Surge, The (Video Game)

The SurgeDeveloped by Deck 13

Published by Focus Home Interactive

Available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One

Rated M for Mature


I think we should all just accept that Dark Souls is its own genre now. Trying to clump these games under the umbrella category of ARPG is just stupid. Hell, Skyrim and Final Fantasy are both considered ARPGs, despite having as much in common as curling and football. If you have checkpoints that respawn enemies, experience points that drop on death that you have to go pick up, and an intentionally high level of difficulty, you’re making a Dark Souls game. Which is just fine! My favorite type of game is Dark Souls. So someone should tell Deck 13 that this is all okay, since one of their pull quotes for The Surge is from IGN: “More than a Sci-Fi Dark Souls.” Which I guess is fair, since The Surge is actually more of a Sci-Fi Lords of the Fallen. Which was a grunge Dark Souls.

Joking aside, I was amped for The Surge. I’m actually a fan of Lords of the Fallen, which as of my most recent play through in January has aged pretty well. After numerous patches and content updates, the game in its final form holds its own. It isn’t perfect by a long shot (the magic was a bit stupid and the gauntlet was needless), but I was definitely looking forward to a sequel that continued the story.

Well instead of a sequel, we now have a new IP from Deck 13, The Surge. And just like Lords of the Fallen before it, The Surge once again takes that Dark Souls vehicle on new uncharted roads. Taking place in a dystopian near future, you play as Johnny B Protagonist, a new hire to the CREO megacorporation. About all you know (and ever will know) about your character is that you are paraplegic, who through the gruesome procedure of exoskeleton grafting has regained full mobility. On just your first day, you wake up after the surgery to find that everything has gone batshit. Almost everyone is trying to kill you, and are in various states from catatonic to aggressively homicidal.

The Surge

For a dude who was paralyzed the moment before the game started, he must have been Patrick Swayze in a past life for all his fancy footwork.

From here, it’s an increasingly brutal fight for survival as you battle your way to the truth behind what happened in the CREO facility. At least, that’s the goal. Having beaten The Surge, I can confidently say that it all has something to do with nanomachines. Or is it a toxic chemical released by the atmosphere restoration project? Or maybe corporate greed? I’m pretty sure all of those play a role somehow. And there’s a serial killer. None of it gets in the way of me murdering dudes though, and I’m sure I could figure it all out if I really tried. That’s a problem for future Ted who has time to read all the audio logs and fan theories. The point is, The Surge does not have a very straightforward plot.

The Surge

There’s no way you’re also a robot, flickering hologram lady!

Anyone familiar with Dark Souls is well versed in the stamina consuming, block/parry/dodge/counter style of combat. The Surge follows these fundamentals, but at a much faster pace. This feels way more like Bloodborne, and at times even faster than that. It all depends on the style of weapon you pick. You’ve got the quick one-handed club things, the dagger like twin-rigged claws, the heavier single-rigged energy weapons, big ol’ two-handed hammers, and staves. I went with the single-rigged weapons, because I’m afraid of change and it was the best weapon I found early on.

The Surge

It also looks like two Lightsabers strapped to a jackhammer. Nice.

Now there are differences between weapons of the same class, but mostly the attacks are the same. Between the several single rigged weapons I tried, the only major change was the charging vertical attack. I’m sure I could find more if I was really looking, but the move chains in this game are really long. If you’re used to the relatively simple three/four attack chains of Dark Souls, The Surge can get up to a dozen. It takes a lot of getting used to, especially with the heavier weapons. You can’t dodge or heal mid-attack, meaning that the most common cause of death will be from over investing into a long combo.

What really sets The Surge apart is the finisher system, which is integral to the game far beyond the spectacle. As you attack, you gather energy that can be used for special drone attacks and your finishing moves. Get your enemy low enough and if you have the energy, you can perform an insta-kill finisher. What really makes this interesting is that these finishers are your primary source of crafting materials. There are six areas to target on most enemies—head, chest, two arms, and two legs—and dealing enough damage to a specific area will lead to that area being removed during your finisher. So if you need extra chest pieces, target your opponent’s chest and divorce the two hemispheres of their body. It’s a brutal spectacle, and perpetually tickled my sadistic fancy.

The Surge

That sure is a nice right arm you have there. Be a shame if something happened to it. Let me keep it safe for you.

There are some smaller enemies with no targetable parts, but overall that’s the gist of the combat. Dodge, counter, block, decapitate, repeat. You deal more damage to unarmored body parts, and some robotic appendages can be severed if you deal enough damage. It’s a hell of a lot of fun. It isn’t perfect, but works remarkably well for the style of combat they were going for. I am sad that there isn’t the massive weapon/armor speed variety that we saw in Lords of the Fallen. In Lords you could wield a massive hammer with a two second wind up time that cleared rooms and a suit of armor that made normal attacks bounce off of you. Or, you could dance around naked with daggers. It’s another way that The Surge reminds me more of Bloodborne. There’s less variety to the combat, but it’s far more balanced and polished.

