Generation Zero review: Explore, Fight, Loot, RepeatBy Denis Marasan ☆ 02/Jun/2020
In a few words, Generation Zero is a vanilla version of Fallout 76. It exploits the same core gameplay loop, namely exploration, fighting and looting, while lacking many other features. To the credit of the developer, shooting mechanics feel better in places, since in GZ there’s no server lag when pressing a firing button and movement feels smooth. It looks like the APEX engine (stands for Avalanche Open World Engine) by Avalanche Studios, known for Just Cause series, Rage 2 and many other AAA titles, is better suited for first-person shooters in an open world environment than the Creation engine by Bethesda. But did it help the developer beat the role model? Let’s take a closer look!
Generation Zero official trailer
Game theme and plot
Generation Zero is set in 1989 in Sweden. It looks like it’s some kind of alternative history, coz I just don’t remember Sweden being invaded by a (presumably Soviet) robot army in those days. And since your alter ego is the only survivor in a wreck, you’ve got to figure out what’s going on and where everyone is. The setting is maybe the strongest part of the entire game, coz if you buy it in you’ll most probably like the game against all odds.
Generation Zero starts from an explanatory text roll, saying:
After World War II, Sweden enjoyed an economic boom from having come unscathed out of the war. But neutrality had come at the cost of integrity, as the poor readiness had forced the country to make deals with Hitler. Intent on not ending up in the same situation again, Sweden's newfound riches were invested in the so-called "total defense". The ability to protect the border, while also shielding and maintaining civilian life.
Over the coming years, Sweden massively increased military spending whilst organizing the civilian preparedness for what increasingly seemed like an inevitable invasion from the east. Every man, woman and child was drilled to be ready for the war, knowing exactly what to do and where to go when the sirens sounded.
And most importantly, to offer resistance at all times, in all situations.
You and some classmates have spent a few days out in the archipelago, cut off from the world. As you return, your boat is suddenly hit by explosive projectiles fired from shore.
You don't know what fired at you or why, but you manage to make it to shore. Injured, but alive.
While a text roll is obviously not the best way to brief the player on the plot, chances the developer will change it to something more sensible someday are slim. Since the game was officially released on March 26, 2019 and the developer had plenty of time to deal with an issue.
Generation Zero is an open world sandbox with cooperative multiplayer support, and all those forests, rocks, lakes and sunsets look amazing. But buildings, structures and wrecked cars look not so good and feel copy-pasted. That is a shame coz these are places of interest, where most fighting and looting takes place.
A rant on narrative
The game has neither solid main story line nor vibrant characters you may empathize with, because all people are killed or gone (say hello to the original F76 game again). There are no hooks like a search for your son in Fallout 4 or farther in Fallout 3 giving you an extrinsic incentive to carry on playing. And no, you’re not a chosen one bound to save the world. Honestly, I’m not hinting at any other Fallout game here, coz that’s an idea behind many games. But this banality works great since everyone wants to be special and save the world, giving you that extrinsic incentive that Generation Zero lacks.
The narrative is driven by notes and audiotapes you discover when looting, written in Swedish and translated into English (or any other supported language of your choice) to create a more atmospheric environment. Some of them you discover arbitrary, some of them are marked since they are a part of a quest you’re on. Speaking of quests, these are mostly notes “go to a location marked on your map to find another note” type.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s great when the game has this kind of narrative, as well as environmental storytelling: all those abandoned civil vehicles, burning tanks, etc. But I believe these are supplementary means of designing a good narrative, meant for making it deeper. Though, with Generation Zero, these are the only means. Imagine a game like Bioshock without the main quest, just audiotapes and environmental storytelling. Not too much, huh? Though disengaging from narrative Bioshock is still a decent first-person shooter. So maybe GZ is immersive as a shooter?
“Survival” and first-person shooting
First things first: the developer offers you to “survive in a hostile open world”. This is not true, coz the game is not about “survival”. Generation Zero has no auxiliary survival mechanics, nothing. Scavenging and crafting seem to be a poor excuse for Fallout series. There’s no feeding and hydration, no heat and cold sensation, no ammo shortage. Nothing that can be associated with survival fantasy. The game is all about killing every single machine in sight for the sake of XP and ammo since you can collect ammo from their bodies. Yes, in GZ you spend ammo to get more ammo. “Survival”, my ass!
