So, I’ve mentioned before that I’m a complete sucker for dystopian sci-fi, and because it’s a dystopian sci-fi game, The Surge ticks all the required boxes to get my immediate attention. It also throws in a lot of familiar themes to get any Souls fan (that’s me too!) to sit up and pay attention too, and while it’s definitely not exactly like Dark Souls, those similarities are probably some of the best things about it. Let’s see how developer Deck13 Interactive went from the capable but ultimately rather lacklustre Lords of the Fallen to the much tighter and more appealing (to me anyway) The Surge.
The story puts you in the wheelchair of Warren, whose name, much like his personality, is about as bland as cold soup. Warren is starting his first day at CREO, a massive conglomerate with ambitions of world changing proportions. With climate change having ruined the planet, CREO have stepped up to try and save it by dumping some science stuff in the atmosphere to get Earth to cool down again. Over the course of the story, it becomes apparent that this fix was never going to be a quick one, and has in fact been ongoing for decades.
Warren rolls out of the train and is promptly fitted with a neural linked rig. This allows him to walk and do some other really cool stuff, a fact that he has very little time to let sink in, because at about the same time, everything goes to shit. The entire game takes place on the CREO grounds, a mix of sprawling industrial factories and offices. It’s an area that once seems to have been rather industrious, but is now half destroyed and overrun with mindless co-workers who seem to be convinced that their next meal is going to come from whatever bit they can chop off of poor Warren.
The story is delivered through a number of mediums, from video conferences to audio logs scattered around the open world space. It’s a story I paid very little attention to because I was more interested in, you know, not dying. There was also nothing particularly interesting about it either, so I am going to call the story Warren too. At complete odds with the quality of the story is the environment, all angles and sharp metal, now with hints of rust and weathering everywhere, ranging from a general feeling of upkeep neglect to complete catastrophe. The setting is simply sublime, and everything I was hoping for from a tech heavy, wrecked planet.
And the gameplay?
First, yes, there are obvious similarities to the Souls franchise. Scrap replaces souls, rig pieces replace your various bits of armour, special souls are replaced by scrap piles, bonfires and smiths are replaced by a medbay, rings are replaced with upgrade slots, the view is still third person, combat is predominantly melee, and you still die… constantly. No spells or the like, so you can kiss any thought of a glass cannon build goodbye.
From this point onward, The Surge does its own thing. Borrowed unashamedly from its predecessor Lords of the Fallen, The Surge gives you the delightful ability to bank scrap, allowing you to store any leftover scrap you might have at the medbay before you leave. So you can visit the medbay without worrying about dropping all your scrap when you die, but what I really like is that you’re also incentivised not to. There’s a multiplier that builds up relative to the amount of scrap you’re carrying, and the more you have, the higher the multiplier, and the more scrap you get from killing enemies.
You must also pay very close attention to your next victim because The Surge is very stingy with loot left lying around. Instead, you get new gear from the enemies you kill using a sort of dismemberment mechanic. Once you lock on to a target, you use the right analogue stick to choose which body part to focus on, arms, legs, body or head. Most of the time attacking these parts and performing an execution when prompted will net you the schematic of the part you just forcibly removed. You can then go back to the medbay and build it, providing that you have materials to do so, and these items can also be upgraded several times.
On the subject of killing enemies, choosing the part you want to attack has other benefits too. For example, if you’re not interested in getting a particular piece of gear from an enemy but just want to dispatch the grunt as quickly as possible, you can focus on any unarmoured part, dealing a significantly larger amount of damage in a shorter period of time. One thing that’s a bit of a pain with this mechanic is that it’s tricky to target the body (torso) of an enemy, as there’s no specific direction to point the analogue stick in to target this. Limbs and head are a walk in the park, but targeting the torso is dependent on which limb you are currently focusing on. There are also moments when you’re going to sit back in frustration and swear a lot, though, because this game employs a ton of cheap tricks throughout to kill you, like putting an enemy just on the other side of a door to knock your block off from the left because you chose to peek to the right.
Still in the combat zone, one of the things I found particularly innovative is how the two assigned hit buttons have changed. They’re still in the same place, but instead simply change the direction of your swing when alternating the buttons, with the bumper giving you horizontal attacks, and the trigger complementing with a vertical attack. These can be used to execute some fine combos if used correctly.
Levelling up is as easy as walking into the medbay and spending your scrap to increase your core level. Your core level acts as a resource pool of sorts, with items equipped to your rig and your upgrade slots drawing from this pool until you run out of things to fit or cores to allow you to fit more things. It’s genius really, because it means that any weapon or piece of armour or augmentation you pick up you can use. You’ll never have a Faith or Strength shortage, so to speak, you just need to have the cores available in your resource pool.
Overall, it’s a fun romp. It’s short, compared to the Souls games (it took about 30 hours for me to knock my way through it), and there are only about six bosses in total, but they were fun fights in interesting arenas, and every bit of ground gained felt like winning a major war. And if you still don’t feel like you are done when you cross the finish line, there is always New Game + to help feed your need to grind some metal on metal.
75The story is vapid and the lore almost non-existent, but The Surge makes up for this with some amazing gameplay. If you’re a Souls fan or just a masochist with a thing for dystopian sci-fi, I recommend that you give this one a hack.