The Surge Review

Posted May 24, 2017 by Josh Brant in Video Games

Developer: Deck 13

Publisher: Focus Home Interactive

Release Date: May 16, 2017

Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC

The success of titles like the Dark Souls series and Bloodborne has created a new type of action role-playing genre which has grown to be known as Souls-like/Souls-borne. Developer Deck 13 is no slouch to acknowledging the greatness of these titles and in an effort cash in on the Souls-like movement released Lord of the Fallen, taking the now classic Dark Souls-style brutal action RPG formula with mostly positive results. This time around, Deck 13 is coming back with another new take on the Souls-like experience, moving away from the gritty/gothic medieval settings and into a dystopian/post-apocalyptic future with The Surge.

When The Future Goes Awry

With a somewhat unique premise for this type of genre, you play as Warren, a man looking for redemption from a company called CREO. A company which everyone thinks is using technology to save a world which has been in despair for some time now, however, you quickly come to find something has gone terribly wrong. After waking from a gruesome medical procedure, involving implanting various feeds and metal appendages into your body, you wake up to a world completely destroyed, in which you must attempt to plot a course to safety and fight your way through a factory of grotesque machines and people who want to end your life rather quickly.

Another area where The Surge borrows from the Souls formula is the lack of a defined narrative. Most of the Dark Souls games are packed with a good amount of lore and do a wonderful job of environmental storytelling, something The Surge attempts to emulate, but unfortunately falls short on. Also, while the main protagonist Warren has an interesting back story and motive for embarking on this endeavor, he is equally as bland as Harkyn from Lords of the Fallen. It would have been nice to follow after someone with a bit more charisma and personality.

Much like other Souls-like games, The Surge doesn’t hide its difficulty. In fact, there is no direction on where you need to go, the map is pretty much obsolete, and all your left with is your busted frame to fight some of the monstrosities present. There are several tutorials tips at the start of the game to lighten the burden of going through, and are done in some artsy/clever ways using in-game hints. Unlike the typical dialogue boxes or windows, some of the game’s tutorial messages and tips are displayed as floating messages attached to walls and other surfaces around the map.

Striving For Greatness

The gameplay revolves around the straightforward third person combat found in Dark Souls which focuses heavily on melee attacking. To survive you will need to master light and heavy attacks, dodging, and blocking. You have a stamina bar which needs managing, making combat a strategic affair, and the high difficulty means it’s also a tense experience. Enemies do plenty of damage and you have limited healing injections, much like Estus’ Flasks, which means you really have to be careful when exploring the various environments.

Each level is pretty much a maze full of enemies, hidden items, unlockable shortcuts and perilous traps. You progress by gaining scrap (like collecting souls) from defeated enemies, but unlike Dark Souls, if you die somewhere and lose all your scrap you had accrued, you have to make it back to the same location in a certain time limit or its gone forever. I never appreciated this change as it did not add to the experience, but rather made The Surge more frustrating to play, ditching the positivity of carefully planning your attacks to just running haphazardly to hopefully not lose your hard earned scrap.

You can use the scrap at a Med Bay (like a bonfire) located in every area, where you can level up, modify equipment, or just have a brief moment of respite. Your rig can be upgraded at the Med Bays, and upgrading the rig’s core (leveling up) gives you extra slots for your implants. Implants come in many forms: extra healing injections, maximum stamina, health increases, and many other status benefits. But each one uses up core energy, as does each armor piece on your rig, so it becomes a balancing act to keep yourself protected and still use the right implants to suit your style of play. This is where the tutorial section could have been more fleshed out. As is, it takes a good amount of time just trying to figure out how all the systems work in this game.

Combat is handled by being able to perform vertical and horizontal attacks, replacing the overused light and heavy attacks. Both vertical and horizontal attacks can be chained independently and into each other and choosing one type of attack over the other is determined by the body part being targeted and figuring out the optimal direction to attack it in. And this is where combat truly shines is in the way you can target a specific part of an enemies body.

When you encounter an enemy, your goal should be to sever the limbs of your enemies. This can be done by building up a power meter to the point of triggering a nasty finishing move.  You will need to hit the same body part of the enemy enough during the fight for the specific part of the body to be severed and then be collected for parts. You can gain a variety of different parts for your mech suit to use and continuously upgrade. If you get a new piece of armor or weapon from an enemy, you will earn a schematic which can be used to build the part for your own use on your character.  It adds a new dimension to the combat and exploration of levels as you’re always on the lookout for more powerful pieces of armor, scrap currency, and spare parts which are needed for crafting. This is by far the best and most interesting part of The Surge.

Surge-ical Enhancements

Several weapon and build types can be used to dispose of your enemies. You start out the game either having a light or heavy rig, and luckily the game does a good job of keeping things fresh by not setting you down one specific path in leveling up. The different weapon types include one-handed weapons, two-handed heavy weapons, staves, and even dual wielded weapons, all of which feature some incredibly interesting designs. Each weapon type and weapon differs in their impact, which determines how easy they stagger or knock down an enemy, attack speed, proficiency scaling, and energy gain. Using a weapon builds a player’s proficiency with them, allowing players to focus on or specialize in a single weapon type.

It wouldn’t be a Souls-like game without boss battles, and fortunately they’re the highlights, even though there is not as many to fight like the Souls series. The large, lumbering automaton bosses are some of the coolest encounters on your journey, but it would have been nice to see more of them, particularly in the game’s first half and later.

While The Surge is definitely fun to play, it just doesn’t seem to have the polishing and finish of something like the more recent From Software titles. Every developer has to start somewhere, even some of From Software’s titles were rough around the edges, and this is a step up from Lords of the Fallen in many different and unique ways. As a whole. The Surge is a fine addition to the Souls’ sub-genre which nails the majority of the core tenets set forth by what’s come before it. Ultimately, it’s by no means fools gold, but it’s also not in the upper echelon of Souls-like experiences.

About the Author

Josh Brant

I love God, my family, friends, sports, and the greatest hobby of all: video games! You can reach me on twitter @minusthebrant.