From where I stand, trying to be like a Souls game seems like a pretty hard thing to do. FromSoftware’s flagship franchise has a bunch of well-defined core concepts that could be translated and interpreted to suit your game. There are quite a few great examples out there from Nioh to Salt and Sanctuary, games that took the core fundamentals of what makes a Souls game great, and made their own unique experience from it. Lords of the Fallen was one of the earliest games to try and copy this formula, however it fell far from the mark and ended up as nothing more than a shallow clone. Deck 13 is back to give it another go with the Surge, a futuristic action RPG set in a dystopian future with Souls-like mechanics. After playing this game I can safely say that this is not Lords of the Fallen. It’s something different, something more, and ultimately, something better, for the most part.
The Surge takes place in a future where the world is dying a slow death. You play as Warren, a seemingly average Joe who joins a company called CREO to partake in Project Resolve, an initiative to restore the planet back to a healthy state, and to build a sort of utopia for mankind. I’m not sure if Warren is a smart guy, but surely its common knowledge that any one entity that wants to build a utopia has a 99% chance of instead creating a giant mess full of unspeakable horrors. Alas, after his first day at work, everything seems to go to hell as he has mechanical parts implanted straight on to his body, while he is awake, and finds himself in a facility overrun by crazy, zombie-like employees and violent sentient robots. Talk about a rough first day.
The story of The Surge has 3 main ways of conveying its narrative, namely, through audio logs, the environment and NPC conversations. The story is nowhere near as obfuscated as a Souls game, but it’s also not as coherent as a traditional story driven RPG. In trying to walk this fine line between the Souls type of storytelling and its own, it presents players with a tale that ends up feeling half-baked, which is a shame. The game starts off in a surprising way (which I won’t mention for spoiler reasons), and it creates a really interesting setup for its world but as much as I appreciate the exposition which comes from the audio logs, it made me want much more, which the game just couldn’t adequately provide.
Story missteps aside, the core gameplay of The Surge is quite fun and engaging, when it works. The main hook of combat is that you’re able to target individual body parts of an enemy, and when you do enough damage, you can execute a gory finisher and cut that part off, with the chances of it dropping what was equipped to that body part or materials which are used to craft gear. It’s a satisfying system that just feels good. The finishing moves feel as powerful as they look and combat has a nice weight to it. The dodging, which is a short hop, takes a while to get used to but other than that, the combat itself is solid and really fun.
There’s not a wide variety of weapons in the game. For the most part, I stuck to one-hand weapons which provided decent attack speed and power. There are heavy duty weapons as well as staves and dual-wielding claw-like ones too but none of them really suited my playstyle as they were either way too slow, or too uncontrollably fast. The weapon proficiency system, which increases attack power the more you use a specific weapon type also made that I stuck with one type for most of the game.
The two main forms of customization come from the gear you equip and the implant system. Implants are skills and passive buffs you can equip to Warren to alter stats and combat abilities as in this game, you don’t assign points to stats when you level up. The effects of implants are varied and range from basic stat improvements to having the ability to heal, view enemy lifebars, and activating a buff for your attacks. Usage of some of the active abilities is governed by energy, which is a bar that fills up as you land attacks. It depletes when your attacks stop, so you have to plan when and how you want to use your skills in battle. It’s actually a cool mechanic, and it reminds me of Bloodborne’s health regain mechanic, where you’re encouraged sometimes, depending on your equipped implants, to always push forward and continue your assault, building up energy to use one of your active skills. It’s just another layer of strategy which makes combat that much more engaging.
You’re not given free rein over the gear and implants you can equip however. Each requires a set amount of Core Power to equip. Core Power increases as you level up, but even if those are tied to your level, you can still decide how you want to build Warren. You could either sacrifice certain implants so that you can have enough Core Power to equip stronger gear, or vice versa. As mentioned before there’s not much variety in the weapons department and that unfortunately applies to armor and implants as well, so don’t expect to put much time into creating character builds, but it was fun trying what options are available to you.
The level design in the Surge, for the most part, is pretty well done. Not only does it look great, it’s thematically consistent throughout, and the sci-fi industrial look can feel really menacing and atmospheric at times, as you hear the movements of automated machines alongside the howls of the insane employees. There are also a ton of shortcuts littered throughout, and it’s always a relief when you find one. The levels themselves never felt like a chore to get through and there were enough incentives throughout the map to warrant thorough exploration. The main issue I had was not with the design of the levels themselves as much as the enemy placement therein.
Some of the encounters felt incredibly cheap and unfair, to the point of causing major frustration. One section in the second area had 2 guys standing at either end of a bridge firing projectiles, while another enemy and robot was close by. Even when you’re hit by one bullet, it causes major stunlock, allowing enemies to quickly pile on. It’s even more infuriating when you can easily be killed in 2 or 3 hits. There are many more examples like this, and the best solution to this problem, is to just run past them, which is not really fun, at all. Enemies have a low aggro range, so they don’t follow you too far, but that too works against you as should you be engaged with an enemy, and if you move too far out of their range, they’ll run all the way back to where you found them, which sometimes leads you straight into an ambush. Even though this happens a lot, they’re spread out so that it never feels too much at any given point, but it’s still frustrating at the end of the day.
The Surge looks good and I think that Deck 13 really nailed that dystopian look and feel. The game also has PS4Pro support which allows you to prioritise either performance or graphical quality, though these kinds of games are best played at 60 fps. The ambient sound is really well done too, but the same can’t be said about the music, which is about as generic as they come. There is also this one looping country song that plays in the hub where you level up and it’s honestly one of the weirdest and most irritating sound design choices I’ve seen in a while.
The Surge is a rough game. Its story can feel disjointed and lacking while the gameplay can be incredible unfair at times. Despite all of this, I still enjoyed my time with it, and I feel like I played a Deck 13 game, not a FromSoftware clone. I hope they continue to build on this foundation, and with a little more polish it could stand tall next to the giants of the genre.
Last Updated: May 16, 2017