The Fourth Generation is a shareware side-scrolling shoot 'em up game with pre-rendered graphics. The player controls a futuristic aircraft and is tasked with fighting through continuous waves of enemies.
The story takes place in distant future, during an age called "The Fourth Generation". After the collapse of the Galactic Empire, a number of smaller kingdoms emerge, loosely united into a Galactic Republic. While there is no open conflict, tensions exist between the various political entities of the galaxy. After an incident in the Senate, one of the factions, Lorien, intends to attack the neighbouring kingdoms of Qualix and Nimbur. This cannot be done openly under the watch of the Republic, so a different plan is devised instead.
The player takes on the role of a Lorien space fighter pilot who has been stripped of rank and incarcerated for misusing prototype military aircraft (he took it for an amusement ride with a date). Lorien government picks the pilot for a secret mission: feign a prison break, steal a fighter ship and set off to attack Qualix and Nimbur defences. That way, Lorien rulers will not be held responsible for actions of a renegade pilot.
The Fourth Generation spans 11 missions, with the first three available in the shareware version. Between the levels, the player can upgrade the ship using credits earned for destroying enemy targets. Many different components can be improved, allowing for substantial customization of the player's craft. Additionally, on-board systems can be damaged by enemy fire, and as a result the player may lose the ability to manoeuvre, target enemies, fire weapons etc. for the rest of the level. Damaged equipment can be repaired between levels at the expense of some credits.
The game can be played by either one or two players on the same computer.