Generation Zero Is What Happens When the Hunter Becomes the Hunted

By Mark Delaney, 3 months ago
On the showfloor of PAX West 2018, situated between two of THQ Nordic's marquee upcoming titles in Darksiders III and Biomutant was the lesser known Generation Zero. The four-player co-op shooter is a passion project from Avalanche, the same team responsible for Just Cause and the upcoming collaboration with id Software, RAGE 2. It's safe to say the Swedish gamehouse is staying very busy as of late. I was fortunate enough to squeeze in a last minute appointment with the game, during which time I was led through a level by the vice president of communications at Avalanche, Anna Bouveng. What I saw was a mix of a few familiar properties all painted with classically Avalanche tones.

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If you don't know what Generation Zero is, picture Left 4 Dead set in the world of the Black Mirror episode "Metalhead" and you'll begin to imagine the setting. It's more than just a mashup of two other great properties, however, as the whole thing is set in 1989 Sweden amid the Cold War. Bouveng said at that time, the country was legitimately fearful that the USSR would attack and the threat in Generation Zero, while obviously being very different from the Soviet military, is meant to harken back to that period of great unease.

There's no mutually assured destruction with the robotic enemies in the game though, as they're quite happy to come after you in various ways and sizes. In our playthrough, we fought off several smaller dog-like robots that looked like those in the Boston Dynamic videos that rile people up a few times each year. Scavenging is an important facet of the game, and if you intend to stroll through linearly, you won't get far. The game is built on the studio's proprietary Apex engine and it abides by two principles often promoted in-house: "If you can see it, you can go there," and "if you can touch it, it should do something."

These guiding principles are familiar to anyone who has played the Just Cause series and they were on display here too, like when Bouveng showed me a distant mountain that is actually part of the explorable world and not just background decor. Similarly, cars and household objects of all sorts were interactive, like how I could use doors as cover, or open trunks to find more stashes of supplies. When taking down these robots, it was always valuable to pick through their metal and wires for scraps. With a wide-open level to explore, Bouveng reminded me that it's crucial to hunt for supplies even as you're being hunted yourself.

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That feeling of being hunted is very deliberate as the game's premise arose out of the team's previous work, theHunter: Call of the Wild. After they built the animal AI for that game in which they reacted to human predators realistically, they asked, "now what?" What more could they do with that tech? The answer was to flip things on their head. What was once prey became the predator, and what was perhaps a vulnerable deer is today a violent robo-dog.

Humans are no longer the apex predators in the world of Generation Zero, and that was never more apparent than at the end when a massive, rocket launching hunk of metal locked its sights onto us. We scrambled around for ammo, makeshift grenades, and scraps from the decommissioned robots, but it was of little use. Bouveng said to take down one of those giant things, we would need a full team, or at least a lot more explosives — a classic Avalanche move. The cool thing is the world exists persistently, so whatever damage we did to that giant beast would remain there, and if we came back later with a dozen more rockets, we wouldn't have to start from scratch in trying to topple it.

The world is one I was dying to learn more about, though Bouveng said to expect them to keep most details in the background. You'll get bits of story told through notes or radio chatter, but for the most part, how Sweden descended into this Nick Bostrom nightmare will remain a mystery. I'm looking forward to unraveling that mystery as much as I can while surviving another day in this Swedish techno-apocalypse when Generation Zero launches next year.

If you'd like to sign up for the closed beta, you can do so on the game's official website.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves story-first games, and is the host of the community game club TA Playlist. Outside of games he likes biking, sci-fi, the NFL, and spending time with his family. He almost never writes in the third person.