The Surge Review

By Kevin Tavore, 5 months ago
The Dark Souls series is indisputably one of the biggest and most important franchises in modern gaming. At a time when every game was becoming easier and simpler, Dark Souls stormed the world and did the complete opposite. It offered what seemed like incredible difficulty that, while fair, would challenge anyone. It offered deep customization so that subsequent playthroughs would feel completely different. It offered punishing deaths that made you always get back up for more. Two sequels later, the series still has its fans but there are rumblings that it's becoming a tired formula. If a game is going to compete with Dark Souls, it's going to need to be something different and that's just what Deck13, the team behind Lords of the Fallen, has done with The Surge.


The Surge is set many years in the future at the corporate headquarters of a mega corporation called CREO. Technology's evolution has brought great advancement in all things. Humans now have fully usable exo-suits with rigs melded into their bodies. Those with a rig are stronger, faster and generally more capable. The game begins with your hero, Warren, in a wheelchair as he goes to get his exo-suit. Not much background is given beyond a boatload of CREO propaganda about the bright future ahead of humanity. These self-serving ads stand in stark contrast to the dismal state of what's actually occurring in the world; the atmosphere is almost irreversibly ruined and humans are losing their humanity. Warren's choice to don an exo-suit and become a worker for CREO at the cost of part of his humanity is the start of the primary question asked by The Surge — should we fear what technology will make us?

Warren's choice seems easy. If he pays the cost, he will be able to walk again. With all the bright promises by CREO, what could go wrong? As it turns out, everything. As Warren begins his procedure, the sedatives do not work so he suffers as his exo-suit is brutally installed on his body in bloody fashion. When he wakes up, almost every human with an exo-suit is now a mindless warrior with intent to kill. Meeting a few friends along the way, The Surge is Warren's journey to save himself, solve the mystery of what happened to all the people at CREO, and even to save the world.

The premise is rock solid, hitting all the right sci-fi notes. The story ultimately unfolds not through cutscenes and long exposition, but instead through audio logs and even simple visual observation. Of course, this means that players rushing through the game are apt to miss most or even all of the story, including major events, and that could lessen the quality of the game overall. If you do focus on the story, the payoff is good and you'll get an answer to whether you should fear what technology will do to humanity, but the journey is perhaps not quite as great as it was initially set up to be.

1

The world itself is designed well. Most of the game centers around two types of environment — industrial or futuristic. Variety within these areas is a bit sparse, but the game makes the best of it by ensuring your fighting arenas are different. Even when you fight the same enemy type, you'll do it in different rooms that can completely change the flow of the fight. While adventuring, you'll find no central hub but little hubs inside of each area instead. This hub serves as your equivalent of a Dark Souls bonfire — you'll go off on an adventure and eventually unlock a shortcut back to that hub to tie everything back in together. Unlocking these shortcuts feels good and lends itself to a sense of progression that makes you want to venture out again as home is only a step away if you need it.

Like Dark Souls, The Surge bills itself as an RPG and it does meet a very basic definition of RPG but it doesn't offer the customization options that one would expect with it. You are Warren. You cannot change his facial features or how he talks. You cannot change his hair style or color. You cannot change his gender. In many games this is fine as that's the story they want to tell. Here, however, it cannot be justified. Warren is essentially a blank slate with almost no dialogue. People talk to him, but he doesn't talk back. From a story perspective, there's no reason Warren couldn't have looked any different or even to have been female, but the issues go deeper than looks.

Character development is far too limited and the game has very few stats. The gear you select can change those stats, but not significantly enough that it feels like it matters. You'll get an upgrade and it will change your crushing defense from 18 to 20. In a game where you are regularly two-shot by enemies, this hardly matters. To make things worse, the game doesn't even tell you what enemy attacks do what kind of damage, or give any way to determine what gear to use to maximize your chances against it. Offensively, those issues don't matter so much because there are only two damage stats — damage and impact. Damage is obvious and impact affects whether your attacks will stagger an enemy. You'll choose what weapon you like and it will have given stats. There's no way to otherwise increase them, so it barely feels like it matters.

The Surge screens

Itemization has its problems as well. You can equip gear to every part of your body and choose from one of five weapon types. Additionally, you can equip various types of implants that affect things like health, energy, stamina, and function as healing flasks while out in the world. If you want to min/max your hero, this can be interesting as you'll work to equip the right gear and implants for your build. However, for most people the differences between a piece of gear compared to another are typically very small. If you upgrade a weapon to a higher level, it will be just as good as a brand new weapon you just found. The ability to upgrade makes finding new loot incredibly lame. It took 10 hours of playing to replace the starting one-hander simply because the few weapons found in the world weren't any better. The five weapon types end up being the only choice that actually matters.

