You’ve got to hand it to Deck13, in some respects. They’ve taken the Dark Souls maxim of “keep trying until you get it right” quite literally.
We’ve had a straight up imitation in Lords of the Fallen in 2014, which did middling reviews and numbers. Whilst not terrible, it gave them enough to bounce back with the first Surge three years later. Whilst a futuristic take on the difficult action/adventure, it suffered from its dimly lit environments and mistaking challenge for just straight up relentless enemies.
So, is it third time lucky? In most aspects, yes. It’s got a bonkers plot involving nanomachines to rival Metal Gear Solid 4, as well as all of the brightness, but will that be enough to score a win as worthy successor…?
In broad terms: yes. Considering I didn’t play that much of the first one, largely in part due to the above mentioned reasons, this one does have its nano-hooks in me (sorry).
To elaborate, the problem with the first one, and to an extent LotF too, is that it tried to imitate the challenge of Dark Souls, but missed. Whereas From Software games are notoriously difficult to the outsider, patience is key. For the most part, a lot of combat boils down to figuring out enemy attack patterns, when to counter/parry, and what combat tactics work for you. Yes, it can be an attrition, with multiple attempts and perseverance being encouraged, which is what separates most people.
However, Deck13 took that as “make enemies relentless”, so it was less about combat finesse and more just withstanding constant barrages of attack until one of you came off better. What also didn’t help where the darkly lit locales, too.
Whether the intended tone was meant to be broody and sinister, or just a decline in power/civilization, it just meant that enemies placed in the dark could get the drop on you, showing no hesitation in shunting you off of ledges because you literally couldn’t see them coming. That’s not difficult and something to overcome, that’s just plain cheap.
But it seems Deck13 are willing to listen, which is usually a good thing. But I think they’ve taken the darkness one to heart, because The Surge 2 is quite possibly the brightest game I’ve ever played. Bear in mind I’ve played The Unfinished Swan, and that’s 90% white. I wish I were exaggerating, but it took me a good ten minutes of faffing about with the settings to get it to a comfortable level of bloom. I’ve got small enough eyes as it is, I don’t need to be squinting any more than I have to. Also, who on earth still thinks film grain effects are a good thing? That should have died out with the first Mass Effect.
So, brightness adjusted to a reasonable level, The Surge 2 kicks off with a bang. More specifically, a large bang, as the aircraft you’re travelling in crashes over the fictional Jericho City that the majority of the game will take place in. The pretext to this is of the titular surge from the first game, and the lengths the player went to, to ensure that machines wouldn’t take over. It seems the canonical ending from the first is that the Rogue Process and nanite takeover was successful, but we’ll get back to that.
This fiery framing device sets up the character creation screen, one that isn’t going to win any prizes on the creativity front. You can pick a male or female potato, you can pick one of several hairstyles for your potato, even changing the skin tone/ethnicity of your potato, if you like. But at the end of the day, you are going to have your unique, but rather unattractive, potato.
To the game’s credit, it knows you’re not going to be looking at your player character’s face, considering how much scrap metal you’re going to be attaching to it as you play. But what The Surge 2 does do, instead of the usual character class system that assigns certain attributes, uses one that affects the world instead. Are you a Corporate Middle Manager, Former Arms Smuggler, or maybe you’re one of the good guys, a Search and Rescue Officer? Whilst these may not affect your build, each one has the potential to open up new or tweaked dialogue choices in the game. NPC’s might be nicer to you if they think you’re helping their efforts, or be harsher to you if they know you work(ed) for CREO, the assholes that caused this in the first place.
After the fine tuning of a face only a mother could love, the game begins. Much like the first, you awaken with no knowledge of how you ended up where you are, which is this instance is the Jericho City Police Department. More specifically, the medical bay, which starts our unnamed hero off on his journey. This serves as the tutorial for movement, exploration, and more importantly, the combat.
