Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
We are currently in the midst of the Souls revolution. Its influence has grown across the industry since its introduction with Demon’s Souls in 2009, and while we’re not quite there yet, its genre conventions are quickly becoming standards that more and more developers both big and small feel like they have to incorporate into their games just to stay competitive.
Enter The Surge by Deck13, the studio’s second outing into the Souls genre. Finally gearing away from the Gothic horror of Lords of the Fallen, this time it seems their latest work has truly brought something new to the table. The Surge tells the tale of Warren, a factory employee on his first day on the job at CREO, a megacorporation looking to lend its hand in solving socio-political and environmental issues through technological development.
Granted, the story of The Surge hardly matters in the grand scheme of things despite its Half-life 2-inspired intro with smooth and deceptive camera work. No, the star of the show with The Surge is its gameplay, which is as clean and brutal as any the Souls genre has to offer.
As always, here’s a look at what you need to know about The Surge.
The Surge has turned grinding into something so much more with its Limb System.
As it was advertised ahead of its release, The Surge’s main deviation from the standard Souls formula is its Limb Targeting System. The idea behind it is that if you come across a new enemy wearing a type of armor that you’ve never seen before, you can focus your attack on one part of the enemy in order to gain schematics to build it. The Surge augments this system by adding a Finisher Move mechanic that is only usable if you’ve landed enough consecutive successful attacks which fill a gauge known as Energy.
Using the Finisher Move on a limb severs it from the enemy, allowing the player to pick up the plans to build the piece of armor in question. Players can target the head, arms, legs, and body, each of which providing unique armor drops. Even after gaining the schematic you want, it’s not a one-and-done deal either as focusing your attacks on certain body parts will drop designated materials needed to craft each type of armor. That combined with your Tech Scraps (The Surge’s version of Souls) combine to craft the armor you need. What makes this system work so well is how seamlessly it all integrates into the moment-to-moment gameplay.
The Surge has incredibly well-designed levels with pathways that feel legitimately satisfying to uncover.
Much of your time will be spent exploring and discovering all of the various nooks and crannies weaved into each one of The Surge’s sections. Naturally, the sheer number of times you die help to pad out the exploration time, but it never feels unfair due to how responsive the game’s controls are. As you travel around, you will gradually open doors, extend bridges, and uncover pathways that will create shortcuts back to OPS, The Surge’s hub.
OPS is the epicenter of everything you do in The Surge. It’s where you level up your suit, craft new equipment and the like. As you gather Tech Scraps from fallen enemies, you’ll find yourself bolting back to OPS a lot (at least I did). One of the great features that The Surge has implemented is the ability to Bank the Tech Scraps you acquire, which prevent them from being dropped or lost upon death.
Of course, if you die at any point, you drop the Tech Scraps you had, and in a twist, you have only two and a half minutes to get them back. You can add time to the timer by unleashing finisher moves, but it’s a smart balance to compensate for the ability to bank what you earn.
Because of the importance of OPS, Deck13 has brilliantly configured its levels to have certain shortcuts that allow you to both get back to OPS faster and streamline level exploration, so you don’t have to keep trudging through the same areas over and over again after dying. There’s a great sense of accomplishment when you find yourself deep in a deadly robotic factory with 6,000 Tech Scraps, no Heath refills, and a single blow away from an untimely demise and you just so happen to find a vent that leads straight to OPS, which otherwise would have taken 15-20 minutes worth of travel. I swear, it just feels perfect.
Although Warren is the only playable character, how you outfit him renders any potential banality irrelevant.
One of the things that The Surge deviates from compared to other games in the genre is that it doesn’t have any character customization. What you see is what you get, but characterization hardly ends there. It wouldn’t be a Souls game without a ton of gear and weapons to collect, and The Surge has it in spades.
The thing that will differentiate the most from each player will be the preferred weapon type. Players can harness anything from a massive electrified rod to a saw blade or even a CREO security guard’s staff if you have the cajones to take one on as well as the skill to beat them. Each weapon type comes with its own set of combos and timing that will slot you into a defined fighting style.
What also helps are the implants that you can add to your suit which can grant you added health, enhance attack power, decrease the rate of Energy loss, or consumable health potions. Skill level has a lot to do with how you outfit your implants, as in my case, I elected to stack multiple health regens in order to go on longer runs. That said, once you’ve mastered enemy locations and attack patterns you may find the stat-boosting implants to be of greater value to you.
2017 has been a tremendous calendar year for games ranging from Breath of the Wild, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and NieR: Automata among others. That said, in large part, the success of each game thus far has hardly been all that surprising, which is why it’s a thrill to say that The Surge is the first game of 2017 to come out of nowhere.
If you are a fan of Souls games, chances are The Surge has been on your radar for some time, and if not, it needs to be starting right now. While it borrows many genre conventions, nothing in The Surge ever feels like it's being rehashed and the Limb Targeting and Finisher Move combo it brings to the table may very well be “borrowed” by future RPGs going forward. Even if you are new to the genre or have been put off by the idea of brutally difficult Action-RPG’s, I implore you to give The Surge a look.
You won’t find yourself hitting many brick walls, despite the constant threat and reality of death. Each life teaches you something new whether it’s a new pathway, a new type of weapon or armor, or even a chance at mastering an enemy attack pattern. Progress is a constant, and The Surge will no doubt keep you busy as we head into the summer months.