As I agreed to undertake The Surge review, I was hesitant. I actively disliked Deck13’s previous game (Lords of the Fallen) and I fell off the admittedly excellent “Nioh” earlier this year due to what I like to call “Souls Exhaustion”.
Fortunately The Surge delivers an action game setting so far removed from Dark Souls-likes that it almost tricks you into thinking it’s a fresh take.
Check out my thoughts on this interesting action RPG that has both some really well done elements to it. While certain elements, particularly the story, just let it down a little. Although overall it’s a very enjoyable game. Playing The Surge too? Drop me a comment at the end of the article and don’t forget to Share this before you go.
Look and Feel
As opposed to their previous game that took a great deal inspiration from the Dark Souls series, Deck13’s The Surge opts for a future-tech nightmare. There’s a lot of broken machinery and destroyed, modern buildings. Think “Alien: Isolation” in third-person.
The Surge delivers on a disturbing atmosphere. With its flickering lights along dark, metal corridors with enemies hiding behind a blind-corner, there’s barely a moment of relief. That makes for a great Souls-like game without re-treading the all-too-familiar fantasy setting. At the same time, The Surge throws enough bright, factory lights at you to ensure you’re not exhausted by the grim, limb-slicing mech-gore through-out.
There’s a fair few cliches in its look and feel too, but they work in context. There’s the well-mannered, pre-programmed voice that bellows over the P.A. system whenever you enter or leave a Med-Bay (Checkpoint). A few side-characters that meet the scared-to-death trope.
The game’s issues currently lie in its performance. Before launch I suffered various crashes and, in the two days since launch, it’s still suffering. Note that the auto-save system is fairly generous, so it’s rare to lose actual progress, but it’s still annoying to get a soft-crash back to the Playstation 4 menu. I haven’t been able to reliably recreate said crashes, but they still happen from time to time.
Warren (the player character) visits a CREO facility for treatment. He’s wheelchair bound and, after choosing one of two jobs, he’s operated on to affix an exo-skeleton to his body. In exchange, it appears that Warren will provide manual labour for CREO as they continue to change the world with their advanced technology.
As you can imagine, things don’t go to plan. Events occur and Warren wakes up after his surgery able to walk but in a seemingly abandoned space, surrounded by psychopathic workers hell-bent on killing him.
Your only friend is a holo-gram communication at the local Med-Bays that gives vague directions on where to go next. So what exactly happened to CREO? Why is everything out to kill you? Warren has the privilege of risking his brand new body parts to find out.
Really I think the story is fine across the board. It’s not special, surprising or impressive, but it does the job. The voice acting could be better in places. I don’t quite understand Warren’s calm, collected nature throughout. He’s trapped in a murder-tech facility. That’d bother me a little more than it seems to bother him.
Ultimately it’s a decent story that perhaps I haven’t fully grasped, but essentially you’re witnessing the hypothetical implosion of a future Silicon Valley. As if Google’s self-driving cars started running down all the humans, except with drones and mechanical dual-blades.
The Surge is a third-person action game that expects you to die. If you’ve played a FromSoft game (Demon’s/Dark Souls/Bloodborne) you’ll be familiar with it. Through the many, almost-inevitable deaths, you’ll learn enemy attack patterns and adapt accordingly. With the ability to block, dodge and attack with various weapons and drone-types, there’s enough here to keep it interesting with a few twists of its own.
In what is a fairly linear game, you’ll progress from Med-Bay to Med-Bay as you advance through the CREO facility. In doing so, you’ll acquire Tech Scrap and parts from defeated enemies. Tech Scrap is currency. It allows you to upgrade your “Core Power” (level) and equip performance-modifying chips with various bonuses. Body parts combined with Tech Scrap will allow you to craft and/or upgrade new weapons and armour. Broken body parts become scrap that offers the resources to upgrade the pieces you really want in the Med-Bay area.
Find Your Exo-Style
The best part about the setting of The Surge is that it offers different weapon types. They still fall within the heavy/medium/light range, but there’s a combo system with the two main attack buttons that allow for certain weapons to pull off special attacks. Usually from defeated bosses.
