It is 1989, and robots are ravaging the Swedish countryside. This is Generation Zero's unique premise, an open-world shooter developed by Just Cause developer Avalanche. This is a smaller production than what we are used to seeing from the studio. Although the map is huge, as Avalanche maps are always, the game itself is quite slim.
You can play as any of the 1980s archetypes, such as punk, jock or nerd. There are a few loose ends to your game, including finding out the reason why everyone is missing and locating survivors. You're not really guided down a particular path. You have the freedom to set your own goals and travel at your own pace.
You will find many locations, including military bases, towns, farms, bunkers and other exotic places, scattered across the map. You'll find roving robots that can be killed and looted to scavenge. Sometimes you will be given missions. These are usually simple tasks like finding a location and looting it. However, I like the lack of objective markers on the map. To find the right place, you have to be able to read clues and interact with the environment. For example, the direction that an abandoned car faces in could point to a treasure-trove. It encourages exploration, but doesn't needlessly hold your hand.
This is about the size the game: you'll need to walk from one location to another, battle machines, and collect loot. Sometimes, you might find an audio log or a paper that will fill in the gaps in the storyline. It's mostly you, a nice soundtrack, wind blowing through trees and an eerie metallic screech from a robot when it spots you. This game feels almost like an Early Access release. Its minimalistic design is very appealing and quite Swedish.
It is a beautiful world, especially the juxtaposition of menacing robots and serene Scandinavian landscapes. You will experience changes in the environment with the changing weather patterns and day/night cycles. This can create everything from golden sunsets to lightning storms at night. As you travel, you will encounter lush forests, rugged coastlines and rolling farmland, all of which are influenced by sinister machines that roam the landscape looking for life to extinguish.
Some machines will conjure real-life images of Boston Dynamics robots that went horribly wrong. Some machines are as big as trucks and can launch rockets at any provocation. The Hunter is the most dangerous: A tenacious bipedal giant, the Hunter has a blade on one side and a cannon the other. While you can defeat most of them by yourself, co-op is necessary for larger targets like the Tank, appropriately named and terrifying.
Playing the game alone is incredibly intense and almost stealthy-like. I found myself sneaking past enemies, hiding in trees and waiting for patrols to pass or using gadgets to distract them. To lure robots away, you can throw flares, fireworks and boomboxes (it was the 1980s, remember), giving you an opportunity to slip by undetected. I loved picking a random route and walking across the map. I avoided robot patrols and found random villages to buy supplies, weapons and ammunition.
It is easy to be captivated by the rich and evocative world. But it becomes a bit less so when you realize how many assets have been reused. It should be exciting to find a new farm or town, but all of them are made up of the same few houses and barns. Although Generation Zero was created by a small group, seeing the same locations copied/pasted dozens upon dozens of times is disappointing and hurts the exploration element of the game.
You can have a lot of fun with friends, taking on groups of robots head-on and creating strategies as you go. One session saw me climb a roof of a church with a sniper rifle, while a friend used flares as a lure to get enemies in my fire. Long hikes across the map are more enjoyable when there is someone to talk to. The game's limited content and lack of interesting systems can make multiplayer feel boring at times.
Although Generation Zero isn’t great, there is something about it that will keep you returning to it. The world will inspire you to stay there. Even if it's just killing robots and collecting the same loot from the old houses over and over, it's still something that draws me back. It could evolve into something more exciting with updates, but it is an impressive setting that has a slightly uninspired shooter squeezed into it. Even so, deadly robots invading Sweden is an original and great premise that should be experienced.