The Surge brings limb-theft to the Dark Souls party

“It’s sci-fi Dark Souls”, said everyone who had anything to say about The Surge [official site]. I was at a preview event for the publisher Focus and, as happens at these things, journalists would gather in groups and discuss what they’d seen. I wasn’t playing The Surge until the end of the first day and lots of people had already seen it. “It’s sci-fi Dark Souls”, they’d nod to each other. “You know, like Dark Souls. But sci-fi.”

Fine. But is it a good sci-fi Dark Souls?

Short answer: it’s impossible to say. Slightly longer answer: the early section I played, for half an hour, is great, but without seeing how the game deals with level structure and enemy variety, it’s tough to make a call one way or the other. The first enemies are broken people, slow to attack and telegraphing their more powerful attacks with distinctive wind-ups. They work well and show a good understanding of the importance of animations to make combat legible.

A good Souls-like should make you shout, “OH FOR FUCK’S SAKE” when you die for the umpteenth time. It might even make you swear never to play again, and to curse the person who designed the bastard monster that keeps killing you. It might make you throw a controller or smash it into pieces as if you were filming yourself for broadcast and needed to give the audience what they craved. It might make you punch a wall (Dirt Colossus 2010; I was younger and angrier then).

Importantly, a good Souls-like will make you regret doing all of those things. In the heat of the moment, while YOU DIED bleeds across the screen like an insult and an injury rolled into one, you might hate the game with the burning passion of a thousand unpraiseworthy suns, but take a step back and you realise that you’re the one to blame. You fucked up. It’s fine. You can improve.

The Souls games aren’t arbitrarily tricky, not on the whole, they’re harsh but fair learning experiences. You learn through repetition, through observation and through experimentation, and you become amazing.

It’s fantastic to see that The Surge has been built by people who understand that.

Deck 13 have previous in the Souls arena, having previously created Lords of the Fallen, a fantasy RPG that had more than a little of the bonfire knights in its DNA. The Surge feels tighter, punchier and more confident in its own twists on the formula though.

The most important of those twists involves ripping off arms, legs and heads. When you lock on to an enemy, you can target specific body parts with a nudge of the left stick, and rather than being a gimmick for brutal finishing animations, the limb-lopping feeds into the crafting and loot systems. For plot reasons, you’re trapped inside an industrial rig that’s gone a bit haywire and the best way to upgrade it is to nick the body parts of similarly rigged-up folks so that you can slap their bits on top of your bits.

Essentially, that means if you see a chap with a chainsword attached to his left arm, you’re probably going to want to cut that arm off so you can have a chainsword attached to your own arm. Anyone in a sci-fi world gone mad who doesn’t make a beeline for the nearest chainsword is a wrong ‘un, I say.

By the end of my half hour I wanted more. My character was like a patchwork quilt of chunky great sci-fi weaponry and armour, which is to say not very much like a quilt at all. He looked – and maybe it’s the Games Workshop influence elsewhere in the building leaking in to my thoughts here – like a hastily glued together conversion of an Imperial Guard figure, with bits taken from boxes containing various Space Marine factions stuck onto his face, chest, arms and legs. I was chasing a chest upgrade, which involved harvesting lots of pieces of enemies to get enough scrap (the currency/experience of the world, lost, like souls, on dying) and specific parts.

The repetition loop that is a fundamental part of a Souls-like is a way of harvesting the gear needed for upgrades. You need a blueprint, enough scrap and a set number of the part you want to replicate. It’s a satisfying loop, at least in the early stages, and that’s not just down to the strength of the combat.

Visually, The Surge isn’t sci-fi Dark Souls at all. It’s bright, colourful and a little bit cheeky. All the plot stuff was discarded for the preview session, so I could get to grips with the game, but recorded voices blare out of loudspeakers warning about safety protocols, while every employee tears holes in his colleagues and reduces them to scrap. It’s a bit Aperture Science and even though there’s extreme violence, it feels more like 2000AD than Miyazaki’s dark fantasy with a splash of chrome and petrol.

Is The Surge good sci-fi Dark Souls?

It’s the foundation for that, certainly. Environmental design, including pathways and traps and secrets, and boss fights are vital. If they work, and there’s enough variety in character builds and enemies to keep things interesting, I’ll be more than happy. It’s taking the systems of its obvious inspiration and using them as building blocks for a genre rather than elements to replicate as closely as possible. Yes, the scrap works exactly like souls, but it’s tangled up in the crafting and the limb-theft and a combo system that feeds back into that limb-theft.

The Surge has hacked off a couple of limbs from Dark Souls, but it’s using them to build something a little different rather than leaning its entire weight on them. We’ll hopefully see how well the rest holds up soon.

The Surge is out in May.

