mission structure either, as Generation Zero’s open world, as expansive as it is, also sports identikit buildings and structures that you’ll quickly tire of looting. Identical building interiors become overly apparent in the first hour or so, with hundreds of houses containing the exact same furniture and other bits of scenery. The world as a whole is least well designed and at times mildly impressive from a technical standpoint. Sunrises and sunsets bring with them some nice lighting effects, while the layout of villages, bunkers, churches and various military installations dotted around the vast open countryside, gives the impression of being somewhere that exists in the real world, albeit a sterile and lifeless version of it. Unfortunately, occasions in which the framerate takes a hit happen at an alarming rate, seemingly with no rhyme or reason behind their cause, and there’s also a fair amount of texture pop-in and screen tearing. To be fair, when Generation Zero is running well and the aforementioned graphical hiccups aren’t rearing their ugly heads, it can look pretty good, but those issues occur far too frequently.
Combat is every bit as rinse and repeat as the missions, save for the instances where it’s just utterly infuriating. This is in no small part down to the woefully inconsistent enemy AI. Your robotic opponents will often be in a state of possessing pinpoint accuracy and being able to detect you from behind a wall hundreds of meters away, only to spontaneously begin to gambol aimlessly in front of you while you pump rounds into them. They also have a tendency to stand there motionless firing rounds at you or destroy other robots stood in their way while they attempt to gun you down. The robots themselves come in a handful of flavours that each have different weak points you’ll need to target in order to bring them down as quickly as possible, but their sporadic nature - clueless one moment, ruthless the next - mitigates any real strategy you might have had in mind prior to engaging them. The wonky AI also renders stealth a risky prospect, as you never know when the game will decide to let you pass by a horde of machines harmlessly or have them detect you. And if something does get the drop on you, there’s every chance that you’ll find yourself caught in a loop of being knocked down - at which point you’re entirely defenceless - while other enemies shoot you, before getting back up and instantly being knocked down again, until you die and have to respawn at one of the safehouses, probably miles away from where you perished.
Defeating and/or evading your mechanical opponents awards you XP, which you’ll use to level up your character, unlock new perks and abilities across four categories and spec yourself to fulfil specific roles. Levelling up, however, is painfully tedious and too slow a process. After around four or five hours, I had barely managed to level up twice and was in no better position to take on the robotic oppressors than I was prior to starting the game. The levelling process does, however, bring me to my biggest bugbear with Generation Zero: it’s buggy as hell. At no time was this more evident than when I was able to fast travel to a certain church with approximately 25 nearby enemies having respawned in a weakened state, gun them all down with a single shot each, reap the massive XP rewards, fast travel to another location, then head back to the church and repeat the entire process ad infinitum, completely breaking the levelling process.
And the glitches don’t stop there. I had enemies get stuck in the floor and shoot me through walls and ceilings. Doors would frequently clip through bits of scenery and plants seemed to clip through everything. I encountered floating bits of scenery on more occasions than I care to think of, while the broken mission and stat tracking forced me to shut the game down and restart in an attempt to remedy it more than once. I even opened a lorry cab door only to reveal another door behind it and had numerous trophies unlock without me even coming close to meeting their requirements. This already disastrous list of bugs and glitches is only scratching the surface of what’s wrong with or broken throughout Generation Zero and compounds its fundamental issues even further.
If you hadn’t sussed it out already, Generation Zero isn’t something you should even consider playing, let alone purchasing. Periodically impressive visuals aside, this is a game with next to no redeeming qualities. Its sterile and lifeless environment and barebones narrative working in tandem to completely squander a tantalisingly interesting premise is perhaps its biggest crime, while some unmercilessly inconsistent enemy AI, a multitude of bugs and glitches and a gameplay loop that never evolves beyond what is initially presented all congeal to form one of the roughest and downright messiest pieces of software I’ve played in years. Even the inclusion of four-player online co-operative play can’t mitigate Generation Zero’s laundry list of problems, and there is absolutely no way I can recommend this game in good conscience.
Generation Zero (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
The game is unenjoyable, but it works.
Periodically beautiful yet consistently broken, Generation Zero’s brand of monotonous, sterile and bug-riddled open-world first-person shooting is something that you should avoid at all costs.