Tactical dismemberment. Games have asked us to be accurate with our appendage removal before – Dead Space told us, early on in that particular nightmare, to "cut off their limbs". But that was simply to avoid Horrific Death by Necromorph. In German studio Deck13's upcoming sci-fi adventure The Surge, where you slice your enemies can have a direct effect on how you get ahead in the game. See that tasty piece of power armour on your left leg? I'll be having that, thanks very much.
Not that removing limbs – and, immediately afterwards, the stats-raising technology attached to it – is going to be easy in this near-ish-future game world. Deck13's previous game was 2014's action-RPG Lords of the Fallen, which borrowed a trick or two from Dark Souls and its series brethren, not least of all the fact that even the dumbest grunt can kill the player, if they're not careful in combat. And The Surge's enemies, even at their most shambling, can deal out significant damage given half a chance.
It'd be easy, then, to call The Surge "Dark Souls goes sci-fi", but that's being unfair – indeed, it'd be like calling Halo 3 "GoldenEye 007 with a Warthog or four". With a release date simply of 2017 right now, it's way too early to pass any kind of judgement on The Surge. All I can tell you is that it looks great in motion – I've sat through a demo, which while hands-off certainly felt pretty intense – and that Deck13 CEO Jan Klose is, naturally, pretty excited about it.
"We're looking for something where the players won't know what to expect, so we can really surprise them," Klose tells me, a few days after I've seen The Surge for myself. "And, we will." I pick his brain a little further, to find out more on what these surprises might be.
VICE: So where are we in The Surge, setting wise? I know the demo I saw was set in the player character's place of work, not long after, for want of a better expression, everything's gone to shit. It's clearly in the future. Are we on Earth, or elsewhere?
Jan Klose: Yes, we're on Earth, and actually not too far away from today in terms of the time. The game is set just a couple of decades into the future – but in our scenario we assume that mankind didn't really make the most out of its opportunities. Politics, environment, technology, economics – there might be a dark path ahead of us, and with The Surge, we'll take you there.
I've heard about how The Surge is influenced by themes around us today –environmental concerns and technological progress, for example, as you've just raised again yourself. Can you expand a little more on this? What sort of research were you looking at to end up with this game world?
We've done extensive research regarding the current state of AI and robotics, especially those enhancing the human body, leading to a fusion between man and machine. But we were also looking at big companies like Google, Apple, Facebook and Foxconn, and thought about what might happen if they stepped just a little bit away from their positive objectives. From what we found, it really doesn't take much until you've reached the world of The Surge, with an environment that gets hostile and a world that doesn't get more peaceful in terms of politics, either. So there will be a lot of everyday topics that you will find hidden inside the game. If you look for them, that is.
What lessons has the team taken away from the experience of making, releasing, and reading the feedback to Lords of the Fallen? That game was loved in some quarters, but criticised too, and you obviously want the next game to be bigger. Is there anything you know you didn't quite realise on Fallen that you're definitely making up for with The Surge?
Yes, a lot. Firstly we were of course happy that so many people played and enjoyed Lords of the Fallen; we would never have dreamed that this would actually happen. But with a lot of gamers come a lot of opinions, and of course criticism. So we tried to listen to this as much as possible, and mix it with our own observations and ideas. Take the level design, for example. It's a bit open at the beginning of Lords but then it becomes rather linear. With The Surge we're creating levels in a completely different way, all revolving around game design and story to create a vast world that opens up as you play. You don't just "revisit" locations you already encountered, but you need to "dig deeper" later in the game to harvest its full potential. Attentive players will always find the path leading through the levels; but every level consists of a lot of different layers that can't be explored on the first visit. You'll need to come back there later with your newly acquired powers and skills to unlock all of the secrets. Well, at least most of the secrets. Unlocking them all will be really tough. If you just try to find the fastest way through the game, you'll most likely become beaten up rather badly by the final opponents.
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I saw a boss in the demo, a big bastard whirling thing. Now, presumably this is a robot that's gone a little crazy after whatever's happened in the company – but will later enemies not be "born" of this place of work? Will we see weirder enemies, maybe more flesh and blood than metal and circuitry?
There will definitely be some very weird, and huge, enemies in the game, and we're using the full bandwidth between humans, hybrids and machines. Every opponent is supposed to look, feel, and play very differently, and everyone has their special place in the story and lore of the world. This is something the player can always find out if they play close attention, and it will help them to acquire advantages in combat.
Will the game move out of this company's HQ, so we'll see diverse environments?
There are a lot of different environments in the game. There are inside and outside locations, some high in the sky and some deep inside the Earth.
When your character dies, what do they keep? Is it a Dark Souls system where you have to collect what you've dropped – or do you retain all the armour and weapons you've picked up – well, sliced from – your enemies?
If you die, you are allowed to keep your gear, and the quest progress is also kept. But you do lose resources and the enemies are, of course, back in action.
Will your character meet other survivors of this disaster, and how might they impact upon their own chances of survival? Will you be able to gain perks from saving certain people?
Um, I'm not allowed to say too much there, yet, but you are not far off. You will meet a lot of characters that you can talk and deal with. Every character can help you progress in the game – or hinder you. You can make choices and influence the outcome of the quests. Also, every character will reveal a bit of the overall story. There's not one big revelation about what happened and what will happen next; instead, you will acquire this knowledge bit by bit, character by character and level by level. If you're the inquisitive type of player, anyway – otherwise, you'll just have fun breaking things.
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On the combat itself, will it be a case of grinding making you stronger – or more that finding certain equipment is the way to go, to improve your chances of beating tougher enemies? You've said enemies respawn on the player's death – but is that ad infinitum?
Not all enemies will respawn all the time, but generally this is the rule. There is a certain part of grinding in the game, but that's more the second layer. First of all it's all about duels, tactics and survival. But once you've mastered this for a certain type of enemy, you'll feel in control and you'll want to take a closer look at the weapon and gear he's carrying. And then it's a bit of grinding – finding more of those enemies to tactically strip them off their valuable gear, piece by piece and enemy by enemy.
The demo came with the promise of an "original character progression system". Can you give me a sort of 101 guide to just how the character will level up, and become an ultimate badass?
The key to character progression is that it's not really the hero levelling up but his equipment, most importantly his exo suit. The suit has a power level that more or less corresponds to a classic "player level" in an RPG. The higher the power level is, the more energy can it provide to its components, meaning that you can equip better gear and use stronger weapons – which you can also upgrade, by the way. Your exo suit also connects you to the "implants" which correspond a bit to classic "skills". Implants can be acquired in the game world, through fights and otherwise, and you can plug them into your system to enhance your mental abilities and, for instance, get more information on your HUD. All the on screen displays are part of the game world, too. The higher your exo power level, the more implants can you use at the same time. So, by defeating a lot of gruesome enemies, solving side quests and exploring the world, you will gather enough resources to increase your exo power level, and also you will acquire new gear, weapons and implants. So it won't suffice to simply slash away at enemies – you need to gather loot to really become an ultimate badass.
So we'll learn, through the game, that a reliance on technology isn't all it's cracked up to be. Does that also mean, though, that all this amazing, power-boosting gear that the player picks up could ultimately be their undoing?
Well, that might very well be. But let me tell you that there are some surprising twists within the story. We won't tell you what's right or wrong in the end. But we'll hopefully surprise you every now and then.
The Surge is currently in early alpha and will be released for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC sometime in 2017. Find more information on the game's official website.
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