The Surge is a hardcore action-RPG, set in a world that is on its last legs. The world is messed up from global warming and pollution. The population has boomed and everyone is always sick. Jobs are being automated, which in turn forces the humans to seek work elsewhere. The humans are wooed by the promise of a better and more prosperous life, fitting their bodies with exoskeletal rigs that can be upgraded so they can perform more efficiently as their bodies waste away.
The game goes a long way to inspire us to think about our own future. Our civilization feels like it's at its own turning point right now, our populations are aging because we're getting better at keeping people alive for longer, and we're running out of ways to keep the world population fed. Flat-Earthers somehow still exist. The mysterious, yet world renown electronics company CREO Industries just went one step further. All the people who are sick, weak and have impairments can now have themselves upgraded, so they no longer live in pain and are capable of having a life again. They see the sickness, the suffering in the world, and they have a plan - Project Resolve.
Our "hero" Warren takes a job at CREO Industries, allowing them to install a exo-rig into his very bones in exchange for work and money. After a painful procedure, you find it isn't the Utopia you signed up for. Waking up outside the CREO factory, the staff and company droids are no longer following protocol. They attack Warren on sight to retrieve the precious resources of his suit.
The end of the (production) line
To be a successful hardcore action RPG player, you'll generally rely on one of the below:
- Not getting hit.
- Not getting greedy.
- Not getting lost.
- A lot of patience.
You will stumble with all four of these things in The Surge, with much more of a focus on evading attacks than tanking them out and taking the damage. Lords of the Fallen was a "tanky" experience, where combat felt laborious and cumbersome at times, and you were expected to take (or hopefully block) damage. The Surge is a much more fine-tuned experience, like a Sherman tank fitted with a rear spoiler and a rocket engine.
There are two classes to choose from: Heavy or Light operators. But as has been established in Lords of the Fallen, as long as you have the stats to do so, you can use whatever equipment you like, it just determines your starting armor. I opted for Light during my playthrough, as I have always favored fast-paced combat over timing my hits just right. However, this comes with the drawback of potentially not doing a great deal of damage per hit. A dance ensues, whereby the enemy launches himself at me, I dodge out of the way and backstab him in the spine to weaken the armor I want from him. When the command pops up, I execute a deadly attack, ripping him into chunks and claim the spoils - some tech scrap metal, and a schematic for a new pair of legs.
Not getting hit is simple enough as you can spot incoming attacks a mile off. The enemies have a "tell," a little pause or wind-up just before they unleash, which if spotted quick enough should give you enough time to boost out of the way. Getting greedy is something that happens to us all. You might be one hit off finishing an enemy, but you're also knocking on death's door, without any heals. You could risk attacking until your stamina is completely depleted, but it leaves you open to attack as you're not able to evade with no stamina.
You will get lost quite a lot in The Surge, but the best thing about it is, all roads lead to Rome. Or, all paths lead to the operations room. In each area, there will be an operations room where Warren is able to spend tech scrap metal to upgrade his power core, install implants and upgrade his equipment. You can also refill any medical consumables you use.
Once you leave, you'll be poking your way gingerly down hallways and through warehouses. You won't know what you're looking for exactly, there's no map and only a few NPCs around who ask for your assistance and give you small side quests. You'll just keep pushing on, knowing death may be lurking inside a wooden crate ready to slice you up with home-recycled pistons at any given moment. Just when you think you've hit a dead-end, you'll realize you've just opened a shortcut. Finding one is always a welcome surprise, and more surprising when you see where they open up to or how close they are to ops.
Hack and slash (and loot)
For me, the game started tentatively. Having been stung in the past by games like this, I knew first-hand that hardcore action RPGs have a notoriously loud bark, and even bigger bite if you don't know how to tame it. As I said previously, Dark Souls shaped boots are hard to fill and come with a reputation that precedes them. Testing the waters became a fully fledged dunking, throwing myself into the world of whirling hammers and electrifying cattle prods tasering me and loving it. Deck 13 has ironed out the kinks from Lords of the Fallen and created something more enjoyable.
