The first five minutes of Generation Zero crackle with the promise of great adventure. As a teenager, you wake up on the shore of a Swedish island to find the country overrun with robots. No adults are in sight. You (and your co-op pals, if you bring them) must find out where everybody has gone, why the robots are invading, and how to stop them. As soon as the stakes are set and you get your hands on a weapon, that promise combusts. Thanks to a bevy of glitches and poorly designed systems, Generation Zero falls far from the potential of its zany concept.
You explore Generation Zero’s (admittedly beautiful) version of Sweden, crossing massive patches of terrain to reach towns and bunkers holding secret documents that lead you across many more miles of desolate wilderness to find more documents. If you’re playing solo, the tedium of travel is heavy. Even when you have companions, nothing exciting happens during these segments. You’re just walking. You might occasionally come across a robot you can fight or a car you can loot, but for a game supposedly rooted in discovery, exploration is mindless and boring. The tedium doesn’t even lift when you reach the remnants of civilization, as the vast majority of houses have one of three interior structures, and are rarely filled with noteworthy loot. Spending substantial time scavenging for items in copy-and-paste houses just isn’t fun.
Combat is not a saving grace here. The gunplay across your weapons (pistols, shotguns, rifles) is all lackluster. Every battle is either dull or frustrating because of how spongey your robotic enemies are. You commonly deplete your whole ammo reserves after an encounter because foes continue to spawn during battle. Given how rare getting the ammo you actually need is, this is more frustrating than challenging. Tactical throwables like boomboxes and flares can distract foes, but they only work half the time. To make matters worse, technical issues allow robots to attack through walls, and massive framerate slowdowns make fights impossible to manage. Outside of combat, I hit glitches that removed mission markers and important locations from my map, forcing me to restart to get them back.
Generation Zero marries boring combat and exploration to frustrating and archaic systems, making inventory management and leveling up a chore. You can load ammo, weapons, and useful throwables into a series of inventory slots, but you can’t split up or combine ammo and items, which is a huge problem. For example, if you pick up one medkit, it won’t stack with the group of medkits you’re already carrying, with no rhyme or reason to quantity limits for each stack. This makes managing your already tiny inventory a constant hassle. You also have to assign throwables to one of four quick-use buttons, but once you run out of ammo for that stack in your inventory, you have to manually assign your other stack. When you’re trying to switch between different kinds of items during combat, conducting this long process will get you killed. Similarly, skills are communicated through an overly complicated tree filled with disappointing stat buffs, like reducing weapon sway. To unlock skills that are actually somewhat useful (like expanded inventory slots), you need to buy a bunch that aren’t, and even the ones that are useful aren’t exciting. I never once felt a tinge of joy or satisfaction for leveling up in Generation Zero. None of the rewards are worth the grind.
The only moments of levity during my time with Generation Zero came from playing with friends, but those occasions had little to do with the gameplay itself. In fact, the reason I liked those moments so much was because having a companion to talk to distracted from how boring or broken everything is here. However, even the basic functionality of social play is half-baked. After playing with me and unlocking several fast travel locations around the map in my instance, my co-op partner logged in the next night to find all those fast travel locations gone, as well as all the ammo in his inventory. Generation Zero, for all its emphasis on co-op, actively discourages cooperation because the players who aren’t hosts are not allowed to retain progress made in these sessions.
Frankly speaking, Generation Zero feels unfinished. A massive trail of narrative bread crumbs exists for players that might culminate in a great yarn about this robotic invasion, but the sheer dullness and technical issues makes this game not worth seeing to the halfway point, much less the end.