Long ago I dropped Generation Zero after playing through the FNIX update/DLC and being pretty disappointed by the new state of the game. Things just weren’t the same after the gonzo AI was patched out, all the achievement was gone and instead we got … robot buildings. Anyway, that was long ago and this weekend, with nothing to do and four days to do it, I reinstalled Generation Zero and decided to check out the newest updates. Three experiences stand out the most.
At Iboholmen castle I alerted a bunch of runners who all showed up at roughly the same time and then basically stood in place looking at me. One of them shot but the others continued to stand, doing nothing. It was a simple matter to dispatch the bunched up group by shooting one’s fuel tank.
Then, on the open plain area just north of Saltholmen Church, I went out to fight some rivals because they were all gathered around that area. I took out a hunter rival, a couple other hunters, and a few runners, none of whom shot if one of the other machines were actively targeting me. Feeling bold, I went after the tank rival. During the battle no less than four other rivals, including a harvester, showed up. I took them all down in sequence (except for the harvester) and then went right back to killing the tank. All this time not more than one machine targeted and shot at me. The harvester simply waited in the back for its turn.
Once I got to the farmlands area I was introduced to the control point mechanics and base building. After taking a short look into that and then seeing other control points appearing as I traveled around, I turned the game off. It’s not the kind of thing I want to play. First, the FNIX architecture is extremely ugly and seeing those warts all over this beautiful landscape really ruins the view if you ignore them. If you don’t ignore them they become this constant sort of whack-a-mole game because fighting machines isn’t avoidable in the long run. I also have zero interest in a base-building game; if I wanted that I’d play Minecraft.
This is not to say there haven’t been awesome strides in the meantime. The ability to go prone is fantastic. The ambient storytelling has been amped up and it’s really cool to see all those new stories. Bugfixes were very welcome. I’m not entirely sold on the two radio NPCs; having the army guy who trained for combat give me, a kid with a gun, orders while he sits in the command bunker required some serious suspension of disbelief but the girl providing guidance and making extra storytelling come alive is great. Mixed bag at best. Crafting is also a mixed bag; being able to make ammo is great but I can see that it’s largely to support the base-building/assault gameplay, so if you ignore that gameplay it trivializes a large portion of the game since there are bodies everywhere to loot.
After all this I actually checked to see if I could get hold of an older version of the game and found out that it was possible to install older versions of games for Steam. I did a bit of sleuthing because it had been so long and found out that the version I started on was the April 2020 patch, and went about replacing the newest version with that one. After a couple hours of play I confirmed that it was, indeed, what I started with: enemies were smarter, more than one bothered to target me at a time, resources were scarcer, the world was much “quieter”, there was no ugly FNIX stuff, and no control points or base-building to deal with. I don’t know about you but for me this was the literal apex of Generation Zero gameplay and I wish it were iterated on. The AI was challenging and the machines were actually terrifying in groups. It felt like an actual survival game with a mystery to solve rather than a rote action FPS game with a guided experience. With bugfixes and maybe some additional small features this would have been a fantastic addition to my library. This was a real missed opportunity.
I’m going to play this old version again, do a full run through, maybe some multiplayer with a friend who feels the same way. In many ways the April update is worse than the newest version but in far more ways it’s so much better. I’m sad this wasn’t the gameplay that was iterated on, what an amazing journey it could have been.