The atmospheric bliss of Generation Zero

Dense forests, abandoned towns and calm riverbeds; Generation Zero's setting is hauntingly beautiful and I love it.

Developed by Avalanche Studios, the game is an open-world shooter taking place in an alt-Swedish 1980s setting. After the majority population of an archipelago goes missing, hostile machines roam the wilderness looking to wipe out the survivors. The clash of nature and technology is a theme commonly explored in science fiction, and whether Generation Zero does that well is up for interpretation. I do, however, think it does a decent job of engaging you with these themes, which is achieved through the environment.

As an open world game, you'll spend a lot of time exploring the wilderness, scavenging for loot and sneaking across occupied areas. A key thing to appreciate about this location is its tranquillity. When you're wandering from place-to-place, there's a quiet spirit to the woods and hills. You'll hear birds chirping as a wind rustles through the trees. Go down to the river, and you can listen to the gentle flow of the water trickling downstream. When it rains, head for shelter and you'll notice the muffled pitter-patter hitting the roof. As far as audio design goes, the devil is in the details.
These ambient noises are emphasised by the subtlety of the background music. Generation Zero's dynamic soundtrack extensively uses synthesisers and other electronic instruments as a tribute to its 1980s setting. but it isn't blaring in your face like other games have done in the past. During these moments of downtime, you may not even hear it unless you're listening carefully, but the game really wants you to focus on those sounds.

This is taken away from you once combat with a group of enemies begins. Much like the overall theme of Generation Zero, technology drowns out the natural. The naturalistic sounds of the environment are replaced by the rebounding whine of the machines. Suddenly, the rest of the world doesn't matter anymore as you enter a brutal fight with a pack of dangerous attackers.

The danger of these machines is made scarier by the fact they are not limited by environmental restrictions in the same way humans are. Generation Zero has a dynamic weather system, meaning rain, snow and violent winds can come and go as they please, and enemies' mobility is not reduced by this. They can even sense you through smoke and other surfaces, which further underlines the inhuman threat they pose.
Despite being a co-op game, I played alone. There is no difficulty scaling for solo players, meaning these encounters are harder as they are meant to be tackled by teams. It is chaotic and relentless. Survival is the highest priority. But if you defeat the machines and survive the encounter, the world returns to as it once was. It's like your ears have popped and you can continue your business as usual.

This massively sets the tone for how you should play Generation Zero. It wants you to value those long moments between each action sequence by creating an environment that immerses you in rural Sweden. It's that sense of atmospheric bliss that drives you through the game's combat sequences as you want to get back to that state of normality. When you're scavenging for valuable loot in an abandoned town, and suddenly hear the sharp grind of a machine in the area, panic kicks in as you tread carefully to evade your enemy.
Generation Zero is a lot of things; some good, some bad. But Avalanche Studios' attention to detail in its environment design allows the game to be this half-meditative, half-chaotic experience. It's a clash of sensations, but it doesn't ruin the pacing at all. I think it's representative of how computer technology has shaken up the world as we know it.

Disclosure: Generation Zero was supplied by Dead Good PR.

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