Despite receiving mixed reviews with their first attempt at the ‘Dark Souls’ formula with ‘Lords of the Fallen’, Deck13 have returned with another release that focuses around brutal action RPG gameplay. This time it feels a lot more unique though, with The Surge leaving the Gothic architecture behind and instead giving the genre a more futuristic sci-fi setting.
It makes for a thoroughly enjoyable experience, though not one without flaws. Thankfully though, The Surge offers enough new ideas with its intricately entertaining combat to keep you hooked in for the long term.
The Surge puts you into the shoes of Warren, a wheelchair-bound man who seeks a better life by joining CREO – an organisation that promises Warren the ability to walk again through the use of an Exo Rig. Of course, there’s something sketchy about CREO and their promise to provide a better future for mankind, which Warren swiftly finds out during his initiation process that involves brutal surgery. Things get even worse when he finds himself waking up with the entire complex under attack from a plethora of viciously brutal robots. Naturally, things just keep getting worse as you progress, with Warren slowly finding himself more deeply involved in the diabolical affairs of CREO than he would’ve liked.
It’s a fairly interesting narrative, though it never does anything too unpredictable by the time you reach the ending. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll want to see the tale through to its conclusion, but don’t expect any epic twists or sublime storytelling that’ll draw you in too much. The Surge prioritises action, but at least it does go some way at making you feel a sense of empathy towards Warren and growing your mistrust toward CREO.
As soon as you get into the action of The Surge, you’ll see it is clearly wearing its inspirations like a badge of honour. It’s basically ‘Dark Souls’ but with robots and machines. Let’s face it though, doesn’t that just sound like a fascinating combination? It works really well in-game and The Surge even goes as far as introducing a few ideas of its own.
Combat is tight and refined, bringing plenty of intense close-range showdowns between Warren and the countless robot and humanoid enemies that are scattered across the battlefield. In order to win these battles, you’ll have to carefully time your attacks to find openings in your enemy’s defence, all whilst carefully making sure you’re quick enough to avoid their attacks too. You can do this by guarding, or if you’re feeling particularly clever you’re actually able to duck under or jump over attacks too. This takes practice, but when executed perfectly it’s hard not to feel like a badass.
Fighting on the offensive is well varied, with the game offering three different classes to choose between to begin with as well as plenty of different weapons and skills to use as you progress through the game. The weapon type you use will have a heavy influence on your combat style, with varying weapons focusing around speed, strength, the ability to knock down your opponents with ease, amongst over different attributes. Nothing is ever just cosmetic in the game – you might look cool when you’re duel-wielding a pair of futuristic swords, but if you’re building your character around his strength then you’re not going find them very effective. It’s nice to be able to toy around with everything though and figure out what works best for you or for the situation you find yourself in.
Enemies come in all sorts of different shapes and forms, with some great design choices made in providing a good balance between humanoid and robot foes. Much like the ‘Dark Souls’ games, each enemy has a different style of fighting that you’ll have to get used to if you want to take them down with ease. You’ll learn what attacks they have, what works best against them, and how to take advantage of their weaknesses. It gives the player a learning process where their early encounters against specific opponents might end in death, though as they progress through the game and learn more about them they’ll be able to take them down with minimal fuss. Unlike the ‘Dark Souls’ games though, there isn’t a huge variety in their fighting styles. As you progress through the game you’ll start to see familiar attack patterns, with enemies becoming a bit more predictable and repetitive in their design. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does eliminate the learning curve that’s evident in the earlier hours of the game.
Whilst there’s a sense of familiarity to be felt with your enemies over time, combat always manages to feel exciting thanks to the game allowing you to specifically target different limbs on an enemy’s body. Whilst this is hardly a new innovation in video games, seeing it utilised with The Surge’s combat mechanics is highly satisfying. It adds a tactical element to the game that doesn’t necessarily just boil down to timing, with it possible to exploit un-armoured parts of an enemy’s body to take them out more easily. It rewards mobility and patience in combat, adding a whole new level of depth to the game.
Not only does it allow you to dish out more damage to any vulnerable parts of an enemy, but if you target an enemy’s armoured limb you’ll be able to dismember it and unlock new upgrades for your character too. It might take you a bit longer to defeat an enemy than it would if you were going to go straight for a weak point, but the risk is often worth the reward. Not only do you get a cool bonus though, but you’ll also get to witness a neat finishing attack where you savagely slice and dice your opponent’s limb off. It adds a whole new element to the already satisfying combat, plus it gives The Surge its own unique hook to show it’s more than just an imitator.
It’d be a crime not to mention The Surge’s boss encounters, which bring tough showdowns to the game that’ll really put your abilities to the test. These battles really show just how vulnerable you are on the battlefield, with most of the hulking machines able to wipe you out in just a couple of attacks. It can be hellish, though you’ll slowly adjust to them after suffering a few deaths. Much like the standard enemies, they all follow specific attack patterns that become easier to defend and counter-attack against the more you encounter them. Some bosses might cause you a few issues to begin with, but it shouldn’t take too long before you find yourself with the advantage of being able to predict their moves. The game does spice things up though by bringing multiple phases and extra enemies to each encounter, so they never feel too predictable from a design perspective.
