1989 Sweden is suddenly infested with dog-like machines, and save for a few young adults, everyone has gone missing. From what I saw in my E3 2018 hands-off demo, Avalanche Studios’ Generation Zero is an open-world shooter that, despite its beauty and potential for neat ‘80s music and fashion, lacks a compelling foe.
The ultimate goal, it seems, is to figure out what happened to everyone and why the violent robots are running amok. The demo started with two players searching for any information on a countryside village’s missing residents. Along the way to the village, they looked through trunks of cars for weapons and found an equippable mullet then got in a fight with a Runner, a low-level enemy that went down in just a few hits. From there the two players made it to the town and started a mission after finding a distressed message left on an answering machine.
Some missions seem optional but will probably be the best way to gain experience and find better gear quickly. I did appreciate that if you are on a mission with a friend, you two can split up and tackle different objectives to get it done faster. You’re also not required to stay in the same space as your co-op partners, so they can be on the other side of the world if they want to be. Generation Zero allows for up to four people in a game and everyone keeps their own progression, which is always a plus.
Your character also has skills and several skill trees, some of which could make simple missions obsolete. For instance, the mission I saw in the demo had the players find a key to unlock a storeroom with military gear. If they had a lockpicking skill they wouldn’t have had to do the mission at all.
In addition to finding gear throughout the world, players can also pull things like weapon mods off robot corpses if the unit wasn’t destroyed. For instance, if a higher level Runner with a special optical lens isn’t too damaged when it’s taken out, the lens can be used as a scope on a rifle. A skill called Organ Marking makes finding out a robot’s components easier by allowing the player to take a look at a robot’s critical points simply by looking through binoculars.
Weapons and their attachments are rated by their quality which determines their stats – a rusty weapon doesn’t work as well as a shiny new one. Apparel, like the mullet, have stats too. In addition to weapons and gear, Generation Zero offers tactical items like smoke grenades and a boombox. The boombox can be used to distract enemies, or as I saw in my demo, to lure a group of Runners to an environmental trap that’d stun them in place to give the player an opportunity to run or get the upper hand in a fight.
Of course, gear only matters when you’re in combat, and this is where Generation Zero unfortunately starts to lose me. Though the gunplay looked clean, it didn’t seem all that engaging because of the limited enemy design. So far I’ve only seen small robots called Ticks, two variations of the Runners, and the massive two-legged robot that’s equipped with rockets and I’m sure plenty of other heavy weapons. It’s cool that they’re persistent and maintain the damage you’ve dealt no matter how much time has passed between your encounter, but as these enemies are the only other thing populating the world it’s important they’re intimidating, and so far they’re not. The Runners are actually kind of cute.
I could see how a bunch of the higher-level Runners could be difficult to take down, especially if they have good armor, but in a game like this, more units on the field don’t necessarily make a fight more fun. I was assured that enemy difficulty is based on areas of the map, so there is a lot of potential for varied enemy types that pose a more interesting challenge. But since the few machines I’ve seen are all they’ve shown the Generation Zero’s marketing, I’m not holding my breath.
I’m also a little worried about the open-world exploration feeling meaningful beyond scavenging for gear. If everyone else truly has disappeared, Generation Zero could end up feeling rather empty. On the plus side, most buildings can be entered (though even variety there is up in the air with the countryside setting), there are environmental traps around the map for more tactical combat, there’s weather, and Generation Zero features a full day and night cycle. Those together could make exploration and combat a little more interesting, even if the machines aren’t changed much by the time Generation Zero is out in 2019.
Miranda Sanchez is a senior editor at IGN and she’d very much like to pet a Runner. You can chat with her about video games and anime on Twitter.