At this point referring to a game by saying “it’s like Dark Souls” feels like calling an FPS a DOOM clone.
While it may be reductive in many instances, it’s difficult to deny that The Surge borrows heavily from the Souls series of games. And this isn’t even the first time developers Deck13 have tried it either, because their game Lords of the Fallen tried to accomplish the same thing back in 2014.
Unfortunately that initial attempt was plagued with problems that left it mostly forgotten until The Surge started doing the rounds. With three years gone and the mistakes of that game on their minds, did the team at Deck13 manage to learn anything and make a better game?
Well yes, yes they did.
The Surge review: SoulsBorne
The Surge is set in the near future and it centres on a bloke named Warren on his first day of work at a corporation called CREO, known mainly for its line of exoskeletons that most of its employees use.
Warren, who is wheelchair-bound, goes through the painful process of being bonded to an exoskeleton, only to wake up sometime later to the CREO complex in disarray; many employees are dead and the remaining workforce are now a pack of zombies who are out for the blood of anything that moves.
It’s here that the player steps in and, armed only with a pipe and a desire to not die, you venture deeper into the complex trying to find answers while killing your way through employees made superhuman thanks to their exoskeletons, and the vast array of CREO robots.
From the first tutorial area to the last boss, this plays like a Souls game. If you’ve played any of the titles before, you’ll be at home here. If you haven’t, what you’ll find is a very deliberate hack and slash system where every action consumes stamina, and the health pool is very limited.
Because of this, each battle is a careful management of these resources, and you’ll need to survive an onslaught of enemies by learning attack patterns.
There’s also RPG elements based around collecting tech scrap as currency. Defeating enemies grants you tech scrap, which you will lose if you die. Fight your way back to your corpse, and you can reclaim the scrap. It can then be used at Ops – AKA bonfires – to increase your core capacity allowing you to equip more upgrades and access more of the map.
This too is much like Souls, as the maps loop in on themselves, with new areas revealing shortcuts back to Ops. When enough of these shortcuts have been found, a boss will usually appear. Kill them and a whole new map is revealed, and the process begins again.
The Surge review: So what’s new?
The Surge adds a lot to the formula developers From Software created. The first is simply the weight of everything. Every movement and attack in this game feels like it packs a hefty punch, and rightly so. Your exoskeleton gives you the power to be more than human, but it’s also a great armoured weight and all the character animations are adjusted accordingly.
You really do feel like your actions have impact, and it makes the combat endlessly enjoyable. It gets even better when you equip larger weapons, and your “sword” is a piece of metal taller than a basketball player.
Another addition is a third resource to go with health and stamina. As you fight you build up energy which has a variety of uses. The most prominent is the ability to target and then cut off the limbs of enemies.
This is how you unlock new exoskeleton parts as well as weapons. It’s brutal, bloody, and an awesome mixup to the formula.
The setting goes a long way to making everything feel new too. The dirty industrial aesthetic is well done and the enemy design feels fantastical as well as practical given the setting. It also feeds into the gameplay decisions – there’s no guns or ranged weapons because everyone is using tools to fight – but we did find this to be limiting.
There’s only about half a dozen types of weapons, and the exoskeleton sets didn’t feel distinct enough to be exciting. Still, the appeal of smacking around robots using giant pieces of metal while you look like half-human Transformer cannot be denied.
The Surge review: Verdict
While The Surge does take elements from other games and add its own spin, it does fall short at times.
The RPG and character building elements can be “solved” around three quarters of the way into the game, making many fights much easier, and it’s one of the reasons the game has such a weak second half.
We don’t know if it was time, budget or design limitations, but much of the game gets worse in the second half. The maps become simpler, loot starts to feel overly familiar, and the bosses and enemies lose their variety. Dark Souls 3 was criticised for having too many humanoid enemies, and the same can be said here.
We understand that a huge part of this game is the ability to sever limbs from human enemies to claim their weapons and gear, but it becomes unbearable near the end of the game. They have such an awesome setting where an endless amount of cool robots could have been used as the enemies and, while they do get the spotlight sometimes, it’s humans most of the way.
The story is a weak point too, with it failing to be as captivating as it should be. But after finishing the game with an even 24 hours of play, these problems aren’t enough to bring game down, even if it did lose points, and it still gets a recommendation.
Like Bayonetta, The Surge isn’t just a great game on its own, it’s also a good sign for things to come. Bayonetta heralded the arrival of more Platinum games on PC, and The Surge promises that the spirit of Souls games can continue, even if FromSoftware decides to stop making them.
The Surge was reviewed on PC with a code provided by the publisher