Sweet Surrender delivers core roguelite thrills with room to grow. Read on for our full Sweet Surrender review!
That thing happened with Sweet Surrender. I played it for a few hours and came to what I thought would be my final conclusion. I’d confidently decided it was a simple, clean VR shooter that ultimately didn’t offer enough to keep me coming back.
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.
Still, it often doesn’t feel like a shooter intrinsically designed for VR, and you get the sense it’d work just as well on a flatscreen as it does in a headset, save for the moments you line up your sights for long-range kills across the other side of the room or toss sticky grenades onto walls. I also struggled with the two-handed weapons, which seemed to get out of position when playing on both PC and Quest, and there are the expected handful of bugs, be it missing enemies preventing me from progressing to the next room on some runs (you have to clear out all foes to progress to the next level), or enemy drones getting stuck between gaps in shipping containers.
There’s plenty more to nit-pick; insta-death lavapits and crushing machines are more frustrating than they are anything else, and the game’s currency is really hard to actually spot in levels, meaning you’ll often run right past it.
But, crucially, that’s all stuff that can be fixed, and I have hope Salmi Games will make good on its pledge to keep supporting Sweet Surrender going forward. There is, inarguably, something here. Flesh out those core systems and expand the length of the dungeon, and the developer might just uncover whatever that is.
Sweet Surrender Review: Final Impressions
Sweet Surrender has a lot of room to grow. That much was made clear when Salmi Games promised extensive free updates at launch, but it’s also obvious when you stack it up next to the depth of other VR roguelites, with a comparatively light loot system and smaller overall dungeon size. But, despite its relative simplicity, the game’s moreish difficulty, enjoyable arcade gameplay and hypnotic visual and audio flair make for a rock-solid roguelite I was more than happy to lose hours within. This might be just the start of Sweet Surrender’s journey, but it’s a really promising one.
For more on how we arrived at this rating, read our review guidelines. What did you make of our Sweet Surrender review? Let us know in the comments below!