On paper, Generation Zero sounds like a great idea. An open world cooperative survival game set in the ’80s where I fight giant robots? Count me in. While there is fun to be had exploring 1980’s Sweden, the overall experience not only feels dated, but is plagued with terrible gameplay systems that drag down what could have been a great experience for players.
Generation Zero makes a strong first impression. There’s not a lot of exposition to get players going. The world of Sweden in Generation Zero is big, which is something that’s readily apparent right off the bat. There are no NPCs wandering around, and the world is eerily empty other than the footsteps of roving enemy machines. There are no waypoints or quest objectives either. Instead, Generation Zero drops players into a world and says “go.”
It isn’t long before the experience quickly degrades. I chose to play with a buddy for this playthrough. With the emptiness of the world, I though Generation Zero would benefit from the extra interactivity. To start, my friend hosted the game. After a few hours of play, I left to ran some errands. When I got home I hopped back on to continue on my own for a bit, and discovered I had lost all the progress that I made. All area completion, side missions I had completed, and important locations I had found were gone. Since I was reviewing Generation Zero I hosted from this point on with my friend, but I lost several hours of progress. It felt unacceptable for a game released in 2019 not to track progress for both players, and quickly left a bad taste in my mouth about continuing.
Despite this, I persevered. I re-tracked through all the areas I had discovered during that first run and quickly caught back up to where I was. One thing that Generation Zero does really well is give players a reason to explore, and reward them for looking in every nook and cranny, especially early on. Almost every abandoned vehicle, home, or garage has useful items for players, and some locations even have additional missions to find. The problem is, other than the environment, there are only three or four different models of houses, vehicles, or garage. Things quickly become monotonous when you explore the same house over a hundred times.
Finding side missions is pretty fun, and satiates that desire to discover new things in the world. Generation Zero doesn’t offer players any hints other than through item descriptions in the menu. It’s actually pretty fun to search through clues in key mission items to figure out destinations. Sometimes though, the clues are so vague I spent hours looking for one specific item or location. The world is pretty huge too, and towns are dense with buildings to dig through, so looking for specific items or locations with vague hints is very frustrating. I had no problem with these systems in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, but that was because that game generally gave good hints or ideas through dialogue, where Generation Zero has almost no dialogue and item descriptions are occasionally very poor.
Despite the many problems I had with Generation Zero, I did really love the emptiness and loneliness of the world. This is compounded by the fact that there is no dialogue from the characters, only through messages and radio transmissions. Exploring the barren world and tracking giant robots is a ton of fun. When the ’80’s synth music kicks in, Generation Zero is at its best. The routine kicks back in though when outside of combat and the music dulls, leaving me to my own devices without any real direction. Exploring the countryside becomes far more interesting than digging through repeating houses after a little while, and the dynamic weather system is a refreshing change of pace to the limited model design.
Players earn experience for pretty much everything they do. There aren’t really levels for players to earn, but instead they earn skill points that they can sink into a skill tree. There are a large number of skills for players to purchase, and these can drastically change the way encounters and exploration play out. One skill lets players view enemy stats and difficulty, while another one helps steady aim or increase reload speed. The amount of choice that is present in Generation Zero is also present in customizing preferred gameplay style, and the experience is better for it.
Out of the core gameplay experience, Generation Zero really struggles with combat. Gunplay is loose and isn’t precise, and the sheer amount of items players can utilize is unnecessary. Stealth is hit or miss, and enemies are almost always very aware of player presence and location. Generation Zero strongly encourages stealth, but it isn’t very useful a majority of the time. A large number of distraction items are available for players to use, but the poor enemy AI doesn’t seem to make them necessary. They can be occasionally helpful against large enemies, but the groups of smaller dog-like robots are easy pickings for a large portion of the campaign.
The inventory system is aggressively mediocre, and items that should stack often don’t. It’s incredibly obnoxious, especially with limited inventory space and a few different ammo types for each weapon class. I eventually stopped using distraction items and stopped picking up anything other than ammo or healing items due to either not having enough bullets or ammo space.
Visually, Generation Zero is pretty decent. The sun shining on the large open fields of Sweden, and the houses filled with trinkets and decorations are a nice touch. Things look even better at night when the moon illuminates enemies and towns. Frames drop significantly when more than a few enemies are on the screen, and with such a large world, visual bugs interrupt the experience more than I could ever let slide.
The core experience of Generation Zero has a lot to like. A big open world to explore, giant enemies to take down, and contextual hints are all great to play through. However, the implementation of almost every individual system here is a letdown, and I feel like I could really only recommend Generation Zero to those with literally nothing else to play and those who don’t mind spending hours wandering around to accomplish nothing. There’s some additional fun to be had with friends, but things quickly become irritating and stale with a lack of any waypoints or clear objectives.