The Surge lives and dies by its combat and, as it turns out, the combat is where the game truly shines. While there are only five weapon types — one-handers, two-handers, staves, and then two types connected to your arms — each of the types plays completely differently. While fighting an enemy, using a giant mace will open up completely different strategies compared to a staff . As you use weapons, you'll gain proficiency that leads to higher damage. This does encourage you not to switch up weapon types too often, but the upgrades aren't so drastic that you can't switch over, and you'll want to do so. Each type of weapon is surprisingly fun to use to demolish enemies. They feel powerful and visceral as you massacre enemies with precision strikes.

Combat itself is straight out of Dark Souls. You'll block, dodge and attack all while managing a stamina meter and an energy meter. All actions (except walking) use stamina. Energy is gained from attacking and is used to activate your drone — a worthless companion that never does anything worthwhile — and execute enemies so that you can cut off their limbs and take their gear. That, of course, is what sets The Surge apart.

The Surge screens

Nearly every single enemy you encounter has limbs and pieces you can target for strategic or value purposes. If you're fighting a new enemy and they have a weapon in which you're interested, you can target their arm and slice it off during the execution to collect the weapon. The same goes with every other body part, but only if they're armored. Enemies have armored and unarmored parts and you'll need to determine whether the resources you'll gain from focusing on armored pieces are worth skipping the easy route. It makes for a fun experience that keeps combat fresh for quite a few hours.

Any Souls-type game will be difficult, and The Surge is no exception. You'll need to plan your moves out intelligently without over-extending, as enemies will punish your mistakes hard. Even small enemies can pose a major threat if you don't treat them seriously and that is how The Surge seeks to set its own stage in the genre. It might not be better than the genre's usual focus on bosses, but it certainly works.

Each enemy's attacks are choreographed perfectly thanks to excellent animation. If you get hit by something, the vast majority of the time it's because you did not react properly to the visual or audio cues in front of you. If you hear the hiss of a laser, you know to dodge. If you see an enemy raise his weapon, you know to block. Only one enemy felt unfair: the third boss. It puts you in close combat while lasers shoot at you off-screen. The animations and sounds alerted to danger, but thanks to a camera that can't handle close spaces well, I died quite a few times. This was frustrating but it was a one-time issue — most of the game was excellent in this regard.

The Surge screens

The only downside to the combat is the lack of enemy variety. What's there is great, but later into the game most of the enemies you'll encounter will be reskinned versions of old ones. The humanoids always use one of the same five weapon types you can use and they have the same attack patterns. Robots likewise are very similar. In a game that focuses on making every enemy a threat, sprinting past enemies often because you've done it so many times is not what you should feel compelled to do out of boredom. In contrast, the bosses were all unique and different enough. They served as shining examples of just how cool the game could be. The only downside to them is that there were so few — only five in total plus a few simple minibosses. You'll play hours and hours without encountering a boss and the excellent design behind them makes their low population disappointing.

The achievements reward you fairly well just for playing the game. As you play you'll get achievements for killing bosses and exploring to find the special enemies and rooms that are hidden off the beaten path. None of these are particularly hard to find even without any guide. The game does have collectibles, but you will not need to find them all. Still, you'll probably want to pull up a guide once you get near the end of the game and then mop up everything that's left. There are two achievements that are decision-based, so it's possible you'll need to make a second playthrough to finish off the list, but a second playthrough should go very quickly. Overall, the list isn't too bad, especially for this type of game. Skilled players will probably finish it off in under 40 hours.

Summary

The Surge is a game that is worth your time and there's a lot to love. The setting is perfect and matches the tone of the game and its story very well. That story is hidden behind optional content but it's worthwhile if you give it the attention it deserves. Combat feels awesome with five different weapon types that all play differently and enemy designs that make each opponent fair but very dangerous. The Surge's focus on making each enemy a threat works quite well, although it's hard to say if it's better or worse than something like Dark Souls. One downside is minimal RPG elements that only give an illusion of depth when the stat changes are too minimal to affect how you play. The other is a lack of enemy variety, including the bosses that were the highlight of the game. If you're looking for a game like Dark Souls, you should absolutely buy this immediately. It may not convert those who didn't already love that style of gameplay, but it's giving more of that style of content with its own unique twists that make it a worthy entry in the genre.
4 / 5
Positives
  • Excellent animations with choreographed enemy attacks to ensure fair deaths
  • Fun and challenging combat that feels brutal
  • Unique weapons offer varying playstyles
  • Good setting and interesting story if you give it the attention it requires
Negatives
  • Not a huge variety in enemies
  • Too few bosses
  • Limited RPG elements with no character customization, very few stats, only five weapon types, and little difference between armor types
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent 23 hours battling through CREO, fighting enemies, bosses, and dying just the right amount to beat the campaign. 23 achievements were won for 410 Gamerscore. An Xbox One code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Kevin Tavore
Written by Kevin Tavore
Kevin is a lover of all types of media, especially any type of long form story. The American equivalent of Aristotle, he'll write about anything and everything and you'll usually see him as the purveyor of news, reviews and the occasional op-ed. He's happy with any game that's not point and click or puzzling, but would always rather be outdoors in nature.
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