I feel like we see new Souls-like releases on a regular basis these days, with plenty of games trying their best to imitate the challenging gameplay that From Software have found so much success with. Developer Deck13 have actually attempted it twice already, with both Lords of the Fallen and The Surge trying to offer their own take on the satisfying yet punishing formula.
They found some success with the latter too, with The Surge’s sci-fi twist not only proving fun to play but also adding its own clever ideas to the mix. Sure, it was far from perfect, but it at least felt different enough to stand tall on its own. Now, it’s back again in The Surge 2: a game that doesn’t only improve upon the original, but again offers some fresh gameplay mechanics that manage to help it feel like more than just another Dark Souls imitator.
The Surge 2 follows on from the first game, where the protagonist proved unsuccessful at preventing the launch of The Utopia Project (which, perhaps fittingly in this day and age, was meant to stop global warming at the expense of humanity’s wellbeing). Everything takes place in Jericho City this time around though – a city that’s in a somewhat derelict state following a string of deadly events. You crash landed in the city and, after waking up two months later, look to find out what exactly happened. In many ways it’s a pretty run of the mill narrative and doesn’t do anything that you wouldn’t have seen before, but it does try to flesh the lore out through side quest and the people you meet, whilst the plot itself is also a whole lot more substantial than the first time around. It’s decent.
The Surge 2 offers a more interesting world to explore than its predecessor, with the ruined streets of Jericho City featuring a lot more attractive and intriguing sights than the myriad of dull and repetitive landscapes seen in the first game. It’s a lot larger in scale and offers a more open environment too, with a multitude of different routes for the player to take that are full to the brim with vicious foes and folk to interact with. This could actually be a bit of a problem though – whilst it’s great to have a more expansive experience as far as exploration is concerned, a lack of direction and waypoints did see me getting lost on more than a few occasions. At least the side quests you encounter encourage you to explore each nook and cranny to help you get a bit more used to world, but you can certainly expect to find yourself at a loss as to where you need to go every so often.
Combat has seen an improvement from the last game too, with it feeling slicker and more quick-paced than before. Attacks can be dished out either vertically or horizontally, with your choice often dependant on an enemy’s stance – each attack can also be charged to pack a bit more of a punch too, provided you’ve got the time to prep it without getting hit first. The weapons you use are pretty neat, with sci-fi varieties of the likes of gauntlets, swords, axes and hammers giving the player a sense of familiarity but with a souped-up sci-fi flair. On the defensive side of things, you’re able to block, dodge, or parry. Again, their best use can be determined by the enemy you’re facing, but the quick-paced nature of combat ensures that you’re able to weave both offensive and defensive manoeuvres together with ease. It’s good stuff.
One thing that makes The Surge 2 particularly unique when compared to its contemporaries is its ‘lock-on’ mechanic, which allows you to auto-aim at particular limbs on an enemy’s body. This can be used in a variety of ways, be it to target an area of an enemy that isn’t armoured, to land a killing blow in style and see an enemy’s head roll away, or even to dismember a limb from an enemy that has a piece of gear you want – you’re able to collect the schematics of an enemy’s gear if you dismember it from their body and then craft it for yourself. It encourages the player to change up how they approach each encounter in the game: do you go for the unarmoured parts of an enemy to make your life easier or do you instead work a bit harder to get some new gear? It adds a tactical element to combat that goes a long way in ensuring that it’s the standout feature of The Surge 2.
Oh, and you also have a sweet drone to help you out during combat too, so even if you find yourself in spot of trouble you’ve got some extra backup.
One interesting mechanic that ties into combat nicely is health regeneration. Rather than having just the likes of limited potions to heal you in combat, you instead have an energy meter that can heal you when it reaches a certain capacity – these can actually be stored as ‘Charges’ which can effectively be used as healing items when the going gets tough though, so you do have a potion-equivalent if you prefer (we always approve of potions here, after all). However, the fact that the energy meter charges up by attacking enemies sees the game focus more on action and having the player go on the offensive. Your energy meter drains when you’re not doing anything so you have to either use it up with quick and regular heals, or instead keep mashing out attacks to keep it filled. It’s a refreshing take on healing and does something a little different, all whilst maintaining a focus on going for the kill – you may be low on health and not want to take any risks, but believe me, it’s so rewarding to get through a bunch of enemies unscathed and then use the energy you earned from killing them to get yourself back up to full health.
The Surge 2’s ‘bonfire’ equivalents are the Medbays, which act as a checkpoint and a location for you to level up, save the scrap you’ve gathered (souls), and then craft or upgrade your gear. The Surge 2 isn’t an easy game by any stretch of the imagination, so you’ll be returning to these Medbays quite often and taking advantage of what they offer. It’s worth mentioning that if you die, any collected scrap will be left at your corpse – this time around you have a certain timespan to collect it by though, so you’ll want to rush there. Fortunately, when you’re near your scrap your health starts to recover, which gives you a better chance at defeating the enemy who just caused you an untimely death. It’s a good way of balancing out the difficulty and gives you a fighting chance the next time around.
Levelling up is fairly straight forward, with just three self-explanatory stats to improve: health, stamina and battery. The limited range of stats means that there’s not a whole lot of flexibility on offer when it comes to specialising your character’s build, but fortunately the gear and implants that you can equip come with different attributes and skills that can vary things up. It pushes you to tinker with your gear a lot, with certain setups proving to be more effective than others when tackling different foes. It also makes it difficult to decide whether to commit your scrap to levelling up or crafting gear at times too, so there’s definitely a need for balance.
Everything comes together to make for a really enjoyable experience, though it does have some flaws. The frame rate can be a bit sketchy at times, even when played on a PlayStation 4 Pro – sure, it never became unplayable but when a game relies on quick reactions and precision, seeing things go tits up because of a drop in frame rate was pretty annoying. I even encountered a few crashes which was annoying, especially since they often resulted in having to replay some sections all over again. Some of the bosses were a little lacking too, with them following repetitive attack patterns and feeling like little more than a souped-up standard enemy. Admittedly, this isn’t the case for them all and there are certainly some special encounters, but with more bosses on offer than the first game it was disappointing to find that some of them fell short of the mark.
The Surge 2 offers improvements over the original game in almost all facets of its design, with the satisfyingly slick combat and the more interesting world proving to be the highlights of the package. It isn’t afraid to do things its own way either – whilst it wears its Souls-like inspiration like a badge of honour, it has enough of its own clever ideas on show to help it stand out in what is otherwise a crowded genre.
It’s just a shame that there’s a frustrating lack of direction in the game and that some technical issues crop up throughout. There’s nothing game-breaking on show that completely ruin your experience, but they do stop The Surge 2 from striving towards brilliance. Other than that, it’s a whole lot of fun to play and proof that Deck13 are getting close to hitting From Software levels of quality with their releases.
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC