While some may get jaded as they grow older, it doesn’t take much to get me excited for a game these days. When I heard an open-world re-imagining of 1980s Sweden with spooky robots and a bumpin’ synth soundtrack was coming down the pipeline, I was sold on it immediately. Now that I’ve got my hands on it, though, is it really all it’s cracked up to be? Or did I get all hyped up on a concept alone?
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Platform: Windows PC (Reviewed), Playstation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: March 26, 2019
Price: $34.99 (Review Copy Received)
My first impression of this game was pretty positive. Despite having a fairly lengthy loading screen right out of the gates, the opening theme to Generation Zero is just…beautiful.
I sat in the menus jamming to it for awhile, before starting myself a new game. There is a character creation system, but it’s pretty barebones, only allowing for a few different outfit combinations and a couple different faces for each gender.
This changes later, however, when you can unlock a slew of wearable items for your guy or gal, some even providing protection from certain types of attacks. I set out to make the most gaudy and hideous outfit combination I could muster, and the game certainly allows you to do so.
These clothing items are found in various backpacks and toolboxes littered around the in-game world, mostly nestled in houses and sheds. This is where I first started to notice some cracks in Generation Zero’s polish.
About twenty minutes in, I was already starting to see duplicated house layouts, with some minor variations to try and set them apart. Every home also appears to have the same bathroom, which is…odd.
Having every house look the same isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker, sure, but this game is so focused on looting through houses for guns and ammunition that it does cheapen the experience somewhat.
Hilariously, I even noticed that for double beds, they literally just placed two mattresses beside one another instead of modeling an entirely new bed. I don’t think this is some bizarre Swedish custom, but feel free to correct me if I’m being culturally insensitive.
Other than the recycled content, Gen Zero is a perfectly serviceable game in the graphics department. Tramping about the open world can look downright beautiful, and the lighting and foliage effects are pretty great.
The guns all look sharp, and while the character models are a bit dumpy, the ability to customize your clothing is a nice touch. Of course, the robot designs are also badass, with each of them looking futuristic, but also fairly industrial, like something that would have actually been designed in that time period.
In the sound department, this game really shines. I mentioned the fantastic soundtrack, but the gun reports, ambient noises, and the weird, unsettling ‘voices’ of the robots hunting you are all top-notch.
Guns fired indoors sound ridiculously loud compared to firing them in the open, and it is abundantly clear that sound design was a major focal point that the developers set out to get right.
How is the story, though? Well…it unfortunately suffers from Fallout 76 syndrome, where most of the dialogue and progression of the narrative is done through notes and audio logs left behind by survivors.
It only really serves to keep you moving from point A to point B, and is not the most compelling thing in the universe, though the voice acting seems decent enough when there actually is any.
Like FO76, there is also a slew of bugs (and strangely omitted features) that detract from the experience to varying degrees. You’ll regularly see items and objects floating several feet above the ground.
The mouse wheel does not swap between weapons. Stairs only seem to work sometimes, while other times you have to manually jump onto them to ascend.
Thankfully, the core gameplay is at least pretty solid. While it is unfortunate that the looting aspect of the game is so mundane, actually fighting robots is fairly satisfying.
There are several different types, ranging from big armored behemoths to tiny spider bots that jump at you like facehuggers. Each enemy has a different strategy for taking them out, leading to a bit of calculation on the player’s part during combat.
Gunplay feels good, and damage feedback is satisfying, as the robots will recoil and display small, colorful explosions when you hammer their weak points. Bits of debris will fly off them as well, really making fights seem more dynamic than they might otherwise appear.
Additionally, while more weapons are always good, there are at least a fair number in the game at present, and several attachments like scopes and suppressors to customize them.
Unfortunately, due to the nature of the game’s narrative, Generation Zero consists of a lot of aimless wandering to find the next objective. There aren’t always map markers for your quests, making it feel at times like a ‘where the heck am I going’ kind of game. Locations you happen across are rarely exciting, so even ignoring the story and exploring leads to a bit of disappointment.
I noticed a few other annoying things while playing, too. Inventory management can be really irritating, since sometimes items that stack together don’t do so on pickup, so you have to manually go into your bag to fix it.
There are also too many damn items with very similar effects, meaning your hoard of loot can easily get out of hand if you don’t regularly drop the stuff you don’t need. Since there is a limited inventory space, this is a frequent problem.
Key bindings aren’t the most intuitive thing in the world either, and I am fairly certain you can’t bind a key to the ‘take all’ function while looting, meaning you have to click the button every time. It’s a minor foible, but it really adds up when looting is such a core part of the experience.
I really don’t want to rag on this game, since it has such a likeable presentation, and the concept is extremely appealing to me. The core gameplay is solid, and with a good deal of refinement, Generation Zero could really come into its own as something truly special. Unfortunately, I’m not reviewing that game, but instead the title that we actually have.
Sadly, it just has too many problems for me to say it’s great in its current form. The devs have announced that they plan to work hard on fixing the many issues reported by players, and I really hope they succeed in that endeavor. Traipsing around 1980s Sweden surviving hordes of murderous robots is just too cool of an idea not to expand upon.
Generation Zero was reviewed on PC using a review copy provided by THQ Nordic. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.