|RELEASE DATE||May 16, 2017|
|PLATFORMS||Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC/Steam|
|DEVELOPER||Deck 13 Interactive|
Mainly just want to preface this by giving a big thanks to CI Games/Deck 13 Interactive and Evolve PR for providing me with a code for The Surge.
Have you ever played a Souls game before? If so, then you know more or less how this plays out.
If not – it works like this: story in these kinds of games is much more passive. There aren’t really any cutscenes to worry about and no long winded paragraphs worth of codices to read through.
Story is told more through character interactions, items found, and overall things seen within the game’s world.
However, in the case of Deck 13’s take on the series, story is a bit more at the forefront and doled out a little more obviously.
The story here follows Warren – an actual character of his own (No “Chosen Undead”, “Hunter” etc. here) arriving at CREO to start a new job help them build rockets that are being used to help reseed the Earth’s atmosphere after centuries of us destroying it.
The world currently sucks, and is nearing apocalypse status. You know – standard sci-fi fare.
It very, very quickly becomes apparent after you choose what job you want to apply for (A nice, interactive way of determining what your starting armor will be.) that things are definitely not what they seem.
Upon entering the medbay to be fitted with your new exosuit, things go horribly, horribly wrong – Warren should have been sedated and anesthetized before the procedure, but no such thing happens. Instead, Warren is drilled into while still wide awake, having the exosuit permanently attached to him while he can still feel everything.
Not a fun time.
After that, he awakens in what seems to be a dump of sorts with a drone dragging him away and trying to cut the suit off of him – and it’s here that the game starts proper.
Unlike the Soulborne series, The Surge opts for slightly more traditional storytelling – the backstory is told more through audio logs that you can find in the world – often hidden in alternate paths – and through your interactions with characters directly.
The story in itself isn’t the greatest – much like Lords of the Fallen – it’s a relatively cliche sci-fi tale. However, that’s not to say it’s uninteresting or anything – I enjoyed my time through it. Just don’t expect anything you haven’t seen or heard before is all.
The game looks alright.
I much preferred the overall look of Lords of the Fallen a bit more – but that’s purely an aesthetic preference. The Surge is still a fine looking game.
That said – while the game looks good, there is a notable lack in variety when it comes to locales and enemies.
In games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne, the difference in zones is reflected in the way those zones look, and the enemies that inhabit those zones.
Cainhurst Castle looks nothing like Yharnam, which looks nothing like Byrgenwerth. Nor do these areas have any real overlap in enemy types.
The Surge has a similar problem to Lords of the Fallen in that enemy designs and locations end up feeling very “same-y” over the course of the game. I’ll get more into enemies a little later, but for the locations, it’s due to the game taking place in one area mostly.
Now, I don’t mean the game takes place in one big map – no, there are zones in the game that are separated by trains. However, these zones are all part of one bigger area – the main CREO facility.
Due to that, you don’t get a ton of variety.
It’s like going into a department store – you have the moment when you’re outside, and then you go into the store which is a much different environment. However, that store has a lot of sections that all look very similar. Maybe one or two that stand out, but overall they’re very similar.
On the technical side of things, the game runs fine. A few visual bugs here and there, but nothing super game breaking.
The worst issue I’ve found is a bit of pop-in here and there. It can be a little jarring at times, but it never effects anything important.
By far my favorite part of the game.
The Surge is very much a Soulslike at its core. Managing stamina, dodging and blocking attacks, timing your attacks during lulls in the combat – if you’ve played a Soulsborne game, you’ll feel right at home here.
However, the control scheme here will take some getting used to for Souls vets. R1/R2 (RB/RT on X1) are your attacks – horizontal and vertical. There’s a reason for the different angled attacks that I’ll get into shortly.
L1 (LB on X1) blocks – one big difference here is that blocking drains stamina constantly, rather than on block. This forces you to time your blocks rather than keeping your guard up at all times. Timing your block well can even cause enemies to stagger, much like parrying in Dark Souls.
Now comes the part that will take some getting used to.
Dodging/Sprinting is on the Cross button (A on X1) – a button usually reserved for interacting in the Souls series. Healing is handled with the Circle button (B on X1) – this is the part that can throw Souls vets. Early on, you’ll likely be hitting Circle/B to dodge and end up wasting a heal. Thankfully, you can’t use one if your health is full.