Warren’s Exo Rig can be constantly upgraded as you work through the game, in turn making the player more powerful and giving them access to more abilities. It’ll also change in appearance, with new parts of armour easily attached that don’t only improve your stats but can give you a much cooler look – or a mismatched one if you prioritise individual stats over looking good.
The Exo Rig can also be armed with implants, which give Warren his new abilities and skills. It’s vital to keep on top of these – whilst levelling up will see Warren improve through the game, the extra boosts that the implants can offer will certainly give you the upper hand during some of the more trickier sections. Find yourself running out of health too quickly? Use an implant that increases your HP. Not dealing enough damage? Use a strength boosting implant. It’s easily customisable and offers plenty of flexibility to not only suit your play style, but what you deem necessary to get through each different encounter. It offers you a bit of creativity in dictating how you play the game, which is always appreciated in this genre.
With The Surge clearly being inspired by the ‘Dark Souls’ series, it’d be natural to expect that it follows the tradition of having the sort of high difficulty where the player can expect to be wrecked time and time again. I consider myself a ‘Dark Souls’ veteran and even finished Deck13’s other release ‘Lords of the Fallen’ with minimal fuss, yet I found myself falling victim to The Surge’s nasty difficulty time and time again. This isn’t a complaint though; it felt refreshing to feel so challenged in a video game without it falling into unfair territory. The tough encounters against enemies and the fight for survival isn’t just some tacked on optional higher difficulty setting, but in fact the way that The Surge is meant to be played. It makes progression all the more satisfying, with each area you make your way through or boss conquered not only met with a sigh of relief, but a celebratory sense of success.
Of course, the constant dying does come with some consequences. Defeating enemies unlocks ‘scraps’, which effectively act as ‘souls’ for those who aren’t already sick of the ‘Dark Souls’ references. You need to use these scraps to make upgrades and level up, so they’re a pretty vital resource. If you die, you’ll drop any you’d have been carrying at the time. You’re able to recover them though, provided you make your way back to the place where you died without dying again the process. Anyone familiar with the genre will know what to do – it’s nothing new. However, The Surge makes it a bit more difficult by adding a time-limit to the mix. You’re given a certain amount of time to make it to your scraps before they’re lost forever, demanding you’re a bit more assertive in your attempt to recover them. It added an extra sense of desperation to the game that hasn’t been present before – I’m used to being more patient in my approach when I know a lot of my hard work is on the line, but when being TOO patient can also risk in you losing all of your hard work it adds a whole extra ‘risk versus reward’ element to the game.
The sci-fi setting of The Surge was one of the areas of the game I was most looking forward to – we’ve all seen enough Gothic architecture as of late that a war-torn futuristic setting full of robots felt refreshing. For the most part, it is; seeing an almost relatable environment around you that has suffered the effects of a damaged world feels great, offering a real sense of innovation to the pre-established genre rather than re-treading more familiar ground. However, after an extended period of time with the game it all starts to feel a bit samey. Titles like ‘Dark Souls’ and even ‘Lords of the Fallen’ managed to keep offering haunting environments that although familiar as far as the aesthetic style went, always kept you in awe thanks to the meticulous amount of detail in making each area feel different. The Surge just kept recycling the same futuristic battleground and facility interiors we’ve already seen in so many other games, albeit in different genres. Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing because the level design maintains a high quality, but environments started to feel too familiar and never had the wow-factor to really keep you impressed. Maybe a few stunning vistas or visual landmarks would’ve done the game a world of good, but instead you’re stuck with the same rubble-filled facilities throughout most of the game. It’s a shame.
Whilst the environments begin to feel a little bland as you progress through the game, they can also be hellish to navigate through. Things begin to look incredibly samey over time, making it all the more difficult to learn your way around. There are shortcuts you can use, but with nothing particularly memorable about any of the locations it can be a little difficult to work out how beneficial they really are. Add in the fact that enemies respawn each time you use a MedBay, and you’ll quickly find yourself wondering whether or not you’ve actually explored an area thanks to the fact that they all begin to feel the same. It’s frustrating, especially since the game can be incredibly obtuse as far as progression is concerned.
The Surge is full of neat ideas, though unfortunately not all of them come to fruition. The sci-fi storyline and futuristic setting should offer an all-new way to invigorate the tried and tested formula of the gameplay, but unfortunately it falls flat and slowly becomes more and more repetitive the further you progress through the game. It’s never outright bad, but you won’t feel the same satisfaction from exploring the game world as you would in a FROM Software title.
However, the game redeems itself when it comes to combat, with the limb-targeting action-focused mechanics providing constant entertainment from start to finish. Though clearly wearing its inspirations like a badge of honour, The Surge manages to improve upon the combat formula and implement its own ideas that not only add a bit more depth to the experience but also more excitement too. It’s a hell of a lot of fun and the highlight of the game.
The Surge isn’t the complete package as far as providing a sci-fi ‘Dark Souls’ game goes, but it certainly does a lot more good than it does bad. You’ll get hours of fun out of the game and despite it lacking creativity as far as its world design goes, it’s definitely worth checking out if you enjoy your punishing action-RPGs.
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release Date: 16/05/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC