It’s the nicest feeling when a game wildly exceeds your expectations.
The Surge, created by Lords of the Fallen developer Deck 13, is one such example. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I never expected The Surge to be a bad game, but I couldn’t in any way have anticipated how it would keep me glued to my screen for just a tad under 30 hours.
It all starts with a rather grotesque scene in which the playable character – a disabled man named Warren – is fitted with an exo skeleton. Unfortunately for him though, it’s done without the anaesthetic that should have been administered. Recovering sometime later having understandably passed out, Warren finds himself alone in the CREO facility where he was meant to begin a new life, only things seem wrong. Very wrong, in fact.
When you actually start playing The Surge, it doesn’t take long for you to realise that while on the surface it looks like Dark Souls rip-off with a sci-fi setting, it doesn’t really feel much like one. Like Nioh, The Surge simply takes elements from the Dark Souls template before adding in a myriad of its own original gameplay systems to give it its own distinct personality. The result is that The Surge will definitely appeal to those looking for Dark Souls-like fix, but should also make fans of the action-adventure genre happy too – providing they enjoy a challenge.
The Surge’s weighty combat, for example, is made exciting by the inclusion of gruesome finishing attacks which are a rewarding way to finish a tense battle. You’re able to target specific parts of your enemies, choosing whether to deal more damage by attacking those that are unprotected, or soften up those that are in the hope of cutting them off and stealing them for your own personal use. And while there are only five weapon types available, they all feel distinct, allowing you settle on one that suits your playstyle. You won’t find any ranged weapons in The Surge though - the action is melee only, with you able to mix up horizontal and vertical attacks as you see fit.
When The Surge is openly aping Dark Souls, it’s done in a way that’s easily forgivable due to what it adds to the gameplay. The CREO facility that you find yourself stranded in is labyrinthine in structure, offering a wealth of helpful shortcuts for those who care to find them. Defeating enemies rewards you with Tech Scraps, a currency which is used to increase your exo skeleton’s core level as well as facilitate the development of weapons and armour. And of course, if you die, you drop any tech scraps you’re carrying on the floor and must retrieve them. Here, however, there’s a time limit in which to do so, and when visiting any of the game’s operations rooms you can bank any Tech Scraps you have for safe keeping.
In essence then, rather than steal mechanics for the sake of it, with The Surge, Deck 13 have pilfered those that serve to enhance the experience and then tinkered with them where appropriate. It would have been easy to link your stats to your exo skeleton’s core level, for instance, but instead it simply increases your capacity to equip better implants and armour that require more power. It’s the features like this that aren’t entirely new or ground-breaking, yet are so well implemented that they somehow make The Surge feel fresh. And that’s what I love about it.
Despite my overall adoration of The Surge, however, I have to say that its final area sours the experience somewhat. For a start, a particular crystal-like enemy is introduced that’s just not fun to fight. Unlike every other enemy in the game, its attacks aren’t clearly signposted and it can kill you with one hit from quite a distance, leading to many deaths that just feel cheap. The layout of the final area is an absolute mess too, leaving you to run around for what feels like an eternity until you finally figure out just what the game wants you to do. And when you’ve finally overcome those two hurdles, you’re faced with a final boss that feels like a kick in the teeth.
All of The Surge’s bosses are challenging. You’d expect them to be. But from time to time, the game’s targeting system causes some issues. For the first four bosses you’ll just work through them, but when you’re facing off against the last you will assuredly curse at the screen. All too often you’ll dash forward to attack a limb, only for it to move and leave you attacking thin air. The camera then won’t quite know what to do as your foe makes their way around you, leaving you wide open for attack or at least obscuring your view. It makes an already tough battle seem impossible, and ends the game on a low note.
Even with its iffy final area though, The Surge is still a title you should consider picking up. Its unique sci-fi setting and utterly absorbing gameplay make it a winner in my eyes. I honestly enjoyed The Surge way more than I expected to, and I imagine you might do too if you give it a chance.