Unexceptional in the ’80s
Between Stranger Things, the nostalgia of Ready Player One and roughly half of recent pop music, it feels like we spend more time today in the ’80s than anyone ever actually did at the time. And Generation Zero, a shooter set in 1989 Sweden, is no exception
The game hits a lot of familiar period tropes. Fire it up and you’re greeted with those towering John Carpenter-esque synths, just as gorgeous here as they are in Stranger Things. The character creation screen loops through teen movie archetypes like it’s quoting the speech from the end of The Breakfast Club – the rebel, the punk, the preppy kid, the nerd.
There’s not a flicker of neon to be seen, though, and Generation Zero stands out simply by virtue of being set in Sweden. Avalanche uses the period setting to highlight a side of its home country that isn’t often seen: the heavy militarisation that followed World War 2 and the beginning of the Cold War. Oh, and also there are robots. Lots of robots.
The idea here, which is mostly just hinted at, is that Sweden’s answer to the arms race was building a drone army – think the Boston Dynamics dog bot, but with machine guns strapped on top – until, one day, the robots turned on their human overlords. Who could have predicted that, eh?
The game begins as your customised teen returns from a weekend of partying to find their home bloodstained and devoid of life – but helpfully packed with guns, ammo and flares. From here, you’re sent on a path of exploration, nominally to find out where all the people have gone.
In practice, this is just a smattering of narrative breadcrumbs to lead you through the map. The game itself plays out like the first ten minutes in a game of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, spun out indefinitely. You move across stretches of open land. Occasionally you come upon a settlement, and go from house to house, hoovering up their contents – weapon attachments, medkits that gradually bump up your health when activated, gear ranging from dilapidated to actually useful – into your inventory, in preparation for the next encounter.
Even Generation Zero’s Baltic island setting is reminiscent of PUBG’s Erangel, with its sparse foliage, weather cycle with a penchant for moody rain, and overall sense of desolation. Initially, it’s a fascinating world to explore, poking around homes with their abandoned dinner tables, TVs tuned to static and little crossstitched Swedish sayings on the walls (handily translated when you point the reticule in their direction).
Quickly, though, you’ll realise it’s the same dining tables, detuned TVs and cross-stitches repeating in an endless loop. (Actually, in fairness, there’s a decent range of Swedish sayings on offer, just in case foreign-language proverbs are your particular jam.) It’s like doing circuits of your local Ikea.
Publisher Avalanche Studios / Developer Avalanche Studios / release date Xbox One / cost £34.99/$39.99