Avalanche Studio’s Generation Zero is an adventure game/shooter that plays out sorta like the Swedish equivalent of the 1984 movie Red Dawn. That pic set up a scenario in which a gaggle of Colorado teens realized that their football- and ice cream-loving heartland was suddenly being overrun by invading Soviet forces.
In this game, it’s pretty much the same, only in Sweden. And with robots.
In this version of reality, Sweden has been privately gearing up for any worldwide threat that might come its way. Military services take up a huge chunk of the nation’s attention and budget. And every Swede, from grade-schoolers to grannies, has been prepping to someday take up arms in potential defense of the homeland.
It’s 1989, and that day has arrived.
Playing as a typical teen guy or gal, you’ll scramble up on a scrub brush-dotted shore after the boat you were in—which was transporting you on a little weekend holiday with friends—gets blown out of the water by an unknown force.
As the sole survivor (or, optionally, playing with up to three others in multiplayer mode), you’re faced with a huge tract of Swedish landscape made up of rolling hills, waving fields of tall grass, forests and shorelines. Scattered farms, tiny towns, churches, docks, lumber camps and occasional military bunkers dot the landscape, breaking up the pastoral terrain. But there’s not a single person to be found. Humans are all mysteriously, and seemingly instantly, missing.
There are, however, some signs of a quick exit and some struggle: Cars and trucks are left abandoned by the side of the road, house doors are sometimes wide open, and blood spatters various surfaces here and there. Answering machines and notes hint at a gathering of survivors at some distant, strategic location. Oh, and there are lots and lots of robots wandering everywhere. Not nice, plastic-skinned and smiling, humanoid types; but bulky steel constructs that generally thump around on four metallic legs and shoot at anything that’s not a mech.
Are these robot invaders from another world? Or were they sent by an attacking human force? Has mankind been wiped from existence? Are you the sole survivor? Is there any way that you, a weaponless teen, can fight back? Those are all questions that the game asks, and it’s your job to scavenge what you can and find clues that can lead you to the truth.
All of that lends this open-world adventure quite a bit of promise. Let’s face it, there’s something sci-fi cool about jumping into a world at war with semi-sentient robots of various sizes and forms. We humans have a long history of creepy fascination and emotional connection to our robotic creations. And we particularly like them when they’re also part of an ongoing mystery and placed in a well-crafted world.
In some ways, Generation Zero explores that robo-shooting premise pretty effectively. For one thing, it keeps the shooting mess-free. You battle against mechanical enemies that are aggressively threatening and intentionally deadly, but those battles are bloodless.
But the real challenge is in figuring out how to even the odds against superior foes. And if you’re bested—while gathering and blasting away with pistols, rifles, shotguns and machine guns—your character simply slumps forward and then respawns at an earlier checkpoint of your choice.
As for language concerns, all recorded entries are in Swedish. We see an s-word or two translated in printed form, but there’s no English-language interaction to worry over (other than the obvious possibility of profane online interaction with live English-speaking friends).
This game’s biggest drawback, frankly, is its perpetual grind. The story side of things is very sparse. You spend hour after hour slowly gathering tiny clues and roaming aimlessly throughout the game’s vast open map. And you end up searching nearly identical-looking Ikea-decorated houses over and over and over for some battered weapon or a few bullets that likely won’t even fit the gun in your possession.
In truth, Generation Zero might have made a much better game if it didn’t have the shooting element in the mix at all. Rather than constantly scrounging for ammo in bathrooms and under beds, it would have been far more entertaining to simply devise ways of sneaking by the guarding robos. That approach seems like it could have yielded a much more creative, robust and satisfying story.
There are hints that this kind focus might have been part of the game’s original design. But it wasn’t fully explored. And the result is an interesting but in many ways tediously tiresome game.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.