Dying isn’t an issue in Generation Zero either since you may always use adrenaline to revive yourself or just start from the last checkpoint. Both mechanics have issues, but that goes far beyond the scope of this review. What I want to say is that for good or ill, GZ is really an open world first-person shooter with RPG elements and cooperative multiplayer support.
But maybe first-person shooting is a masterpiece? Yea and nay.
First, there’re only 6 types of machines in the game, ranging from smallish Ticks to colossal Tanks. That’s not too much! However, machines of the same model may differ a bit, e.g. Runners may be equipped with a machine gun or a shotgun. As to me, that’s not too much either!
- Ticks. Small in size but surprisingly agile, the Tick will launch itself at you if they get too close. Often found in groups, these small machines will use their wicked-sharp talons and self-destruct mode to severely hurt you if you aren’t too careful.
- Seekers. Seemingly harmless at first glance, the Seeker acts as a scout, signalling your location to nearby allies who will come to its aid. Make sure to stay out of the sensor range or take it down quickly to avoid being overwhelmed by reinforcements.
- Runners. Quick on its feet and often moving in packs, the Runner will work together with its allies to wear you down with automated weaponry. Don’t let them get too close or they will knock you off your feet with a powerful charge, making it easier for the others to kill you.
- Hunters. Intelligent, swift and silent, the Hunter attacks with lethal precision, showcasing a diverse range of tactics to take you down. Get too close and it you risk getting a knife in the gut, while at a distance you must constantly seek cover or end up riddled with bullets.
- Harvesters. A tempting target for an ambush, but not to be underestimated, the Harvester focuses its time and energy on gathering resources and fuel from its surroundings. Oftentimes escorted by fellow machines, it will not shy away from defending itself if threatened, doing all it can to ensure that it walks away unharmed and unscavanged.
- Tanks. The most heavily armored and armed of the machines, the Tank towers over houses and players alike, shaking the very ground with each step. Do not engage it without a strategy, plan your encounter in advance, and always be ready to run when the rockets start flying.
Since machines are made of steel, they are armored. The game communicates this to a player by showing bluish sparks when an armored part is hit. Or orange sparks when the armor is down or a part you’re aiming at is not armored, meaning that you’re dealing direct damage. Some machines have canisters on them you can blow up inflicting massive damage. E.g. Runners have canisters on their back that will explode, killing the Runner itself and damaging anyone in the vicinity, including the player. Some machines like Hunters and Tanks also have large weapon mounts that you can destroy, making them less of a threat.
There are plenty of decoys to distract machines with, ranging from smoke grenades and fireworks to audio tape players. You can also plant mines, including gas bottles and other highly explosive objects, as well as blasting stationary gas storages and abandoned vehicles. It should be noted that explosives in Generation Zero inflict massive damage and have a huge blasting radius. These make explosives effective and fun to use.
Another interesting feature is a “hidden mechanic” that reduces the amount of damage inflicted by enemies the less hit points you have. It surely makes battles more intense, but there’s an issue. It just doesn’t feel realistic, coz you lose HP quick when at 100% HP, but as you take damage the pace magically slows down. This makes health restoration to 100% HP a waste of medkits and rather painful for those kinds of perfectionist players that feel satisfaction from restoring full health. Like me.
Extra Credits on Hidden Mechanics
Speaking of health bar and medkits, these mechanics are the only reason there’s a health bar in Generation Zero, because the mechanic of reducing the amount of damage from enemies in a first-person shooter requires health regeneration, but not a combination of a health bar and medkits. The latter are rudiments of an underdeveloped “survival” system. To make GZ better as a first-person shooter and leave the damage reduction mechanic as is the developer should get rid of a health bar and medkits. Or remove/rebalance the hidden mechanic, so it’s not so noticeable. But since the developer tries to sell a “survival fantasy” a health bar and medkits will surely stay.
The moving pattern of enemy machines is running back and forth, which sometimes leads to the creation of interesting situations, like flanking. After some time an enemy stops and starts shooting at the player. An enemy makes a burst, pauses, and repeats. So all you need is no take cover when an enemy shoots and fire back when an enemy pauses.
