Deck13's upcoming action game, The Surge, is brutal in every sense of the word.
Its early levels are smeared with blood and fraught with confusion. Like its Dark Souls-esque predecessor, Lords of the Fallen, The Surge emphasizes tough, deliberate combat: slower strikes with one-on-one encounters. Enemies hit hard, but so do you — focus on one spot long enough, and you'll get the chance to rip off a limb or two.
The game boasts a lot of sci-fi intrigue and bloody bravado, but Deck13 CEO Jan Klose wants to skip the stereotype of a dark and gritty future. Instead, The Surge aims to deliver an over-the-top twist on the tough-as-heck gameplay style established by Lords of the Fallen.
The Surge, due out for PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One next year, is set several decades into the future. During a hands-off demo of the game shown to Polygon, Klose explained that players step into the shoes of a somewhat average guy in a bad situation. He's not a fighter, but rather someone happy to have found a job. After being fitted with a work-issued exo suit, he blacks out and wakes to find himself in a very bad situation. Murderous robots roam the blood-smeared compound, and there's no one alive left in sight. The compound itself isn't just a factory, Klose told Polygon, but will open up new environments for players to explore.
"It's not a trip around the whole world," Klose said. "What we also like is we use things that you know from the real world so we can really pick up on stuff that's happening even today and put this into the story and into the design of the locations."
The team is aiming to set a tone that looks and feels harsh, but also still hits an over-the-top perspective. Klose compares it to Fallout, a series that includes both brutal scenarios and offbeat humor.
"It's not so predictable," Klose said. "You'll say, 'What's going on here?' when you play it, and then you'll find out. Sometimes you will maybe have a smile on your face when you find out. But not necessarily because everything is nice and shiny."
Deck13 is is seeking to both improve on its Lords of the Fallen formula — a game that received positive response from critics — and move beyond it. Klose said the team spent a lot of time digging through feedback and working on fixes for the already existing problems. These improvements were applied to a new environment, where the developer "could put all our ideas in, and where it fits naturally."
"We totally love fantasy environments, but they're a bit let's say [predictable] sometimes, so people expect some things," Klose said. "We as players expect something to happen there.
"But with our scenario, nobody knows what to expect. This is what we think is really interesting, so we can play with this feeling of what's coming next."
Still, Deck13 wanted to stick with the punishing, action-RPG genre. Klose said he likes a game that challenges you and forces you to adapt to the situations at hand, rather than button mash. He compares it to early games that many people grew up with, where you'd die, get up, and die again.
"You repeated. You learned."
"You repeated," he said. "You learned. We love this, because it's really immersive. It sucks you in, and you're so furious at your enemies when you die. You feel so powerful and so cool when you win. We love this feeling."
The Lords of the Fallen dev has a keen interest in continuing work on RPGs. It's the "coolest thing you can do in game development," Klose said, because you're curating an entire world. The developer's absence on the Lords of the Fallen sequel is not indicative of a lack of interest in the genre, but rather other complications. The 2017 title remains in the hands of CI Games, which also worked with the original. When asked if the choice to move on from Lords of the Fallen was a conscious choice made by Deck13, Klose's said it was a bit of both.
"Partly yes, partly no," he said. "Of course we would have liked to work on the new Lords of the Fallen title, but the opportunity didn't arise just after the first one. However, we had these new ideas and we had the publisher who believed in them, and we said OK, we're going to go this way. It sounds like a really cool adventure we can embark on."
Klose added that Deck13 is very fond of Lords of the Fallen's fantasy setting, and that it's a direction the studio might eventually return to. But when it comes to returning to that specific series, the developer remains steadfast in looking ahead, not back.
"I think we're more looking forward and I think we'll come up with another new idea when we move into that direction again," he said.