The Surge is sci-fi Dark Souls

Check out our pick for The Darkest Soul of E3 2016.

Look, everyone's thinking it, so I will confirm: The Surge is looking an awful awful awful lot like sci-fi Dark Souls. It is the top contender, right now, for The Dark Souls Of E3 2016, and if there was a real Souls game here right now to fight it for the spot, I am not even convinced that game would win. The Surge, you see, is sci-fi Dark Souls, but more complicated, which makes it probably twice as Souls as a real Souls.

The Surge is a close-quarters action combat game which takes the lock-on-based, lots-of-weapons-with-many-movesets Dark Souls combat template and adds the additional layer of individual bodypart lock-ons. Instead of a single lock-on point, human enemies are covered by a web of, like, five or six lock-on points representing every limb, the torso, and the head. Attacking specific body parts can disable enemies in different ways, and when you injure an enemy enough to perform a specific finishing move, the lock-on point you choose affects which part will be amputated in slow-motion glory. (At one point during the E3 demo, the player targeted a torso point and sliced a dude in half like a sausage.)

And then it gets more complicated, because in order to craft loot, you've got to collect specific bits of armor - and you can sometimes only collect armor if you slice it off an enemy in the heat of combat. During the demo I saw, the player sliced off an enemy's head, then strolled over and just picked it up like a football and pocketed it. An alert popped up in the corner of the screen: you got a helmet! And I thought: uh, okay!! Nice!

So, yes: The Surge is looking like the kind of game that players who are attracted to Dark Souls's extremely detail-focused gameplay will enjoy. It looks like it's trying to require the same kind of careful, levelheaded approach to enemy encounters that Dark Souls always has - and it also looks like it's trying to amplify the challenge involved. (Or at least amplify the fiddliness. We'll see!) All the combat I saw reminded me pretty damn strongly of the kind of stuff I'm used to seeing in Souls games: combat is focused on dodging, blocking, and planning your swings carefully.

But it's got more in common with From Software's various magnums opus than just the combat. It has levels that loop back on themselves to unlock twisty shortcuts; it has very little explicity storytelling, focusing instead on environment design and facts deduced from enemies; enemies respawn in the same place every time the player exits their safe hub area. The proof of its Dark Soulsness will be in the playing, though; there are kind of a lot of games out there now which claim to be influenced by that series, and many of them come nowhere close to living up to their inspiration.

So I'll leave the topic of the Souls games for a while and focus on stuff The Surge is trying to do differently. Cutscenes are out: all events the player can observe simply happen around them in the world, and they'll have to pay attention to get the most out of them. I did see a few regrettable examples of environmental "storytelling"-- some Narrative Graffiti drawn in bloody red on a wall - but there wasn't enough of the story in the demo for me to make any kind of judgement on how well they're gonna pull this off. The developers told us that there are no quest logs or specific indications anywhere in the game telling the player what they have to do, so here's hoping that the environmental hints are good enough to accommodate that!

As for the story: it takes place in a "near-future" technological dystopian setting where nobody has a job. Allow me to quote this gem from the press leaflet I was given:

The world of The Surge offers a very grim vision of the future, where the evolution of our technology, our society, and our relation with the environment led to a decadent state of the Human civilization.

A decadent state of the Human civilization! Crap! Anyway, the protagonist is lucky to be an employee of a company that's won a contract to purify Earth's polluted atmosphere, and they're essentially just a vulnerable meat-human traipsing around Robot Hell in an industrial exo-suit. Your powers and upgrades are associated with exo-suit components you slice off of enemies and suits/bio-implants you create using crafting stations in the player hub. The monsters in this game all seem to be either corrupted humans who are also wearing suits and implants-- your ex-colleagues at the company-- or evil robots, so I'm guessing that robots are The Problem in this world, and that some Technological Evil Probably Caused By Humans is turning people into Basically Zombies. In the demo, we saw a three-legged scorpion-esque robot, a bunch of angry humans in yellow forklift suits, and a very big robot boss that reminded me of the military law-enforcement robot from Robocop.

The bossfight we saw in the demo wasn't mindboggling, but it did look like fun, and the developers were particularly interested in assuring us us that there is no single attack pattern necessary to defeat it - depending on your loadout, you might want to tackle it one of several ways. In the demo, we saw the player use the robot's own target-tracking rockets to stun it, then hack at it at close range, flaking off big hunks of its armor depending on where it was hit.

Look, I'm gonna be honest: I am a sucker for this kind of game, and although I haven't had my hands on it yet and I only saw about ten minutes of gameplay in one zone, I am really eager to test this one out someday. Some of us are gluttons for the kind of punishment that these kinds of games provide. I am definitely eager for Dark Souls but X action games to become a goddamn genre, and I hope The Surge lives up to that.

The Surge is in development by Deck 13 Interactive and will arrive in 2017 on PC, Xbox One, and PS4. There is no specific release date yet.