Square (X on X1) is your “interact” button – picking up loot drops, interacting with switches, etc. One thing I like is that you have to hold the button for a moment before it actually triggers. This prevents you from accidentally interacting with stuff you might not want to.
Square is also used to perform finishers on enemies – this is another unique part of The Surge, and makes up the crux of its gear crafting system.
Limb targeting is by far the most unique part of The Surge.
In order to get new gear and weapons, you have to take them from enemies by force.
You get a couple of pieces of starting armor after selecting your “class” at the beginning of the game as well as starting out with a piddly starter weapon. In order to get more – and better – gear, you need to work for it.
The Surge‘s combat revolves around Warren dealing damage to enemies’ limbs and then going in for the kill with a flashy, weapon-dependent finisher (“Weapon-dependent” in the sense that each weapon class has its own set of finisher animations.) – these finishers use Energy which is built up by landing attacks. Stop attacking, and your Energy will slowly drain away until you start attacking again.
Deal enough damage to that enemy’s targeted limb, and you might be able to rip it off and claim the schematic for yourself, allowing you to craft that piece of armor back at your medbay (The game’s equivalent to bonfires.)
It goes deeper than that, though. In order to craft or upgrade armor and weapons, you need materials. To get materials – you guessed it – you need to take it from enemies in the same fashion. Not only does ripping off an armored leg, arm, head or chest piece grant you with that schematic the first time you do it for a new set of armor – it also gives you a wrecked version of that piece of armor that automatically converts into upgrade materials back at medbay. Weapons dropped by enemies also convert automatically into weapon upgrade materials upon pickup.
However, if you aren’t interested in collecting anymore materials and you just want to kill an enemy quickly – check to see if they have any unarmored spots. These exposed areas take more damage – especially the head.
Speaking of weapons, there isn’t a ton here – there are 5 overall classes (Single-rigged, Twin-rigged, One-Handed, Heavy Duty, and Staffs/Staves.), each with a handful of weapons within that class. Now, while there aren’t that many weapons, the different classes all handle very, very differently. Some have fast attack speeds but don’t stagger enemies very much. Some are slow as molasses but cause heavy stagger on nearly every hit. Some are good at building energy for finishers and drone attacks – others are good at using stamina efficiently and getting lots of attacks in.
The one thing I don’t like about the weapon system in this game, though, is the fact that switching weapons in the late game is difficult to do. In order to improve a weapon’s stats outside of just upgrading it, you have to use that weapon and gain experience within its class (Think Skyrim) – this means that you will be working with one weapon class for the whole game most likely. If you decide you want to try something new, you’re going to have to grind with that weapon for a while to get it up to par and have it be useable.
Thankfully, you always gain weapon experience no matter what. Even if you die, your proficiency with that weapon will go up, so the grind isn’t too bad.
The drone that I mentioned earlier, however, is a pretty useful sidekick. You get it pretty early on (Right after the first boss), and it can be used to deal damage to enemies as you fight them (Different modules you find can allow the drone to do different attacks at the cost of Energy), or you can use it to draw out enemies in order to fight them more safely – like drawing out a single guy from a group.
The drone also has one other use that doesn’t really come into play until later – it can overcharge specific circuits for you that are just out of reach, allowing you access to areas you couldn’t get to before.
Armor choice is fairly important – lighter armor will allow you to move faster while expending less stamina, but you’ll be much easier to knock out of attacks.
Heavier armor offers much more protection and stability, but causes you to use a lot more stamina when dodging, sprinting or attacking.
Now, there is no “Fashion Surge” here – every armor set is unique, and mixing and matching serves no real purpose unless you really want your Warren to look like a lopsided Hulk that got one arm and one leg crushed in a compactor.
It’s much better to equip a full set (There’s even a way to equip an entire set by just holding down the Cross (A on X1) button on a single piece of armor from that set. A nice touch!) as it’ll give you the best stability (How hard it is to interrupt your moves or knock you down – much like Poise.)
Speaking of equipping items – that’s the other slightly more unique aspect to The Surge. Being that you have a powered exoskeleton, you don’t level up normally. You aren’t going to be pumping points into DEX or STR here.
Rather, your Tech Scrap – the game’s currency, used to level up and upgrade equipment – is used to increase the power of your suit’s core. This power level acts like your equip load – every piece of armor requires a certain amount of power to equip, as do the various implants you can install. If your core doesn’t have enough power, you can’t equip that armor/implant.
