Generation Zero

❦ First Published on

Running in the forest holding a rifle watching the sun rise.

The last thing you remembered before the new reality was a summer boat trip to an island with your friends and a girl you had a crush on. It was the end of the decade, the Berlin Wall had fallen, and all seemed, just like, awesome.

You were convinced that she was from Los Angeles, but having only visited in another reality through Grand Theft Auto you had nevertheless watched enough films and listened to plenty of citizens to know the accent well.

But the girl with shining hair turned out not to be from the City of Angels, but from Sweden, and to have watched a lot of American television, just like you.

And just like you, she would have liked Generation Zero’s character creation screen.

Like nordic countries (or L.A.) you can be a jock who wears skirts and paints his nails, or a punk feminist geek Slayer fan without fear of repression, ready to fight with both guns and fashion those with machine minds who know only their way or the highway to Gothenburg.

A few character fashion options.
In the 1980’s you had fashion options.

Having recently made up for never experiencing Saved by the Bell by watching the lovely Lady Bird may make one think you are a screen entertainment snob, but what if I tell you my screen time in the 80’s was divided between video games and action movies like Stallone Cobra (I can’t call the film “Cobra” — it must be “Stallone Cobra”), and that the first three Rambos are in my top ten list of films?

Maybe then you will understand that having saved me in the real world before, Rambo, or Cobra, are usually the personae I choose to control in virtual worlds.

Cobra in Generation Zero with a skirt.
My avatar in Generation Zero wearing his traditional garb. Click to see him wearing a skirt.

In Generation Zero you find yourself alone (like Cobra) or together with up to three other friends and maybe even your crush in cooperative multiplayer, not on Venice Beach, but in a Swedish countryside with changing time and weather where roving mechanical dogs with guns and other robominations roam to terminate a cool high-school you.

Your imaginary back aches from the amount of gas canisters, stereo ghetto blasters, flares, .32 millimeter rounds and other bits and pieces, including weapon attachments like scopes and extended ammunition magazines that you have stuffed in your rad leather jacket pockets. (The user interface is a bit fiddly, but has improved with recent game updates).

Like an arctic fox you listen for sounds not made by nature in the wind by forests and sea and wish Adriene and Benji would row in sporting Fjallravens to help you. (There is an expansion, or “DLC” — downloadable content created for an already released video game — that adds human non-player characters — NPCs — and many updates that have added to and improved the game significantly since its original release).

Cobra on a bicycle in Generation Zero.
Cobra’s 1950 Mercury was replaced by a bicycle, made available by the game’s developers in a recent update.

Character creation and fashion options like new clothes found around the world as you progress (my Cobra has green sown mittens to keep his guns warm, for example) are nice, but this video game has other stars:

Ett: An ambience made real with excellent sound, graphics and world design that envelop you in a nordic landscape which you can reach quickly (very fast load times to get from the main menu to the 3D world). The soundtrack, too, must be celebrated as it is some sort of 1980s cross between Terminator, Airwolf and Iron Maiden.

Keep dry and alive.
Staying inside to social distance from killer robots and the rain.

Två: Movement animation and design of the machines that hunt you as if programmed by Boston Dynamics to kill ALL humans and not just the ones they are told are bad by the politicians in charge. From nimble “Runners” to Scandinavian-house-shaking “Tanks” the things have armor and weak points like battery packs and fuel tanks, so studying them from afar, ideally with binoculars equipped with the “Tech View” perk you get from the hacker skill tree, is not only worthwhile, but often crucial, especially in the default or higher difficulty settings (thankfully players of all skill levels can now enjoy the game with a recent update providing less punishing difficulty).

A runner at night.
Looking at a Runner in the distance through binoculars at night.

Tre: Derelict, dirty weapons that together with the visual and aural experiences remind you of Far Cry 2. Firing one emits a very loud BOOM (unless you have a silencer equipped), and sounds like a big deal, which it usually is since unless you hit a critical spot in one of the robots with your first shot you can expect a frightening fight ahead. The mech nightmares move quickly and will not hesitate to use their iron limbs as well as metal-jacketed bullets to put a hole in your totally cool avatar.

I should probably add Fyra: The ability to play the game with 3 others cooperatively against the machines, but I have only tried it briefly with one friend when the beta version of the game was out over a year ago, and find this game may be best experienced slowly and alone, though the action is intense and once robo-mechs are raging you will wish you had someone to help.

A few problematics, briefly: Machine artificial intelligence can be too quick to find out exactly where you are even if you take care to hit them from far away while crouched and using a silencer. This is probably due to their advanced sensors, but can be frustrating — and they sometimes stay stuck in one spot firing at you repeatedly, which becomes the opposite problem of them becoming too easy to blow up.

The game crashes to desktop a bit too often, still, but less than when it was released.

Unfortunately the game is not cross-playable between systems so you can only play with others who have the same system as you.

More variety in footstep sounds, and the ability to lie prone to better avoid machine detection would be lovely, as would being able to turn off all interface elements so you can fully immerse in the game world without distractions and without needing to stop the game to go into Photo Mode, if you choose.

Moonlight in the forest.
Moonlight in the forest.

Cobra has not left the initial island yet and we are slowly moving north, from where the wind brings strange sounds from within a fog-covered distance.

A full moon rises from behind the clouds and as you stop to scan the space between the trees in the forest you notice the silver light glinting off the bookish girl’s hair beside you.

Her rifle seems incongruous with her outfit, but given the situation, it is a perfect fit.

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Generation Zero is available for PCs on Steam and for Xbox and Playstation 4.

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