I personally enjoyed the twin-rigged style and the one-handed (because of the awesome weapon I acquired in the late-game). Weapons factor in attack speed, impact and power. Impact might be the one that changes the game, as it affects how likely/quickly you’ll be able to stagger an enemy. Lighter, more agile weapons have less impact but offer more mobility to dodge incoming attacks.
Twin-rigged suits me best. I like to avoid attacks rather than time a block well. Likewise, heavy weapons swing slower and leave you exposed but they’re far more likely to interrupt an enemy and knock them over. They’ll also do more damage generally. At no point, however, was it as simple as a one-hit-kill on any enemy, rendering the heavy weapons somewhat pointless for my play-style, whilst keeping the game challenging.
Armour provides protection from attacks, determines your own stability and offers some resource bonuses. Higher stability armour results in slower movement and higher resource consumption. Resources affected are usually the stamina bar, which governs amount of consecutive attacks as well as running and dodging ability.
Energy and Body-Targeting Executions
As the player attacks, they gain energy (blue bar). That energy can be used on a few things, but the main thing is an execution. By targeting one of six body parts with the right analog stick, the player can slice off said part with an execution. This has a high chance of acquiring the part (if it’s the first time) or a broken version that breaks down to components for upgrading.
Some modifications use energy too. They provide health regeneration or temporary buffs if equipped and selected.
Finally, the ranged weapon – a drone – requires energy too. The energy system forces you to engage with dangerous foes to build up energy, and that keeps things exciting.
Campaign Length and New Game Plus
The game lasts about as long as it should. Though it comes to a somewhat abrupt end, in my numerous fights with the final boss I felt done with the game. That’s a good thirty to forty hours (a lot of which involved running around the BioLabs clueless about where to go next).
In New Game Plus, there’s not much for me to say. Mainly because I haven’t engaged with it yet. All I’m aware of is the final message of the game, which states that there are surprises in store for the NG+. With the added benefit of retaining your items and experience. If I ever do decide to run the game again, I’ll update this section. Honestly though, for me; once was enough.
The Flaws in the Machine
If there’s a real issue with The Surge it’s that it lacks polish in a genre that has it in abundance. It looks nice. Even unique by comparison. But none of it feels quite *as* good as a FromSoft game, and it’ll inevitably face those comparisons given that its gameplay is in that exact wheelhouse.
To say it lacks polish refers to some enemy designs, especially towards the end. There’s an enemy made of solid energy it seems, and it can fire a projectile that can, somehow, penetrate several solid walls without making a visible dent. Its projectile simply kills you unless you dodge it, but inside of a building, how can you see? It’s a baffling, unfair attack wherein evasion is pure luck. And there are LOADS of those enemies at the end of the game.
That and the boss fights. They had the potential to be great but the only notable one for me wasn’t even the final fight. The rest I found to be fairly by the numbers and of little interest to me.
But the Good Outweighs the Bad
There’s so much that’s good about The Surge that it’s a shame about the bad, or even dull, moments. The ability to dismember specific body parts for use is great. The two attacks: horizontal and vertical offer a combo system rarely found in other games of this kind. Its future tech feel differentiates it enough from the sword-and-shield business that inspired it.
The gameplay loop is satisfying as are the cutaways for the execution system. The limb-slicing for resources you want gives you the opportunity to get what you want from an enemy (provided that they’re armoured in that particular place) so the upgrades tend to come steadily assuming you’re utilising the tools at your disposal.
The Surge is an enjoyable third-person action game. It wears its Souls-like inspiration on its sleeve but does enough to inject its own identity in to the formula. That said, it lacks the level of polish found in the games that inspire it and the boss battles are fairly dull.
The true joy of The Surge is never knowing what’s around the corner that first time in an unfamiliar setting. Finally, limb-targeting is a brilliant idea be explored further in future installments.
Check out my review scores below and don’t forget to leave me a comment if you are playing The Surge right now!