Generation Zero, by Avalanche Studios, is like a nice red balloon, really nice and fun to play with for a bit, but eventually just deflates and was filled with very little.
Arriving home from a small excursion with friends to find everyone missing with deadly robots roaming around is all you really need to know, and frankly, that’s all that matters. The story progresses through very authentic voice messages and letters here or there. However, the player doesn’t feel as if they are coming home to find neighbors missing and loved ones gone. The towns and houses might as well be dead concrete walls with some spots of personality sprinkled about.
The story does become more interesting and mysterious after the first few hours of aimless wandering, but it can often be cut short by attacks and unexpected, forced respawns. Through lots more notes, voice messages and visual storytelling, the player can find a somewhat interesting tales if the player enjoys messages in Swedish and reading a bunch of unrelated notes and letters.
Survive and figure out what is happening. That is the core gameplay, I would break it up into categories, but the pieces are very heavily intertwined. In order to progress in the story, you just go to a building or car, pick up something and go somewhere else. There are some locked places, which will require keys or some certain skills, but for the most part, it is going from point to point to “unravel the mystery.”
While traveling, you can search in most rooms, cars and buildings, and they all have exactly the same loot; flairs, guns, weapon mods, ammo, gas cans, radios, and clothes. In reality, it is mostly just flairs and ammo (often for guns you don’t have yet). Finding a new gun is mostly luck and takes a long time to find anything that feels fun, powerful or even satisfying. I often found the exact same gun that I had, so my first hours were spent with virtually the same three guns. The rest of the loot in the game seems like a good idea, and works kind of well. However, I would throw a flair or radio hoping the enemies would come and look or shoot at it and I could kill them while they were distracted. But nope, this rarely worked because the enemies would come to the area from the distraction, look at it for a moment or keep running at me, as if they knew I was hiding in the building twenty yards away from the flair. All in all, the loot did not feel like it allowed me to be creative in dealing with my enemies because the robots would never respond to them in a consistent or reasonable way.
Let’s talk about the AI...where is it? I felt as if the programming for the AI said one of two things: “See that person across the farm that can barely see you? You need to go and shoot them now,” or “I have no idea where any person is but I’m going to either stand still and get shot or just constantly run in circles.” The AI may have been trying to learn, but it was like watching a bunch of puppies holding assault rifles trying to learn Calculus.
This brings us to combat. It is okay at its best. It is fun to blow up a machine from far away or the thrill of being spotted and shooting your pistol until it blows up right before it reaches you. It can be fun to lure in enemies into traps with explosives, but, as I mentioned above, the loot and spastic AI made setting traps or fighting in creative ways seem pointless most of the time. The gun play was also never real fun. It may be that I’ve been playing shooters non-stop for the last two years, but my shot gun shots seemed to have inconsistent damage, my long range rifle felt like a pea shooter unless I got the enemy in the dead center of their weak spot and my pistol seemed like the only thing that would function properly. I would just want to feel like my effort in shooting and trying to outsmart the enemy pay off a lot more often.
This is the second best part of the game. It may not have the stunning details and textures of last month’s triple-A game, but it does very well with what it has. The area feels dark and lonesome while feeling free and open. Machines look rough and just alien enough to not know where they came from.
I enjoyed the day and night, the dark tunnels and everyday houses. It only becomes stale when every house has the same chess set, the same backpack is found in every car and on every bed (even a church pew had the same backpack full of unexciting loot). I understand this a small team that can’t dedicate a lot of manpower to diverse cities and areas, but it brings a player out of the experience when she or he forgets which houses have been looted because they all are so similar.
Surprisingly, the music was the best part of this game. Lot of very good tonal music really threw the player into the setting. The silence mixed with light forest sounds is a nice touch when you are just exploring a mountain side. Now, in the gameplay, the audio is kind of a mess. The guns are unreasonable loud, from virtually no noise to the volume of an actual gun being shot, the player never knows what level to set the volume. It is realistic I guess, but the mix of your loud guns, the howling machines (which sound pretty cool) and the “fight music” gets to be a bit much.
This is a tough section to talk about. I don’t think that I would ever see any reason to play though the game again unless a person just want to kill robots in interesting ways. The story wouldn’t really bring you back for more.
The multiplayer is a very odd choice. You can be paired up with random people and then just start the game a the beginning, except you have any and all of your gear. It is cool to interact with people online, but unless everyone has mics and everyone decides on something to do together, there is more or less no objective or reason to play with other people in the empty world because they will have practically no effect on you and your game.
There is a lot to say here, but it comes down to this, find a purpose for this game and make it that. If the game is meant to be a hunting game dealing with creative traps and stealth, then add in a tons more loot, refine the shooting and allow for a much broader stroke of creativity in combat. If the game is meant to be a story explored with friends or alone, flush out the main character, give him or her friends and give the game more direction. If the game is meant to be an open world to be explored and mysteries discovered, then add weight and real rewards in deeper exploration. Make finding sets of keys and weapons come from intense pursuits, not random drops.
I didn’t mention it at all above because the game itself is quite flawed, this is just another thing that affects everything above. The game is extremely buggy. I played it on PS4 and am not quite sure how it is on Xbox One or PC. Enemies would get stuck in walls and still shoot me, I got launched into the air and fell to my death for no known reason and various other things cause the game to have one more reason not to play it a lot. Little things I understand can happen and are often funny or odd, but some bug happened every time I played the game.
Generation Zero feels like an interesting a solid beta test for a plethora of genres and games, but it feels incomplete and overall not totally realized or well made. Maybe in the future if the Avalanche Studios can revamp the map, overhaul the loot and guns, and tweak the combat, the game could have some solid promise. But as for now, the game is entertaining as a deflated balloon.