This is where The Surge has the edge over its competition, by making combat a more tactical affair than “you both swing until one of you falls down”. Whilst that is the general gist, you can target specific enemy limbs, allowing you to exploit unarmoured extremities for more damage. Conversely, you can aim for armoured limbs to increase your chance of farming that specific item or blueprint, or the necessary resources to craft/upgrade more armour. Whilst The Surge copies the currency system used in similar games (tech scrap in this case), and is required for levelling up, the game almost encourages you to think about what/where you’re swinging.
Yes, you could (and often will) grind the same area of enemies, that respawn when you rest in a portable, Bioshock-esque medical station. But whilst your health and stamina may rise incrementally, your defense isn’t. This isn’t like Bloodborne, with its wealth of stats and increasing attributes. There is quite literally health, stamina and an energy bar that affects battery consumption. The real wealth is in the amount of scrap metal you can attach to your avatar.
Think less Tetsuo: Body Hammer, and more like that terrible Whiplash from Iron Man 2, and you have an idea of how your player will look. Armour ranges from big and bulky, to sleek slices of the future envisioned by the sci fi writers of yesteryear. It’s not going to be aesthetically beautiful like the suits in Anthem (hey, remember that game?), but when you start collecting the same set of armour over time, it does look pretty swish to have a matching set. The added bonus is, well, a bonus. Having several or all parts to a set will granted you some nifty buffs, so it may be in your favour to focus on completing a set and seeing how you get on with it.
There’s a fair bit of variety in the weapons too, once you shake off the pair of defibrillators you’ve been bludgeoning people with at the start of the game. These falls under the “punching glove” variety, so as you could imagine, you can do fast but weaker attacks and combos. Or if you like your slow, heavy hitting builds, you’ve got your dual handed heavy weapons. These hit hard, but you have to pick your shots lest you waste stamina swinging and missing. For the in-between crowd, there’s your spears: these hit quicker, and spend less stamina, but take longer to wind up and can risk exposing your tenders if you’re ambushed.
There is even a nod to Bloodborne and its trick weapons, in the form of Double Duty weapons. These, like its From Software counterpart, can be used in two different ways, adding a dynamic change to any fight. Again, much like a From game, the trick is to experiment and see what you like. There’s all manner of sharp, blunt, debilitating and status-effect causing weapons to faff around with, in an effort to spice up the combat tenfold. Honestly, it’s The Surge 2’s strongest point, as whilst combat is difficult and keeps you on your mechanically enhanced toes, it is satisfying to eke that victory over someone. A nice little flourish is the limb-specific finishers, provided you have the battery power to do so. After whittling someone down, you’re often promoted to finish them off. These are gloriously violent little animations, all varied depended on what you’re holding and where you’re hitting.
My current weapon, for instance, is a pair of nanite-enhanced wristblade… things. So if I’m aiming at the head, my finishing move for there is a neat little cross-guillotine chop that lops the head off. Or if it’s a leg, I’m treated to one spinning backfist that knocks them in the air, before a straight vertical cut takes the appendage off. It’s a great little feature that really exacerbates the need to target different areas, as it may be one arm or leg that isn’t armoured, or you’re hunting for some new chest armour upgrades and that’s what you’re gunning for. Finishing moves aren’t compulsory, and you may want to save battery to use your healing implant, but it’s there if you want to show off.
By now, you’re probably wondering (as with most things in life, too), “What’s it all about?”. Why have we woken up here, why did our plane crash, who is this little girl I keep having flashbacks of like some sort of F.E.A.R knockoff?
Well, as mentioned earlier, it seems the world has gone a bit wrong after the Surge of the previous game. What started as a goodwill attempt by CREO to further the advances of man and restore the damaged atmosphere, shit got a bit messed up when a consciousness of nanites (wee tiny robots) gained sentience and took over prior to its launch. This causes everyone and everything connected to the CREO network to go a bit snooker loopy, which saw our protagonist, Warren, try and get to the heart of what went wrong. After defeating the consciousness, the Rogue Process, it seems the inevitable has happened and most of civilisation has succumbed to destruction. Nanomachine enhanced humans are acting either out of impulse or desire to survive, or are corrupted by the network they’re unwillingly controlled by. Not to mention the very same robotic forces that are out to silence anyone that isn’t part of the network, relentless killing machines that never hesitate in attacking.