51 Comments

  1. killmachine says:

    saw this game in some e3 coverage. this game opens one big question: don’t they have guns in the future anymore? they have all this robot technology but are limited to melee weaponry? doesn’t make sense.

    • Replikant says:

      It’s -um- so far in the future that all deposits of fossil gunpowder have been exhausted for a long time.

      • beowolfschaefer says:

        do not believe that there is any fossil component of gunpowder. It’s sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate.

        • lasikbear says:

          Well obviously first they turned into dinosaurs and then died and turned into fossils.

        • Replikant says:

          That’s what they want you to believe. You just wait till the last milk fields have been pumped dry, the last vein of glass has been mined and the last coffee nuggets have been washed out of the streams and rivers. Then you’ll finally see the truth but it’ll be too late.

        • Hellraiserzlo says:

          It’s a post-trump world where they destroyed all the guns

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          Phasma Felis says:

          ThatsTheJoke.jpg

    • Kingseeker Camargo says:

      I don’t see a problem with that. It complies with one of the oldest rules of gaming, as worded by Old Man Murray: “Games always take place in the future, the past, so far into the future that everyone forgot how to make guns, so far into the past that everything’s kinda futuristic, or Middle Earth.”

    • lordcooper says:

      I know fuck all about the game, but it seems like it’s set in some kind of manufacturing/industrial complex. It doesn’t seem that unusual to me that there wouldn’t be loads of guns lying around.

      • Chem says:

        Well it depends if it’s set on take your gun to work day. It’s an American thing.

    • kalirion says:

      Maybe it’s against their religion?

    • Murdock says:

      Think like this… On Harry Potter universe there is a reason why guns can’t be used. Got it? To make my point even deeper, you’re worried about robots fighting in the future. Dont take everthing so serious, man.

      • skeletortoise says:

        What is the reason exactly? I was unaware of one and so I just assumed there was a pervasive magic is cool, guns are for fools attitude.

        • lordcooper says:

          Magical fields have negative effects on muggle “technology”, although the exact definition of technology is left vague.

          IIRC there’s mention of Harry’s watch ceasing to function at some point. As far as I can remember she never really went into great detail on it, probably because, well, they’re children’s books.

          There is a specific creature that screws with electrical apparatus though: link to harrypotter.wikia.com

        • nearly says:

          I mean, what use would they even have for guns? The only thing a gun is good for is killing stuff and they’ve got magic for that (which they morally oppose so heavily that basically no one uses the spell).

          Also wasn’t there hints that dark wizards were involved with the world wars? Maybe it’s a Wonder Woman kinda thing where they’ve had a taste of it and would rather not muck around more.

          • Replikant says:

            I’ve always wondered about that. I haven’t read the books but I’ve seen the beginning of one the movies where they compete in the trimagic tournament, or something like that. So, they are morally opposed to killing with magic, yet all seem to accept the (apparently high) possibility that pupils could die in a sport competition?

    • Borreh says:

      The informations released thus far imply the action takes place in a civilian area and the main character, being a civilian himself, has no access to guns. Maybe some will appear later in the game as ranged weapons, but it’s visible you have to fight with whatever you have and guns just aren’t around.

      Nothing really illogical about that. You don’t need elaborate excuses why guns aren’t around when, in most of the real world, guns aren’t easily available, either.

    • lasikbear says:

      Robots are made out of metal, and guns shoot metal. They obviously can’t bear the existential horror akin to a human shooting bits of flesh at its enemies.

    • vahnn says:

      I own guns. When I go to work, I’m not allowed to bring my guns. At work, no guns are kept around. There are lots of computers and machinery around, but none of it makes guns. I know lots of people own guns, but besides going home or to a gun store, it would probably be difficult for me to find a gun. Plus if there were some kind of disaster scenario and people were taking their things, I bet most of them would their guns. So there aren’t just guns laying around everywhere.

  2. kud13 says:

    Sounds neat. Would it be playable without a controller?

    • Replikant says:

      Luckily, I started playing Dark Souls with K&M. So, when I couln’t get through the tutorial, I had an obvious scapegoat.

  3. Themadcow says:

    Um, why do you need to target limbs before they die instead of just cutting off the bits you want when they’re dead?

    • lordcooper says:

      Because when an unplanned shutdown occurs the suits emit a localised EMP that disables all attached equipment in order to discourage industrial espionage/theft.

      I made that up.

      The real reason is: Videogames!

      It gives you a reason to vary your tactics and (hopefully) makes the combat more involved/fun. I’ll happily take a more fun with a paper thin justification for certain mechanics over a less fun game.

