The Surge is Deck13’s second crack at the emerging Souls-like genre, following on from the rather copy-paste Lords of the Fallen. While their first had some moments of brilliance, it just could not shake the shackles of being compared to FromSoftware’s masterpiece. To be fair though, The Surge shows that, for the most part, they’ve learned their lessons to deliver a compelling and different experience.
Things begin rather optimistically with a man named Warren signing up to join the CREO megacorporation – a conglomerate that according to their own promotional material wants to create a utopia. Their true colours are shown during the coldly robotic and inhumane surgery that Warren undergoes to gain his new exo-suit, before cutting to black and waking up some time later with Warren being dragged away by a drone to be scrapped.
It’s the typical utopia gone wrong scenario where the reality is a lot more barbaric and dystopian in nature. Occasionally you’ll bump into characters or find audio logs that shed a little more information for you about what’s gone wrong, but by the twentieth hour it all becomes a mere framing device to the action. It’s not anything you haven’t seen before in movies and as such is wasted potential for such a unique setting.
That setting is what puts The Surge in a wildly different place to Lords of the Fallen. While the comparisons between Lords of the Fallen and FromSoftware’s Souls franchise were on the nose, having a gorgeous looking near-future setting where robots and exo-suits reign supreme opens the opportunity for a much wider degree of variety. If there’s one complaint, it’s that the music is rather uninspired mix of generic movie trailer pieces and country music, which isn’t my cup of tea.
Perhaps The Surge’s crowning achievement is in its limb targeting and how it alters the combat. You essentially aim your attack to target a body part, with part names in yellow having armour, the blue named body parts taking more damage if hit. Weapon swings do vary from slow and powerful to short nimble bursts of attack, depending on the weapon used.
In addition to the two main gauges of health and stamina, there’s a third Combat Energy bar which builds and indicates how much you’ve hit things recently. It unlocks the use of various abilities, most of which found within Implants that you equip at the MedBay, and range from healing a small amount of damage at the cost of the meter, to attempting to sever a limb from your foe if they’re at low health. Ranged combat with drones is possible at the cost of some meter, though their use is minimal compared to melee attacks.
The risk/reward element comes from if you choose to go for a quick kill or to attack armoured parts, with the chance that finishing moves drop a piece of armour for schematics, resources to make armour, or weapons to wield. It’s a great dilemma for the player as they could decide to forgo the potential item drop for an easier time, and how vital that question becomes during gameplay only becomes more prevalent as things progress.
While defending is possible within The Surge, it’s usually more advantageous to simply dodge incoming attacks. You can also use a combination of holding the guard button down and tilting the right stick on a controller up or down to jump over low sweeping attacks or duck under swings, however the uses for this in my playtime were minimal at best.
Even death is slightly different in The Surge. While you still drop your accrued Tech Scrap upon death – this game’s Souls – you are given a couple of minutes to run back to the point where you died to recover them. To compensate for this stipulation, you can kill enemies along the way to increase the timer, or bank your hard-earned Scrap at an Ops Centre, which is safe even if you die. It’s a new spin on a tried and tested method and it works remarkably well.
Dark Souls does have its bonfires, but the Ops Centres found within the CREO company premises are more like miniature hubs, each with people to talk to, a crafting station to create new armour and upgrade existing gear, and a pod to heal yourself as well as increase your Core Value (Level) and equip Implants.
There’s a little bit to customise along the way, but generally speaking there always seems to be a combination of Implants and weapons that will seem right for the current situation. I felt little need to deviate from the Twin Rigged weapon style as my Weapon Proficiency level grew with this class of weapon, which is a shame because I found some really cool sounding weapons through the game that sadly went unused because of this.
I largely enjoyed my time with The Surge, though it did have moments where the game would behave oddly. Instant finishers would clip me through barriers designed not to let me fall to my death, while a dead boss was somehow still able to hit me on one occasion, causing my elation to turn to anger in an instant. Technical issues were a downside for Lords of the Fallen too, which is a bit of a shame.
Bugs and a weak narrative aside, The Surge is a much more confident take on the emerging Soul-like gameplay style. It takes the known tropes of being challenging and having progression dependent on learning attack patterns while adjusting your play style to accommodate, but it also has some fresh ideas that not only make perfect sense, but could shape future games. It’s nice to see a developer give a gameplay style a second shot and Deck13 have almost nailed it here.