Your core power also determines whether or not you can open certain “locks” in the game – most of the important locks can be opened by anyone at level 10-11, but there are some that can only be opened in the late, late game (Or New Game+ for some) at level 50+ – and they usually hide some pretty good stuff.
As you fight enemies, you gain Tech Scrap. You also increase a multiplier that allows you to earn even more Tech Scrap. That multiplier is reset when you use the medbay (Like sitting at a bonfire, it refills your health and healing charges.). This means that the longer you stay away from medbay, the more Scrap you can earn.
If you happen to be killed, you will drop your Tech Scrap at the spot where you died. Unlike Soulsborne, though – you have a limited time to reclaim it. Killing enemies can help extend that time, but you then risk being killed again and losing it permanently.
It’s not a bad system, and it was one of the main things I liked in Lords of the Fallen
Thankfully, the game’s zones are setup very much like the original Dark Souls and Bloodborne – very shortcut heavy, with cuts that can slice a zone in half. This makes it easier to get back to medbay to heal and bank your Scrap.
Implants are used to upgrade your stats – these act a lot like the Carryl runes in Bloodborne. Increased max health/stamina/energy, increased weapon proficiency, etc.
These implants are picked up as loot most of the time, strewn about the different zones. Some are rewards for finishing questlines and a few are drops from enemies after removing certain parts of them.
All of them are useful, depending on your playstyle. For instance, if you find yourself using finishers and drone abilities in combat a lot, the implant that stores a bit of energy after a certain threshold is quite useful, as well as the implants that increase your max energy, and slow the decay of it when you stop attacking.
Increased health and stamina are never bad choices either – being able to take (and deal out) more hits is always a good thing.
You start the game only able to install 4 implants at once – but as you level your core power, you will unlock more implant slots on your suit. And as you upgrade your suit over the course of the game, you gain even more slots (Up to a max of 12, I think.)
Certain implants also level with you as you increase your core power – mainly the ones that increase max health/stamina/energy. Most also stack – so 3 implants that increase your health by 20 points, will net a total of 60 points.
Given that the implants aren’t permanent either, you can always respec your character at anytime. Some implants can even be swapped out without having to visit the medbay.
All in all, The Surge is a fun, solid game.
This is where the water gets a little murky.
There is New Game+, as expected – and it does offer up new challenges to tackle (throwing in new, more aggressive enemies right from the start).
There are also multiple endings.
You also get to upgrade your equipment even further on NG+, which I like.
But there isn’t really that much that changes when you start NG+ (Which is also automatically started when you load a cleared game save. That bothers me a lot. I’d much rather keep playing in my original game and further explore than be instantly thrust into another playthrough.)
There are no real multiple paths through the game – outside of choosing to help NPCs or not. And due to there not being a traditional leveling system, there are no “builds” either.
And remember what I said about there being a lack of variety? Most of the enemies in the game are humanoid, with the exception of drones, a few robots and unique enemies, and 3-4 of the 5 bosses. You’ll be fighting a lot of the same enemies over and over again as you go along, with a few variations here and there sometimes.
Thankfully, I enjoyed the combat enough that I didn’t mind the lack of enemy types that much.
Trophy wise, much like a Souls game, there isn’t anything that hard here – find all of the audio logs, collect all of a unique set of armor, defeat the bosses, get the different endings, etc – it’s pretty standard fare.
Overall, I enjoyed my time with The Surge. It can be a bit repetitive – especially when grinding to level up a new weapon, but the combat feels good enough that grinding isn’t a massive snoozefest.
The limb targeting is by far the best part of the game, though – and it’s something I really, whole-heartedly enjoyed. It was something fresh out of what could have been just another drab clone game.
If you enjoy the Souls games – The Surge is a competent contender that should sate your thirst for a new entry until Bloodborne 2 gets announced.
However, The Surge is also good for the people who maybe feel that Soulsborne games are a bit too daunting – this is an entirely single-player experience with no online component, so no invasions/summoning to worry about. It’s also not as hard overall, although there will be times where death may feel like bullshit.
The Surge is a fun time. It also manages to do something that the Souls games have been struggling with – it makes bosses feel threatening and unique without being reduced to big spectacle battles.
All of the bosses in The Surge are one of a kind fights that require entirely different strategies to beat.