Despite this, I kept playing it. And, without really even thinking about it, I kept playing it. Even after I thought I’d played more than enough to competently review the game… I kept playing it. The hooks, it was safe to say, had dug in.
It is definitely true that Sweet Surrender has room for expansion. Even though it’s skipping Early Access, it hasn’t benefited from the many months and even years of feedback-driven refinement that its richer, deeper VR roguelite siblings, Until You Fall and In Death, now feature. It’s a little on the skinny side, both in the length of its randomly generated dungeon and the progression systems within them, but its tough as diamond gameplay erects a tall brick wall I spent hours trying to scale over. And I enjoyed doing so very much.
In some ways, it’s a game more about style than substance. There is a story behind the robot-infested metropolis you’re fighting your way through, but it’s hidden in sparse log drops, and developer Salmi Games is rightly more concerned with the world itself, an uber-cool, arresting mix of sun-blistered vibrancy and clunky killing machines. Think Hotline Miami meets — well, not quite Terminator but maybe evil versions of the robot from Short Circuit? And there’s a wonderfully synthy soundtrack to match the visual narcotics trip, too.
This, it turns out, is exactly the right type of fuel needed to power through repeated takes on the game’s four main areas, which themselves are split into three randomized levels. Each level is an assorted mix of room templates from multi-layered towers to conveyor belts over lava pits in which you’ll seek out the exit and hopefully grab some better gear on the way. That includes weapons, which start off with simple pistols and slowly graduates to grenade launchers and sniper rifles. There are also wrist-mounted chips — of which you can carry up to four — that buff health and damage, sometimes at the expense of clip size etc.
As I said when I first previewed the game this summer, all of this forms the basis for a decent VR roguelite, but I’d definitely like to see more variety to the game’s loot. In later levels, I discovered firearms with time-slowing scopes and chips that gave me a chance to stun enemies, but it’s a mostly basic assortment of changes right now. Weapons don’t have a leveling system so an assault rifle you find in the first area will be just as powerful as one you find in the third, for example, and the modifiers need a greater variety of options to make different runs through the dungeon genuinely varied. There also isn’t really anything in the way of between-run progression, save for the chance to unlock some shortcuts, and the game would really benefit from this.
Played as a shooter, though, Sweet Surrender is a firmly arcadey affair, where it’s best to dodge bullets with the hot-footed smooth locomotion than it is duck behind cover and lean around corners. It’s clean and agile – reloading asks you to simply point your weapon down before flicking it back up, and you can find hookshots and ziplines that propel you from one side of the room to the other in no time. If you’re a fan of faster-paced VR shooters then this is definitely going to be in your wheelhouse. It’s not quite as refined as, say, Fracked, but it makes up for that with really impressive enemy variety, from basic soldiers to exploadable spider bots and shield-emitting drones that make each new room unpredictable.
Light as it may be, this all proved to be enough to keep me coming back to Sweet Surrender over the past week. The game is undeniably tough, with bullets shaving off a significant chunk off of your initially limited health bar, making the action more intense the further you get into a run. It’s those gripping, skin-of-your-teeth encounters where the game really shines, forcing me into corners as I peppered the air with machine gun fire, hoping to knock drones to the ground, or sprinting on the backfoot as behemoth machines with mining drills chased me. It’s thrilling enough that, when a 30-minute run is abruptly cut short, you can pick yourself up and get straight back to it.