As basic as I make this sound, let me assure you that The Surge definitely lives up to the hallmark difficulty of the genre. This might be the hardest Souls game I have ever played. I was getting routinely one-shot by enemies all the way through the game. Hitting a wall will force you to change up your build, but no amount of health upgrades will stop you from getting dominated by the more beefy enemies. You will have to learn what you are doing if you want to win. I have beaten every single Dark Souls game, and never before have I gone, “well fuck… guess I’m dead…” so many times. I genuinely do not think most gamers will be able to complete this game.

The Surge

It wouldn’t be sci-fi Dark Souls without a boss the size of a factory!

The Surge also adopts a unique leveling system that sets it apart from other titles in the genre. Similar to other Souls games, you collect experience that serves to both level you and craft gear. Traditionally, this has translated to one skill point per level, distributed in a number of staple categories like strength, stamina, health, etc. The Surge does things differently, as you level the “core power” of your rig. Actually leveling doesn’t do anything other than open more implant slots and increase the power capacity of your rig. Each piece of gear and implant require an amount of core power, with more powerful implants taxing your system more. So if you want the highest level health upgrade, you might have to sacrifice your favorite energy generation implant.

What this means is that builds are much more easily switched out. If you want to go farming parts, you can load up on finisher healing implants and energy generation. For boss fights, you can go fully into health potions and max health implants. I started as a heavy armor bonus energy build, and about halfway switched seamlessly to a more appropriate medium armor finisher build with increased stamina. The only barrier to this fluidity is the weapon proficiency system. As you use weapons, you gain experience in all weapons of that type. Higher levels increase your damage and effectiveness with the weapon. It’s nice to be rewarded for my playstyle, but it also meant that I never wanted to try new weapons. I didn’t want to miss out on the experience for my favorite type, not to mention the nerf I’d take from starting back over at square one.

The Surge

At this point my single rigged proficiency can pour its own drinks, so I might as well just buy it a ring.

The level design is also a standout, with looping paths and unlockable secrets galore. It’s not as robust of a game in general as Dark Souls 3, but I’ll be damned if some of the secrets didn’t stack up. You’ll have to backtrack a lot if you want everything, but it’s well worth it for some of the games juicier hidden areas.

The Surge

The more obvious secrets, like this repair point, generally also require a hefty amount of backtracking.

Now so far I’ve been pretty much all praise for The Surge, but this is the moment of the big “but” that I cannot lie about. In my total runtime, I ran into about seven fatal crashes and at least a dozen minor bugs. There were a few times when the game would just flicker and change resolutions without warning, or just freeze and shutdown for no apparent reason. There’s a big joke about bugs being features in Dark Souls, but sometimes enemies would just be untargetable for no reason. I actually beat the harder security guards early in the game by figuring out their max leash distance and rubber banding them until they got stuck on a wall and unable to fight back. Just like any man would.

A lot of the gameplay features also just felt half baked. There are a number of quests in the game, and I for the life of me cannot figure out what their overall impact is. Usually these long chains lead to something like an alternate ending or a piece of legendary gear, but as far as I can tell all I got were a few crafting components and a slap on the bum. Also, the weird jump/duck dodge can fuck right off. The blocking in this game is already kind of slow, and adding a directional component to that was just flat impossible. I played on the PC, meaning to jump over an attack you would have to block and then mousewheel up. I did this simple and intuitive maneuver correctly exactly 0 times. I got through the game without it just fine, but it’s annoying that I couldn’t even do it in the first place.

The Surge

These little assholes will become your worst enemies.

There are also some more fundamental problems, like general gear imbalance and a lack of enemy variety. I’m the kind of guy that likes to build every set, and was surprised to find that the midgame medium armor had a higher armor rating than the end game heavy armor. There are other benefits like set bonuses and heavy armor stability, but from what I could tell the medium armor was just far superior. There are also only like twelve different enemies really, all dressed in different levels/combinations of armor. The enemies are varied enough to always provide a challenge, but I can see how it gets predictable.

The Surge

I spent about a half an hour farming out this bloody predator armor. Don’t make the same mistake I did.

I’m currently on my NG+ run of The Surge. Just like the base game, it’s a mixed back of positives and negatives. On the plus side, new enemies are way harder than any I fought in the base game. On the down side, a new bug has reared its ugly head with some gear being permanently unequipable in my inventory. The biggest tell for how I feel about it is that I spent six hours running through it before writing this. The Surge is an incredibly fun and challenging game, memorable for some truly great moments. But with the amount of time it demands from you, it’s impossible not to notice the jagged edges. If you love these kinds of games, pick up The Surge. If you don’t, prepare to get your ass handed to you.

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Ted Hentschke

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