Having a distinctive and individual identity can often be a very important factor for a videogame. If you decide you’re going to make a modern day military shooter or a fantasy RPG, you have to be damned sure that there’s something distinctive about it to help it stand out from the crowds of conceptually similar games that went before.
That was something that Lords of the Fallen struggled with, with the inevitable comparisons with the popular Dark Souls series, thanks to its style of combat and gritty fantasy setting. In some ways they lucked out, getting onto PlayStation 4 and Xbox One before either the re-release of Dark Souls 2 or its PS4 exclusive cousin, Bloodborne. Lords of the Fallen did pretty well within that context, but while CI Games are working on a sequel, their co-developers at Deck 13 have moved on to create a new property, The Surge.
We’ve all had it happen to us, where you show up for the first day at a job, only to pass out during your induction and discover that everyone’s been murdered or is now a shambling mess that will try to kill you given half a chance. No? Just me?
Well, me and Warren, the protagonist of The Surge. Deck 13 have tried their hand at predicting the future and where technology is going to go over the next few decades, deciding that exoskeletons were likely to exist to augment human physiology. These aren’t as outlandish as in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, but still serve to boost what you can do. Unfortunately, everything goes very, very wrong in the mysterious facility almost as soon as you get your hands on your work-issued exoskeleton.
This change in setting and the lore that’s associated with it also has a number of effects on the gameplay. Human implants which will act as player attributes and skills combined, ranging from several methods of health regeneration to clever twists like having a tutorial implant and an implant that lets you see health bars and damage dealt.
However, upgrading your exoskeleton feels like the biggest factor in defining your progress. The suit’s potential power output level acts as a kind of player levelling system, letting you interface with certain parts of the world only once you’ve levelled up. However, there are many varieties of exoskeleton, and this is the most obvious visual cue to demonstrate your progress. It’s really the manner in which you acquire new parts which provides a fascinating new twist on the core combat.
Naturally, it’s still descended from the combat that many people will be familiar with from Souls and Lords of the Fallen, but the key twist here is that you can now target particular limbs, making use of the right analogue stick to do so when locked onto an enemy. That means that you can look for weak spots in their exoskeletons or their armour and try to dispatch them quicker and more efficiently. Conversely, it also allows you to target a cool new weapon or a new piece of kit, with the aim being for your killing blow to slice off that limb – even blunt weapons can remove limbs here – and prevent the occupant’s death from short circuiting the new part.
That’s a fairly simple conceit to make, alongside the acknowledgement that manufacturing plants aren’t particularly likely to have a lot of firearms lying around, but it feels like it will have a nice effect on how the game is played. Obtaining a whole new exoskeleton will require that you defeat several enemies in a particular and precise fashion, picking up pieces one at a time. At the same time, you’ll also learn how best to deal with those particular enemies in future.
However, the facility has much more deadly problems for you to overcome. More animalistic robots that might patrol a corridor, for which the demonstration character seemed ill equipped to deal with – evasion and avoidance were the only real options here, but only after being caught out, killed and returned to the start of the area. There’s also the question of boss encounters.
Your time into facility is likely to be haunted by voices of others, coming through to you via the radios. You’re not the only survivor and others are trying to escape or simply keep moving forward. The chatter of two such survivors being cut short as some big, dreaded thing descends upon them once more neatly foreshadowed the boss character in the demo.
Admittedly, it’s not particularly horrifying as a giant many limbed ring with jet thrusters to fly comes in to attack, but it looked to be a typically exacting challenge to beat. It’s purpose in the facility wasn’t clear, but it certainly didn’t like any living humans passing through.
The same principles from the rest of the game carry forward to the boss fights, as you look for moments of weakness and hunt for the opportunity to sever limbs and weaken the whole. In many ways it’s a better manifestation of the damage you’re dealing, instead of having a long health bar running across the top of the screen and behaviours changing as you weaken a boss.
Having proven themselves in this particular subgenre with Lords of the Fallen, Deck13 are looking to differentiate and diversify with The Surge. At first blush, it certainly looks like the shifting focus to a futuristic setting and combat centred around dismemberment can give a fresh spin on the Souls formula.