It took a little while to realize that upgrading my power core doesn't make Warren specifically more powerful, so I wound up wasting tech scrap (XP) on upgrading that over my weapons and armor. When I realized that I'd need to cut the parts off of the enemies in order to build the parts I need to become stronger, it was a complete game changer.
Some implants stack with your power-core level, increasing the beneficial effects they may have. The power core determines the suit's power level. Occasionally you'll come across a wall panel with a green number on it, which you can overpower with your suit. The higher your power core level, the higher level doors you can open, and you can use more equipment and armor.
Targeting specific body parts to aim for cutting and looting was tricky at first, as there is a position on the right stick allocated to each body part, but getting the main body armor selected properly was the hardest to get right consistently. You must get your energy meter up by landing hits before being able to successfully loot the part, filling it quickly for a transition to slow motion cinematics as you get to see the look on your enemies face as you cut his body in two. But since combat is so enjoyable and fluid, fighting didn't end up becoming a scary necessity. It was fun, even easy at times, but that didn't mean it wasn't still as vicious as a junkyard dog.
The levels are designed to never let you off the edge of your seat. You'll always be angling the camera just right to see around corners before you just run blundering into a potential death-trap. Pickups will be dotted around in suspiciously open places, and you're a fool if you run in greedily to snatch it up. You're always at risk of death, and this is predominantly your own fault. If you don't explore, you won't find decent armor or implants, severely increasing your risk of premature dying. Without installing the right implants and tactfully choosing the best weapons for your playstyle, I can see how and why people will have a tough time with The Surge, the way they do with other games like it.
If you die, you lose all of your tech scrap metal and will respawn with a countdown until your scrap is lost forever. If you get back to it in time, you can retrieve it, adding it to any that you've found along the way. If you die again while on the way to collect the scrap you already lost, it's gone for good. I lost tens of thousands of scraps this way, and I kicked myself every time, knowing I should've saved it at the Medbay bank for future use.
There are different types of weapons with their own moves and attack patterns, so there is something for everyone. If you favor heavy smashing hits from a hammer over lots of quick little pokes from dual wielding gauntlets, be our guest. The weapons also come with proficiency scaling, the more you use a weapon type - for example, one handed, all one handed weapons proficiency will be increased.
I spent a lot of time taking in the scenery, sometimes so vibrant and colorful yet at complete odds with the story, which only loaned it some credibility. It wasn't all taking in the scenery and inhaling the fresh toxic sludge, as being aware of the environment was one of the biggest challenges. Where groups of enemies might be bunched together, after the first boss you get a "drone" that you can use to draw far away enemies closer to you without alerting their mates. This takes some of the heat off of you and allows you to use the space more freely.
With no hand-holding, The Surge kicks you out into the blinding sun and expects you to save yourself, or die trying. Boss fights are often two-stage affairs, requiring you to take out shields or the boss coming back to life before you've taken them out properly. You'll retry the fights countless times, but there is no denying the unmistakable glow of victory when you win. It's not quite the Everest that Dark Souls is, but it's in the sweet spot of being equal parts manageable and frustrating, but overall, overwhelmingly enjoyable.
While Lords of the Fallen and The Surge may have Dark Souls roots, the more I progressed in The Surge, the more I started to see Deck 13 shining. The shadows are falling away, The Surge is miles better than Lords of the Fallen, and some trademark mechanics are starting to creep into the light. Deck 13 has polished and primed The Surge, and it now feels like it's time to stop comparing it to others and let it be noticed for what it is. Calling anything a Dark Souls clone at this point is purely lazy and an insult to the many smaller ways in which they're no way alike.
- Learning curve keeps you on your toes.
- Very accessible for people looking to get into the genre.
- Awesome crafting and upgrade system.
- Addictive combat.
- While The Surge is accessible, the game will likely be too difficult for people looking for a more casual experience.
The Surge is available starting May 16 for $59.99.
Disclaimer: This review was conducted on an Xbox One with a code provided by the developer.
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