On the factory wall, in six foot high letters, a careful worker has written “the best safety device is a careful worker”. From the opening moments of The Surge, it appears safety devices are in abeyance. More noticeable are the erstwhile careful workers whose slack jaws and loose limbs, inside their Ripley-evoking exoskeletons, say that they’re either dead, zombified or maybe even (the horror) Mail Online readers.
The Surge is set in an Elysium-style future extrapolated from the technological and ecological trends of today, taken to a logically-nasty extreme. Your character is a lucky grunt who’s managed to secure a highly in-demand job at Creo, a company ostensibly trying to solve the world’s environmental problems. And this—in a factory riddled with psychotic robots and once-humans in exoskeletons just like his—is his first day on the job. I hope they have good overtime and hazard rates.
Given that it’s a sci-fi game from the developers of Lords of the Fallen, it’s not surprising that the ethos is entirely Dark Souls meets System Shock. If that description zaps your heart like a bellyful of electric eels, then it’s okay, you’re still human—unlike many of the poor souls wandering the factory floor.
Not that your protagonist is the last survivor. In a very System Shock move, you can hear the audio communications of other workers as your exeskeleton clanks around the branching paths of the factory complex—mainly their last moments, admittedly, but at least it’s not lonely.
Combat is very Dark Soulsy, with a nasty twist or two. First, surprisingly for the future, the game is entirely close-combat focused, complete with dodges and clearly-telegraphed attacks. As the game’s Creative Director, Jan Klose put it, The Surge production complex is a futuristic “setting where it is reasonable why they wouldn't have guns and ammunition in large numbers.” Instead, this area is non-militarized, but heavy with hardware.
“As you're equipped with the exoskeleton, you can attach stuff that your enemies are wearing... but first you need to take it from them” says Klose. When you’re locked onto an enemy, you can aim for different limbs, allowing you to bypass well-armoured areas and interrupt attacks. Attack enough and you can perform finishing moves that dismember the enemy—dropping exoskeleton parts relevant to where you targeted. So combat is a nice choice of either winning quickly by targeting weaker components or targeting the better components to ensure you get better drops. (Your own skill level is the deciding factor, mind, given how lethal some of the enemies are—for example, I saw a large patrolling dog-bot one-shot the protagonist.)
Once you’ve got those components, you can get them to a safe location, dissemble them, analyze them, take the crafting materials and upgrade your own exoskeleton—swapping your standard chainsaw for a beam cutter, say, or a heavy leg component for a more advanced lighter one.
The setting means that traditional RPG levelling has had a different twist too. Instead you gain exo power as you level up (this is your first day on the job, after all—you really are having to learn fast), which allows you to use heavier exo components and implants. The latter can range from special powers—like the ability to turn combat energy into health—to straight stat upgrades.
Our demo ends with a boss battle against the six-limbed giant robot that we just heard massacring some surviving co-workers over the radio. Like Dark Souls, a single false move spells doom, but learning the attack pattern spells victory—until it changes, partway through and demonstrates it can fly too.
If the story matches the simple joy of these mechanics and its attractive style, The Surge could surpass its inspirations. But a quick note on the game’s look; as is fairly standard practice amongst some publishers now, the images we’ve been supplied with don’t reflect the game we saw. Though they were labelled screenshots, they’re renders. The game itself looks pretty wonderful in action, but we didn’t see anything matching these images, neither in quality but nor in framing. We hope the next batch are more representative.