A variety of hostile machines that at times feel unbeatable, a finite amount of resources and a dark, unforgiving world. The team at Avalanche certainly haven't created a friendly place to be, as after just a few minutes of exploring and looting we were already getting jumped by giant mechs and mini robots alike, all of which were out there to make our lives a living hell. After a few tense moments of lurking and picking enemies off, the search for resources resumed, and we set off on our journey to find signs of civilisation.
As the development studio was founded in Stockholm, they certainly had the pedigree to do the world of Generation Zero justice and were inspired by Simon Stålenhag's Tales from the Loop, so the game had plenty of lore to pull influence from. The potential for exploring an interesting depiction of Sweden controlled by robots was huge in Generation Zero, and the Iboholmen Castle ruins found at the start of the game exemplify the types of areas that we loved discovering on our journey. This area was full of important early game loot, memorable combat scenarios in a tight, walled arena and really set the tone for what could develop over the course of the campaign. However, landmarks like this are few and far between and the game never quite lives up to this early-game promise.
The game starts off vague, as you're dropped into a small coastal area with little more than the clothes on your back. You find a note from someone's parents, saying that they had gone to the village as soon as the readiness alarm was sounded. It all looks pretty bleak, and the game hits with this level of dread as soon as you begin to explore and try to piece together what happened to the residents who lived here. It is an interesting opening but one that never really moves forward as the majority of your time in Generation Zero will feel just like these opening moments but without the initial intrigue. Dark, lonely and empty.
The game is beautiful at times though, especially on the enhanced consoles. We played on Xbox One X and the thick forests lit up purely by moonlight look fantastic, with dynamic weather adding to the atmosphere. Generation Zero definitely feels at home in the rural wilderness and more areas like the castle ruins would have added to the open world. We would have loved natural cave formations, mountain passes and interesting hideouts to explore as towns and cities don't fit quite as good, and the larger of these areas also struggle to run well with huge framerate drops cropping up, especially during combat sequences.
Speaking of combat, once you do get hold of some weapons they feel satisfying to use. A fair amount of kick gives the shooting a realistic feel and the enemies themselves provide good visual feedback upon being hit. Sparks go flying and deafeningly loud electrical explosions greet you when you manage to take out the rogue robots. However, as you get further in the game the enemies can become overwhelming at times, especially in solo. Huge robots patrol the larger towns and the weapons on offer don't feel adequate to take them out. We're unsure whether this is intentional to force the player to avoid combat, but we would love to have access to some stronger firepower to better balance the game in solo and help us stand more of a chance at survival. Having said that, the penalty for being taken out by a robot is minimal; a large amount of 'adrenaline shots' are available for self revives, and once they are depleted you simply spawn at the nearest safehouse. Combat seems more of an obstacle to exploration than a core gameplay loop, and we would have liked more focus on shooting mechanics as the world behind them isn't all that interesting.