I don’t know why I was so surprised to see Generation Zero at E3 2018. The game was announced a few days before E3, complete with a gameplay trailer, so it would just make sense that it would be at E3, I suppose. I guess I didn’t think that developer Avalanche Studios, who’s self-publishing the game for the first time ever, would have the leftover resources and manpower after Rage 2 and Just Cause 4 to spend the time promoting Generation Zero as well.
It was a pleasant surprise to find out that one of the ID@Xbox titles I’d be previewing was Generation Zero. Personally, the game checked off a lot of boxes when it was announced. Open-world cooperative multiplayer? Yes. A unique environment to explore? Sure. Killer robot enemies that feature persistent damage and expansive pathing? Great. Oh, and it takes place in the 1980s, so I can make my character look like Spicoli? Perfect.
On paper, Generation Zero sounds like my perfect game. After seeing the game in action, however, I’m still going to need a little convincing.
Generation Zero lets players create their own character and then immediately abandons them in a mysteriously empty rural Swedish town. There are no people to be found, replaced entirely by killer robots that want you and up to three of your friends dead.
There’s a tension to sneaking around the map. It’s expansive but not unconquerable, and pretty much every building is open for exploration. Walking around, you’ll find nothing but guns, ammo, supplies, and a variety of environmental storytelling items for a while, but all of a sudden you’ll run into some killer robots with destructible parts, and these robots can take you down quicker than you’d expect. There’s a tension to simply walking around that makes Generation Zero a unique experience.
During the demo, Avalanche developers showed me a mission where two players were searching for a bunker after listening to a message on an answering machine that pointed the location of weapons and other supplies. The two players went out and found the bunker, which led to two more locations that the players could travel to. In that instance, the players split up to separately investigate the newly discovered locations and separately ran into some more robots, before discovering yet another new location.
The cool thing about Generation Zero is that players can drop in and out of their friends’ games at any time and whatever progress they make in their friends’ games, they’ll carry over to their own games. Players can spend experience they earn on new skills that let them craft their own sort of classes, like medic or DPS, and can create new characters at any time and respend their points to create a different class. Players can also travel as far away from their friends as they want; there’s no tethering involved.
The weird thing about Generation Zero is that I’m not sure how long it will carry players’ interest. The missions themselves are all picked up by notes or answering machine messages, and they all seem to involve going to one place, picking up some stuff, then finding another note to send you somewhere else to do the exact same thing. Avalanche confirmed that there is a point when these missions run out, at which point the entire objective becomes finding unique gear, including new clothing items that will sometimes give you attribute boosts.
Generation Zero seems like the kind of game where the players will have to make their own fun. The robots seem fun enough to fight, but a lack of direction could mean that Generation Zero will get boring after a couple of hours of running around, completing fetch quests.
Luckily, Generation Zero still has some time to find its true form. The game launches for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in 2019.