PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One
Focus Home Interactive
If you watch enough movies and play enough games, you’ve probably heard someone exclaim “you can have my weapon when you pry it from my cold, dead hands”. Well, The Surge is the kind of game that obliges gladly. In fact, not only will you be taking weapons from the cold, dead hands of your enemies – you’ll be taking the hands as well.
The Surge is Deck13’s second attempt at a Souls-like, after the previous title – Lords of the Fallen – has seen a very mixed reception, owing to its myriad of technical issues and less-than-appealing choices in mechanics. In fact, as The Surge was installing on my PC, I admit to a certain feeling of unease; while I was hoping for the best, I was still somewhat expecting the worst, which made The Surge surprise me all the more when I realized how good it actually is. I guess it really is true – If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.
There are certainly a lot of similarities between The Surge, Lords of the Fallen and indeed Dark Souls: enemies are brutally tough, and if you don’t play smart and learn their moves you won’t get far; resting at an “Ops Center” respawns all the non-special enemies and refills your consumables; leveling up and upgrading your gear is done through the use of the same currency, which is lost upon death and must be reclaimed. Of course, then there are the weapons – a large variety neatly split into 5 categories, each with its own weapon skill level that improves as you use weapons of a specific category.
The first major deviation The Surge makes from the cookie-cutter “Souls” template is its theme. No “Medieval Fantasy” here – The Surge is a hardcore science fiction experience rife with robots, lasers and fancy exoskeletons. Eerie castles and haunted graveyards are replaced with production facilities, labs and other industrial constructs, while the enemies are a variety of robots and humans (I suppose they’re technically cyborgs now) gone completely homicidally mad. There’s no magic or equivalent-of, either, and the game’s combat emphasizes melee almost entirely to the exclusion of everything else. That goes for both you and your enemies.
The second deviation, which would be just as major to some, is the way the story is delivered. You don’t need to hunt for the story very much – it is delivered to you through side-quests and dialogue with NPCs, as well as through collectible audiologs scattered around the levels. By the end of the game you have a rough image of what happened, who did what and why. You have a pretty solid grasp on who the good guys and bad guys are – although some gaps in the story are left empty intentionally.
Combat in The Surge is remarkable and unique in quite a few ways. First, and excuse the comparison to Lords of the Fallen yet again, controlling Warren feels smooth and responsive. If LotF’s Harkin was an aircraft carrier slowly changing course, Warren is an attack jet nimbly dodging, dashing and charging ahead. Then there is the loot mechanic which the whole game revolves around: the systematic and highly satisfying dismemberment of anything that stands in your way.
Many RPG players know what’s it like to farm an enemy with a particularly nice piece of equipment until said equipment is obtained. The Surge takes an entirely different approach: see an enemy carrying something you like? Cut it off and take it. This is the game’s most common way for finding weapons and the only way to obtain armor – with the combat built around this system to make it fun and rewarding.
To make dismemberment an easier task, The Surge allows you to target-lock each limb separately. Likewise, instead of the more common light attack and heavy attack, The Surge has horizontal strikes and vertical strikes. Combined with the different weapon types and varying animations, learning the weapons and their moves is a very rewarding activity. As you learn the various combos, you’ll find your favorites and learn which move is best use to break off which part, culminating in a brutal and flashy “Execution” move that will send limbs flying. Personally, I’ve fallen in love with the staff-type weapons and have used them for the majority of the game, but there is plenty of other choices, from the “Heavy Duty” sledges and breakers to the “Dual-Rigged” which are akin to a pair of very fast daggers.
While a very polished and fun game, The Surge is not without its flaws. First, the bosses: there is a very small amount of them in the game – just 5 total. They also don’t feel like epic boss fights at all, and more like oversized regular enemies. Especially the 2nd boss fight, which was set up and foreshadowed so heavily through the first levels, was a disappointment when it came down to the actual fight. Second, there is no vendor in the game – at all. While you can destroy unwanted loot and gain Tech Scrap, you can’t actually use that scrap for anything other than leveling up. In LotF fashion you can bank your excessive scrap to keep it safe, and there’s a scrap multiplier for going on a killing spree without resting or banking, but a vendor carrying at least some basic things or materials would have been a considerable improvement.
Then there’s also the matter of leveling up – which feels fairly inconsequential. As you level up, the thing that becomes better is your Core – the “engine” powering your exosuit. Certain implants (which is how you increase your stats and gain consumable items) scale with your core level, but only up to a certain limit. And, as your core levels up, you open up more equipment slots for additional implants. Unfortunately, none of this really makes you better at the combat. Unlike other “Souls” games, you can’t just raise your strength to be better with strength-based weapons. You need to keep using those weapons. That is probably the game’s single biggest fault, and it makes the overwhelming majority of weapons you find dead weight that you can’t really use because they’re not of the type you’ve already been using. My advice? Find a weapon type and stick to it and hope you’ve made the right choice, because you can’t reset or respec your weapon skills either.
The Surge also clearly takes a page from the book of Dark Souls when it comes to level design: Each level only has a single Ops Center, but a whole slew of shortcuts and passages that can be unlocked to loop back in on it. Each time I was sure I’ve reached the end of my rope and I’ll have to double back to Ops, a shortcut revealed itself and I could restock and level up before forging onwards. This design repeats throughout the game’s levels and culminates at the final stage where the Ops Center itself can be moved around – a nice creative touch that I genuinely enjoyed.
I have to say that despite my earlier trepidation, The Surge has most certainly earned its place in my mind as a solid Souls-like. It still isn’t perfect and perhaps a needed bit more polish, but the overall experience is great and enjoyable. A solid non-sequel that improves upon LotF in every way while preserving some of the fun mechanics, I can definitely recommend The Surge to anyone looking to get their Souls fix.