There are several ways to look at our possible future. For some, it's fantastic and radiates hopes, a golden tomorrow, a potential utopia. Others are more concerned about the way things are developing, and foresee dark times on the horizon. Mostly, however, the reality will be, at the end of the day, quite different from what we have in our minds. When talking about what awaits us in the coming decades, we often stumble across themes that involve robots and technologically modified humans. In The Surge there are a lot of machines, but augmented people are in the mix too. To do the heavy work, people are provided with mechanical enhancements to make them fitter, stronger, more productive. This happens to us on our first day working at a new company, but something goes horribly wrong. When we wake up, the work has turned into something of a nightmare, and our once friendly colleagues are not so friendly any more.
In this broken world we don't start out as a hero. We're just another ordinary worker. We have no weapons, but instead have to look for something to help us fight against the deadly threat of the machines and the other people/workers we encounter on our way. There is no real goal other than to survive. Only gradually do we find out what went wrong, until then we have to make use of everything we find in this dangerous environment if we're to develop and move forward. One of the main elements in the game is that you need to gain valuable weapons and armour from your fallen foes.
Although The Surge has a very different background, this sci-fi adventure shares a lot in common with Lords of the Fallen, the previous project from Deck 13. The fights are hard and you can die quickly if and when you make a mistake. We're mostly fighting against individual opponents, but they're still challenging. It's important to learn their movement patterns and to dodge at the right moment, and in reply time your own attack just right. A few simple enemies at the beginning of the game, who were human once, move like very sluggish zombies. They can, however, hit you with a powerful blow and you need to avoid getting caught at all costs. There are also dangerous dogs that come at you in robot-form. These metallic beasties are significantly more agile and they can't be defeated easily.
What is new here is that we have to decide where we attack an enemy. At first we do that primarily to exploit vulnerabilities. Thus, certain features can eliminate or limit the actions or movement of an opponent. Later, as we get better, we're aiming more towards well-protected parts of our adversaries, which increases the chances that later on we can use the corresponding part for our own benefit. Recycling is central to the game, and you can make use of components dropped by your enemies.
The controls around this feature are quite simple. We aim at an opponent, selecting the desired part of the body. The damage we dish out, for example, about 80 percent to the left leg and ten percent each to the head and right arm, is the basis for the probability of severing that body part with our final attack. If successful we can then collect the part, and use it to customise ourselves at a workbench. Weapons can also be tinkered with in this fashion
However, such implants are not only superficial modifications, they can also function as a type of software. A mod tells us, for example, the life force of opponents, thus making things easier for cautious players. However, the number of these we can use is limited and we need to decide which improvements we find the most useful. Jan Klose, CEO and creative director of Deck 13, compares the system to the skills and magic in RPGs. We build our character as we want. The Surge also differs from Lords of the Fallen here; with that game, at the beginning, we had to choose from four classes. This time the starting point is the same and you specialise as you go.
It's the consistent evolution of a known concept. The same applies to level design. Although there is no open-world here, it is at least designed so that we can freely roam previously visited areas. In The Surge this is encouraged. On the one hand there are resources and interesting modifications to be found. Secondly, the team are promising plenty of secrets and hidden places for us to discover. And what's been shown of these environments (and the designs for some yet to be revealed) suggests a very interesting atmosphere.
The difficulty level is to remain similar in The Surge as it was in Lords of the Fallen. Deck 13 will only work to make the challenge more palatable. Those who don't want to search long and hard for that perfect armour can of course try to get through the game without it, and very good players might be able to take one or two short-cuts. The experience itself is, however, already challenging. There is another peculiar feature that plays into this. A blue bar shows us the Exo-Energy level and fills up as we fight. We can use this energy, for example, to heal ourselves, thanks to certain implants. So if you happen be be low on energy there is a neat risk and reward system in play.
Some might have been annoyed that Deck 13 never got a chance for a sequel to Lords of the Fallen. However, the decision by CI Games to go a different way led us here to The Surge, and this game does look promising. Should the Frankfurt-based studio manage to make the combat system more diverse and bring in a better balance, then the most important groundwork has been done. Moreover, we can expect a story that we can influence with our decisions. Given what's potentially coming in its place, it's hard to feel sad the change of direction forced on Deck 13.