This becomes more of a problem when there’s more than one enemy, since they may shoot you in opposition. But unless you’re fighting in the wilderness, you can always take cover in the nearest building. As stupid as it may sound machines can’t enter buildings, so you can shoot enemies through doorways and windows one at a time from relative safety. It looks like the developer didn’t think about how machines will assault houses. Because they just can’t. In my opinion such carelessness in design is unacceptable for an FPS.
As of fights in an open air, grass and tree branches are so thick that machines are hard to make out, though plantations don’t prevent machines from shooting and hitting the player. Taking damage from an unseeable enemy, while the enemy sees you perfectly well, feels unfair and irritating.
Summarizing the above first-person shooting is controversial. Generation Zero creates lots of epic moments like fighting against gigantic machines, killing them by hitting sweet spots, mining approach routes or detonating nearby vehicles and fuel storages, using decoys to overcome superior numbers of enemies, etc.
But on the negative side there’s a strange combination of conflicting mechanics, monotonous enemies and the incapability of machines to assault buildings. To say nothing about technical issues e.g. machines getting stuck in the environment or behaving dopy. Summarizing the above, first-person shooting in Generation Zero isn’t hopelessly bad, it’s just underdeveloped. But from my opinion, this can’t be an excuse for a game released on March 2019!
Exploration and looting
Speaking of exploration, Generation Zero feels overly repetitive. E.g. those Swedish houses feel copy-pasted. I’ve read comments written by Swedes saying that they really have standard houses, but that’s no excuse for the game. As a developer you can’t afford making ugly or empty locations, even when modelling a desert. Locations should be fascinating, quickening your imagination!
But cheer up: the worst is yet to come and these are bunkers! Senseless concrete rooms connected by tunnels with occasional machines on guard. I just wonder how good the wilderness looks and feels and how ungraceful and empty those bunkers are. And these are the places of interest with presumably epic loot. I wonder why every time I reach another place of interest in GZ it feels so repetitive and looks so ugly? Why these locations are so dull?
Since GZ is a first-person shooter disguised as a “survival” action game, the best things you can find are weapons and attachments. Weapon characteristics depend on its condition, so there’s always a chance of finding a weapon you already have, but in better condition. You can also find attachments for your weapon that you can attach and remove.
Since you can use only two two-handed weapons (like rifles and shotguns) and one handgun (e.g. a pistol) at a time, and your carrying capacity is limited, there’s a stash box accessible from different locations within the game so you store your loot. It’s rather similar to a stash box in (guess where?) Fallout 76! Though the developers were obviously making Generation Zero simultaneous with the developers of F76, and all the similarities are coincidental, GZ is really a vanilla F76 clone. Not because someone was intentionally trying to copy the game, but because F76 was released earlier, it's bigger and well-known. That makes Generation Zero a derivate game with much fewer features than the original. E.g. lock-picking in GZ JUST WORKS! There’s no lock-picking mini-game. It’s just a mechanic that limits your access to storage rooms unless you spend experience points to unlock the skill. A cheapass substitute for a great mini-game from Fallout and The Elder Scrolls.
Except for weapons, ammo, attachments, explosives and decoys, you can loot for other stuff that looks like junk in another game that I’ve already mentioned a zillion number of times. And there’re even some benches in GZ added in Spring 2020 but I’ve never used those in 8 hours of play. It looks like crafting is just another brick into a survival fantasy that the developer is so eager to implement, making Generation Zero even more alike than Fallout 76? Possibly! But why cloning a game that had negative responses from gaming community instead of deepening something that makes GZ really stand out, like a setting (story) or first-person shooting I don’t know.
I’d also found a bench for making bikes, but I just missed the point of riding a bike. There’s a fast travel system in GZ so you could travel between places you had already visited. So what’s the point of riding a bike in Generation Zero, anyway? To get spotted and attacked by machines? Or is it a feature so the developer could boast of?
Generation Zero is an open-world sandbox with an unusual setting, featuring epic battles against the machines with interesting tactical options and cooperative multiplayer support. And all these for an affordable price.
Upon every other aspect, Fallout 76 is obviously better. This doesn’t mean the latter is good. It’s just Generation Zero is even worse.
The game is still may be worth buying on sale or trying during a free weekend, so adding Generation Zero to a wish list isn’t an awful idea at all. Is it worth buying for a full price? Yes, if you buy in the game setting, i.e. a machine invasion into Sweden in 1989, and bring a couple of buddies to play with.