      • CromWelp says:

        You’re actually spot on. It’s because, upon sensing death, the implant shorts the equipment to prevent theft or scavenging. A bit like if you work in a money minting plant, they have metal detectors so you can’t steal. If you wanna steal some tech from CREO, you’re gonna have to cut your arm off to get it.

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      phuzz says:

      Well if some bugger is coming at you with a bloody great chainsword, chopping it’s arm off sounds like a good idea to me.

    • gabrielonuris says:

      I find it more immersion breaking when you kill a mob totally equiped in heavy gear, juicy weapons and all, just to search it’s corpse and find just 2 coins, a broken knife and a carrot.

      • fish99 says:

        Yup, there’s pretty much only the Bethesda RPGs where everyone you loot has the armour and weapons they were just trying to kill you with (minus the stack of infinite arrows). Of course that does lead to problems with carrying all that juicy loot :)

  4. Garou says:

    This looks very interesting, I’m looking forward to hearing more about it. Although, the title sounds a little too much like The Gush.

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      “Surge the heretics, flush the unclean!”

      Ummm… no, wrong franchise.

  5. Kingseeker Camargo says:

    As a gigantic Dark Souls nerd, I’m always excited about these games, but so far all of them have fallen short. They always try to reinvent the wheel, but they don’t seem to grasp quite what it is that makes the wheel so wheely in the first place. Sooner or later they all have me echoing the words of RPS’ own Maese Meer: “Why am I playing a not-as-good version of Dark Souls when I could be playing Dark Souls?”

    I am intrigued about the change in setting if nothing else, so there’s that.

    On the other hand -and I do realize that this might come across as petty and even silly to complain- I’m less intrigued about my character having a preset name, a typical macho-gruff appearance and (presumably) a story he’ll need to tell by constantly interrupting all the limb-tearing. I’m really, REALLY, sick of games with generic protagonists and stories that think way too high of themselves.

    • Chairman_Meow says:

      One word, but the lot ’round here won’t like it. C’mon over here, mate, but be cool. What you want is..
      *glances around, whispers*
      Nioh.
      You’ll need a Sony Playbox, but it is the business!

      • Static says:

        *nods in silent agreement*

      • Kitsunin says:

        Grr…What is it with them playboxes getting all the best soulslikes as exclusives……

      • Kingseeker Camargo says:

        Yeah, I’ve been following that one with lusty eyes and it looks all kinds of awesome -hell, it even sold me on the pre-defined character; and a blonde white guy at that.

        Unfortunately, down where I live we still don’t quite understand how capitalism works, and consoleboxes are prohibitively expensive; so Nioh (and Bloodborne, and Demon’s Souls, and so many others) are a distant dream for the likes of me *cue world’s smallest violin*

    • scatterbrainless says:

      To be fair, your first paragraph also describes my response to Dark Souls 2.

  6. HothMonster says:

    When I played Lords of the Fallen I felt like they were trying to ape Dark Souls without really understanding why Dark Souls worked so well. Hopefully they at least figured out why Lords didn’t work.

  7. gabrielonuris says:

    A good Souls-like should make you shout, “OH FOR FUCK’S SAKE” when you die for the umpteenth time. It might even make you swear never to play again, and to curse the person who designed the bastard monster that keeps killing you.

    Actually that never happened when I was playing Dark Souls. Yes, I died a LOT, but to swear and curse the designers only occur with those games that are really hard just for the sake of being hard. Like Dark Souls 2.

    • Jekhar says:

      I had a far easier time with Dark Souls 2 compared to the first one. There are two reasons why i think DS2 is easier: You can warp between bonfires straight away, which prevents getting stuck in awful places. You can clear the whole area of enemies by killing them a number of times (10x iirc), so you can waltz right back to the boss who killed you. This greatly reduces the risk of loosing souls on corpse runs.

      • gabrielonuris says:

        Yes, Dark Souls 2 has its easy moments (as a whole it is indeed easier than Dark Souls), but goddammit it’s gank squads… The Ruin Sentinels (the threesome)… The Gargoyles (really, 4 at once?)… Curse you too Heide Knights and your instant frame hits! And of course, let’s not forget the FUME KNIGHT.

    • fish99 says:

      All the Souls games have their difficulty spikes, but I’d say Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls are more punishing than Dark Souls 2&3 or Bloodborne. The only bit of Dark Souls 2 I’d say was hard-for-the-sake-of-it was getting to the Ancient Dragon, but you could just run past everything.

      They did smooth out the difficulty curve with the Scholar of the First Sin version.

      • gabrielonuris says:

        I didn’t fight those dragons, they were all sleeping, and if you manage not breaking their eggs they will stay that way. But as you said, I played the Scholar of The First Sin version.

