HIGH The detailed environments set a nice atmosphere.
LOW Everything in this game is absolutely boring.
WTF The design is broken on a structural level, and no patch can fix it.
I was trying my best to be optimistic about Generation Zero, a brand new game from Avalanche, the folks that brought us the Just Cause series. I was curious to see how they would handle a fresh IP that leaves their third-person hijinks behind and swaps it for multiplayer first-person-shooter action. In fact, I was ready to love it based on the announcement info from a year ago — explore an open-world sandbox with fellow players while fighting off a robotic invasion in ’80s-era Sweden. Unfortunately, not only did my optimism fizzle out immediately, I never want to go back to it.
The player first chooses a customizable character to play as, and the creator offers some of the most boring options I’ve seen. No, not many games can match the style and freshness of something like Watch Dogs 2, but a simple “hip hopper” outfit will not suffice.
Past the lackluster character creation, I learned that my avatar was coming back home from a party only to find that things have gone awry. People have disappeared from their homes, and random wandering robots of varying sizes roam about. From there, I explored house by house, looking for ways to move the story forward.
One of the biggest compliments I can give Generation Zero is that it can be visually stunning at times, especially when out in an open field of farmland and seeing multiple enemies in the distance migrating like cattle, or when coming across a herd of robots as large as rhinos standing on their hind legs. Unfortunately, those moments of brilliance are hampered by subpar controls and mechanics.
At the beginning, I had nothing on me but my fists, so I had to explore nearby houses for items such as boomboxes (to be used as diversions) and weapons to fight back with. Unfortunately, for a game that wants players to spend a lot of time scavenging, it’s infuriating and boring to do so.
For starters, players are going to do it a lot — as in, for hours. It’s cumbersome, as well. I’d have to walk up to an item to be searched, like a dresser or a box, and then I’d be shown an inventory of what was in the highlighted object. I could then take all of it, or just individual pieces. However, the interface is slow and and the interaction is slow, and both are only made worse when having to constantly filter through menus of contents.
In the world, it was frustrating to have to figure out how to put a marker on a mission for navigation — the map screen would start to flicker and obfuscate my ability to see the marker I was trying to place. After a while, it irritated my eyes so much that I started ignoring the map and focused on remembering how to get somewhere based on the compass.
Other aspects are also rough. For example, there were moments when I would have access to a certain weapon, but the game wouldn’t tell me that I needed to manually load it with ammo from the inventory using a prompt more appropriate to a PC interface.
I also went hours not realizing that I could put 100 rounds of ammo into my assault rifle, and instead did it one-by-one. I also never knew I could switch my ammo type. Even then, it would have hardly made a difference if I had since the types of enemies I faced made the assault rifle I had obsolete — it just wasn’t accurate enough to hit weakpoints on robots to aid in takedowns.
On the other hand, when things are working as intended in Generation Zero, it’s enjoyable — things like sneaking up on a robotic adversary and using my sniper rifle to one-shot it in a weakpoint is great, and moreso since the game never tells the player where the weak point is. Another strong moment involved finding hidden military bases and staying on my toes while trying to activate a generator to stave off my fear of exploring spaces in darkness.
However, another big concern is that Generation Zero is still a multiplayer game and always online, even when playing solo. The amount of times I’ve left to use the restroom and came back to my character in the fetal position and in need of a revive, or worse, respawned after death in a safe house is absurd.
The combat difficulty also felt the same whether I was by myself or with a group. I wasn’t expecting the level of finesse present when meeting strangers in Zero‘s world (imagine something as smooth and seamless as it is in Journey) but the barebones nature of joining up with 3 other players on the spot seems archaic in an age of quality of life improvements witnessed in games like Destiny 2 or even Anthem.
For example, Destiny 2 not only scales the level of difficulty when playing with others, it adapts based on their skill levels as well. Not only does it Generation Zero fail to scale, but depending on whose game I join, I might be transported to a different part of the map with no way of progressing because I haven’t explored that area yet.
Those are all significant problems, but what disappoints the most is how intriguing the premise was, and how little it’s capitalized on. Despite the great setup there’s barely a narrative here, and it only comes via trite audio logs ‘mysteriously’ left behind. And worse, they’re difficult to find!
What I often thought was a marker that would lead me to a collectible, would instead lead me to a dead end, and despite being marked on the map, the pickups are barely visible.
Apart from all that, I couldn’t keep count of the glitches and problems I ran into — things like objects clipping through each other, or seeing a robot that was able to stick their head through a wall of a house to kill me. There were also encounters with small frog-sized robots that were nearly impossible to hit, not only because of their small size, but because I hadn’t upgraded my aiming speed and a weird delay between pressing the button and actually firing. Nothing about Generation Zero feels polished or finished.
Coming from seasoned developers who’ve turned out great games like Just Cause and Mad Max, the quality of this brand-new IP is incredibly disappointing. I hope that it continues to be patched and improved, because the current state of affairs can’t possibly showcase the vision Avalanche must have originally intended.
— Michael Baginski
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Avalanche Studios. It is currently available on PS4, XBO, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4 Pro. Approximately 6 hours were devoted to the single player, and the game was not completed. 1 hour was spent playing the game in its multiplayer mode, which is co-op focused.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T, and contains Violence and Language. The official ESRB description is as follows: This is a first-person shooter in which players assume the role of survivors fighting against machines intent on killing them. Set in 1989 Sweden, the game allows players to explore an open-world environment and use an assortment of firearms (e.g., machine guns, rifles, rocket launchers) to destroy mechanical walkers and other robotic creatures. Firefights are frenetic and accompanied by realistic gunfire and large explosions. The word “sh*t” appears in the game.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Players: There are are moments in combat where a sound plays indicating that a combat encounter is over. There are also other music cues that play that have no visual indicator, nor are there any options for accessibility in this regard in general. This title is not fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: The game’s controls are not remappable. Pretty standard FPS controls here — the left stick moves, the right stick looks. Holding Square picks up items and interacts with objects, L2 aims a weapon, R2 fires. Clicking R3 turns on a flashlight, clicking L3 runs. X is jump, Circle is duck. L1 brings up a radial emote menu.