Generation Zero has been playing with my heart since the day I first played it. I don’t know what to think of the game. Even after a couple of weeks of playing, I’m still not sure what I make of it. It’s and oddity, for sure, and it has its problems. I’m not convinced it’s a total failure, though, despite my early impressions after having played with my Pure PlayStation colleague Max, where we both declared it to be a shit house. We’re not kind people.
The premise itself is intriguing and that’s what initially roped me in and got my interest. The game takes place in 1980s Sweden (80s Sweden?!) and you play as a young person who has returned from a short holiday to find that the locals have all but vanished and in their place are robot machine monster things. Yes, it’s a little Horizon Zero Dawn, but the similarities end there.
The game drops you in and doesn’t do much to help you out. You’ll get a few hints during the opening that’ll push you towards getting yourself a weapon and some ammo, as well as familiarising you with the game’s looting mechanics. I spent my first 20 minutes scrounging around a lovely little house where I happened upon some goodies as well as a note. This is how the game’s story is mostly conveyed – through found scraps of paper, recordings and such. I’ve never been a big fan of this method of storytelling as I much prefer to have plot points fed directly into my impatient mouth. But whatever, it is what it is. And to be fair, it’s intriguing enough that I actually bothered to read and listen to whatever I stumbled upon. Some of it is necessary to succeed, some of it is useless tat that’s worth a flick through if you’re looking for a bit more exposition. I wasn’t.
Once you’ve gotten through the opening minutes, that’s it. You’re left to fend for yourself, though you’d best hope you’re not truly by yourself because Generation Zero is unforgiving to lone players. I found that out the hard way, unfortunately, and it left a sour taste that lingered far longer than it should have.
There are no fancy cinematics to establish the story or characters, nor does the game really do much to tell you what’s happened to turn these cosy neighbourhoods into ghost towns. Mooching around different houses is, at first at least, a little confusing. There’s nothing really out of the ordinary. This is an apocalypse without the mad panic and destruction that usually follows suit. Homes look warm and inviting, safe even. And they are, if you’re careful, but there was a point where the residents obviously didn’t feel safe. Pouring over the scrawled messages and answer machine tapes tells you that people left in a hurry. And that’s it. There’s no story arc to uncover. The game doesn’t offer any satisfying story beats or moments of triumph – in fact it’s mostly moments of “oh shit…” followed by a quick and brutal death.
The machines that roam the world are in charge and you are not. That’s something that was made very, very clear to me early on in the game. My first encounter with a killing machine left me confused, thinking I’d done something wrong. I was only armed with a flimsy pistol and a handful of bullets that may as well have been popcorn kernels for all the good they did. I was pummelled within a matter of seconds. I respawned and tried again. The detection meter told me that I was in danger of being spotted, then it turned to red which meant death was on its way and was coming with four legs attached. And yes, I died again.
My next attempt was slow and purposeful, but it wasn’t fun. I crouched and walked slowly, hoping to get to the next village to find something to do. A couple of machines wandered around but, thankfully, I managed to avoid them and got myself to relative safety only to be left wondering what I should do next. This is Generation Zero in a nutshell.
I guess the real mistake was to try to play solo. This is a co-op game through and through. If you think you’ll be able to go it alone, you’re a fool. The A.I is fierce and doesn’t allow for any cock ups – something I’m prone to. Thankfully I managed to convince my fellow Pure PlayStationeer Max to join me. I say thankfully, but that’s only because I like other people to suffer with me.
Teaming up was supposed to be the start of a grand adventure that Max and I would go on. We’d explore 80s Sweden together, kill a few robots, make some cheesy 80s style jokes, and high-five each other over WhatsApp with cool emojis and GIFs. It didn’t happen like that.
For one, when I joined Max’s game, I spawned very, very far away. It took my about 10 minutes of careful trekking before I was able to see what customisation options Max had gone for. Thankfully I wasn’t chomped by robo-bastards along the way, but it wasn’t much fun either. You’d think that you’d spawn close to each other, right? Unfortunately this wasn’t the last time it would happen. During another session with a non-Pure PlayStationeer, my buddy joined my game and then spent a good half an hour trying to make his way towards me. It also doesn’t help that progress isn’t saved for the joiner, only for the host. It kind of makes you not really care when you join your mate’s game. If there’s no reward, there’s no consequence. That’s why I ruined a few sessions. Sorry, Hans.
One strong aspect of the game is its visuals and general world design. You’ll mostly be wandering lonely roads surrounded by fields and trees with the occasional farmhouse to ransack. Glass flitters in the wind and faraway woods hide nasty things in their shadows. It’s eerie and downright tense at times. Even when there is no obvious immediate danger, I was always on edge and always expecting to be dealt a crippling blow out of nowhere. It’s much the same experience when you’re meandering through deserted towns, too, though there’s the added element of feeling a little more caged in, locked up, and surrounded by the empty buildings. One fight gone wrong and you’ll be dead. It helps that the game is a looker but for me it’s how the game feels, which is delivered through a world that’s well made and authentic. If you don’t read Swedish, you’ll appreciate the game subtitling the signposts and other natively written literature.
Unfortunately, Generation Zero is still a hard one to recommend. If you’re really interested in it, make sure you bring a friend or two for the journey. This is one adventure that you don’t want to take alone.
Generation Zero PS4 Review
Generation Zero is a fascinating concept but not much else. The gameplay is good and you can have some really tense moments where you laugh nervously after making it out alive, but for the most part it’s all about running around, collecting loot, and being killed by horrible death machines – if you’re a solo player. As a team, things are a little better but there’s just no engaging gameplay loop nor is the story told well enough to be a convincing hook.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using PS4 Pro.