Avalanche Studios’ Generation Zero looks like it’s shaping up to be a pretty excellent survival game, which is quite an accomplishment considering how tired the genre has become lately. It is perhaps a testament to the developers that the game manages to do some fresh things with a genre that has become so over-saturated that most people don’t pay it much attention any more. It should be made clear that Generation Zero is still in its beta stages and has a long way to go before it is ready to see a full retail release. We got some time to play it over this past weekend, along with several hundred other people, and can now happily report what it’s like to try and survive 1980s Sweden.
Generation Zero is a first-person survival game set in a quiet corner of rural Sweden during the 1980s. You and your friends, if you’re playing multiplayer, have just returned from a trip to some nearby islands. On your way back to the mainland, your boat is shot at by a rocket launcher and goes down. After clawing your way onto dry land, you discover that the place is deserted, and so the game begins. The main point of the game is to try and figure out what has happened to everyone and who was shooting at you. There’s a decent amount of atmosphere to the game, which becomes apparent very early on as you’re creeping around abandoned houses, pondering mysterious blood stains and scrounging for items and weapons. After exploring the first house and getting your hands on an empty gun and a pair of binoculars, you scan the landscape and find what seems to be an abandoned police car to approach. It’s after you’ve poked around a little that the threat appears in the form of some robot dogs who come running at you from the woods.
The combat does feel a little stilted, in all honestly, but it also sort of seems like that’s kind of intentional. You’re supposed to be some random shlub who is thrust into a strange situation with no training, at least assuming that you didn’t choose the soldier during character creation. Nine times out of ten you’ll be playing as someone who shouldn’t know how to use a gun very effectively. Honestly, the gun combat isn’t all that important, at least not if you’re planning on playing solo at any point. The much more effective method of ensuring your survival is sneaking your way through the landscape without drawing the robots’ attention. Having said that, the mechanics for stealth are a little lacking. You can crouch to reduce noise and visibility, but that’s about it for direct stealth mechanics; you can also distract monsters by using radios or throwing fireworks, but currently these things don’t seem to work all that well. It might seem like we’re a little down on the game, but honestly it all ends up working when put together.
Regardless of how basic the stealth mechanics are, it is still intense to sneak out of a safehouse, creeping between cars to scavenge for supplies while praying that the robots don’t hear you. The difficulty of the gun combat works because it A) makes sense for your character, and B) it makes the situation you’re in feel dangerous. Overall, any clunkyness in the mechanics works because it’s accurate to the situation you’re supposed to be in. The character creator is interesting but might seem a little limited for some people. You get to choose from a few different classes of characters and one or two outfits, but that’s not where the really interesting customization comes in. As you search for weapons and safe locations to hide in, you also come across different clothes to put on. This means that within 20 minutes of game time, you can pick up enough clothes to change your ‘nerd’ character into pretty much any other type of character. Unfortunately, this does usually mean that you actually end up with a random mismatch of 80s fashion, but since you’re playing in first-person anyway, it barely even matters.
With any luck, Generation Zero might actually be one of the best survival games we’ve seen in a while. It is set in an interesting time period and location that we’ve not really seen before. While there have been sci-fi-based survival games in the past, it is pretty unheard of to have a sci-fi-based survival game that is set in the past. The mystery of what is going on in the world of Generation Zero is a big part of the draw for the game, and honestly, we personally can’t wait to find out what on Earth is going on.