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      DS is less hand-holding like the games of old. If there’s a chasm you can always fall in and die [much like Skyrim and Witcher granted] but with extra narrow bridges and guys shooting at the same time.
      Still if you die it’s always your own fault fumbling at the controls or rushing things.

      • keithzg says:

        I very much disagree. While it’s true that the games generally don’t hold your hands, and I do get frustrated by them all the time, it’s very much not the times that I should’ve ‘git gud’. My main problem with the Dark Souls games has been that I so often die because the game arbitrarily won’t let me do something, particularly when I’ve been invaded (which with Dark Souls III recently happens to be literally 75% of the time). I’ll do something like “oho, that moving platform thingy back a bit, if I run onto it and flip the lever then the invader can’t follow me!” and the game goes “lol no that lever doesn’t work while you’re invaded”.

        It’s a particular problem for me as well that literally every other 3rd-person game I’ve played in . . . maybe ever? will let me surmount knee-high obstacles, so my instincts for traversal are routinely wrong enough to get me killed. Look, I get it, it’s a videogame, but precisely because of that I want the character I’m playing in this action game to be at least as physically competent as never-visited-a-gym me! And yeah, I’d get tired out swinging a sword around a lot faster than my character is, and that rate of summersaulting is just downright inhuman, but comparatively I can vault like a motherfucking champion. Hell, I can get over obstacles purely by stepping that utterly confound my Dark Souls character even when jumping.

        Or there’s that time in Dark Souls III that I ran into some travelers and they said “we should help eachother out some time” and then literally 5 minutes later I ran back to that bonfire being chased by monsters and they just stood there while I got slaughtered. Goodbye, suspension of disbelief!

        So, I dunno. It’s true, in a sense, that it’s the oldskool nature of the Dark Souls games that lie at the root of many frustrating deaths for me, but it’s not in the lack of hand holding that it’s akin to the games of old, it’s in the lack of more modern programming choices, particularly of features (like AI being more than merely a short list of scripted movements and attacks under very specific and inflexible triggers) that were lacking in older 3D games simply because it wasn’t possible back then.

        • Kingseeker Camargo says:

          On the other hand, when you start adding details like believably responsive AI and realistic obstacle navigation, more often than not you end up with some sort of Assassin’s Creed or another.

          I’ll take the oldschool-embracing philosophy of Dark Souls as it is, thank you very much, down to what back then were limitations and now are things that are consciously sacrificed in the vein of focusing on world-building and polishing the combat to a mirror shine, resulting in an experience that is quite literally like nothing else in gaming today.

          If I want to climb every single wall I see or I want a more character-focused story, I know I have a gazillion other options out there. Hell, a new Mass Effect is about to drop any moment now.

          • keithzg says:

            I don’t need to climb every wall, I just want my character not to be limited by knee-high obstacles, which frankly is downright lazy level design.

            And moreso, I don’t see how one can justify environmental features suddenly ceasing working when one is invaded, particularly when you praise the “world-building”. Everyone seems so effusive about how the Souls games don’t hand-hold, but they lovingly lead invaders by the hand. You say “focusing on world-building” but I’m constantly being made aware that the environments are just simple, interchangeable pieces of geometry, and the artificial and slapdash nature of it all forever undercuts any such attempts to sell them as places with any sort of history or even present reality.

          • Kingseeker Camargo says:

            Fair enough. If that kind of thing breaks your immersion, I won’t be convincing you otherwise.

            For me, those are things that I put on the level of, say, lip-syncing or NPC animations or my character not having a voice (or even a properly written lines when talking to someone). Those are thing that I might find annoying in other games, but I can forgive them in DS because I understand they are small sacrifices in exchange for an enormous payback: Like I said, there’s nothing else with this kind of focused, dedicated attention to gameplay, and I’ll be willing to part with anything if it means keeping it as it is –especially stuff that’s largely cosmetic.

            Hell, I’m convinced that things like a prettified world or fancy cloth physics or crazy particle effects or what have you, cost DS3 a good deal of actual meaty content. As much as I love it, DS3 is a lot more shallow than DS1 and lacks a good deal of replayability, just because it had to look the part of a current console title.

            I was playing DS1 a couple days ago and I got the egg infection for shits and giggles, and I realized that no other game in the series (and I’m including BB here) has that kind of small, pointless yet dedicated kind of details anymore.

  8. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Got Lords of the Fallen cheap and had a nice hour or so.
    -non-intrusive story -good
    -visuals, sounds -good
    -gameplay elements -seem good
    -level design -seems ok
    But Gods the second boss is a sponge and movement is so slow. I could just go play DS DLC backlog instead.
    But maybe they could get it right next time, dismemberment would be great. They have talent just lack in the execution department.

  9. April March says:

    A Focus game that was actually good, with no ifs ands buts or *s, would make me equal parts incredulous and happy.