This is where you, Mr/Mrs Potato-Faced Saviour, come in. There’s hint of there being something special about you, as with most hero origins, and the mysterious Athena. This little girl may (or may not) have been on the plane with you, which explains why you keep having flashbacks of her. I say may not, because through exploration, you see Athena is more than your average ten year old-ish girl. Y’know, what with being able to telekinetically throw guards around, that kind of thing. That’s the F.E.A.R analogy I made earlier, there’s something going on behind the scenes than just “people go robo-crazy”.
By this point, I might as well point out that I haven’t finished the game yet. I’m only human. It’s taken me four years to nearly platinum Bloodborne, gimme a break.
As is the nature of these games, most of the story unfolds through exploration. Audio logs are the futuristic exposition devices, that give you glimmers of what’s been going on/what’s happening. NPC’s also provide a bit of direction, whilst some refer to you as being a bit more than what you seem. Is there some link to you and the Akira child? Are you the heralded One, a la Neo, foretold to bring down the AI menace? Are you just a colony of nanomachines that doesn’t know how to mimic human faces properly…?
One of the biggest complaints, that I mentioned at the start, was the lack of variety of locales in the original. Whilst it is apparent that Deck13 don’t have as grandiose a budget as From Software do, they’ve really done well with what they’ve got.
The world map isn’t as large and sprawling as some, meaning you will become familiar with a lot of the streets and back alleys in your travels. But in deference to the first game, there are some new areas with a bit of a variety. To say “a sprawling woodland area” would be an exaggeration, but it’s a welcome change of scene after seeing all the broken streets and jagged metal structures. There’s even a mid-game event that drastically changes the main area, adding some new life to the halfway point of games where it normally becomes routine.
But that’s about it, it doesn’t have the sprawling vistas and open world feeling that its peers does. Yet, it doesn’t need to. The Surge goes for tight, visceral combat and tactical battles in smaller areas. Having insanely massive draws and unnecessary skyboxes would just detract from that. On the bright side (pun intended), it has done away with a lot of the stifling, dark corridors that marred the original. As I said, it wasn’t so much a challenge as it was an attrition to make any progress. Which is probably why I gave up on it.
This time round, though, I’m enjoying the world of The Surge 2. It may not be the prettiest, and a lot of the streets are still occasionally narrow enough to cause combat bottlenecks, but it shows that Deck13 are willing to go back to formula.
However, the problem with formula is the occasional unwanted by-product and discharge. This comes in the form of its weirdly obtuse, feels-included-for-the-sake-of-inclusion “multiplayer” elements. There’s no PvP in The Surge 2, so these elements seem odd and just in there to remind you that there’s no PvP. Why they couldn’t have just done a Sekiro and said, “Here’s a single player, there you go. Earn your own victories” is beyond me.
These odd choices come in the form of beacons and graffiti tags. The beacon system is a drone attachment that you can equip, which when used leaves a hologram of your player character. If these aren’t found in a certain amount of time, you’re awarded some scrap. If they are found, the player who found them is given a numerical prize. It’s essentially a really daft little game of techy hide and seek, that may have been added to bring some levity, but is ultimately pointless. You can’t see a hologram until you’re close to it, so you can’t even leave one as a marker to aid exploration.
The graffiti tag system is just as redundant. Again, in the vein of a Soulsborne, it’s a rudimentary system of messaging other players. Except instead of words, it’s symbols. Granted, there may be some merit in an arrow pointing left with an exclamation mark on it, potentially pointing out danger. But having to decipher what a pyramid, an eye and an arrow pointing to my floor means could be anyone’s guess. A trap, a box, a lethal descent, the Illuminati confirmed…? It all seems very obtuse for something so simple. Alright, I don’t expect checkpoint arrows and hand holding, but if you want to include a hint system, at least make it legible.
But overall, The Surge 2 is definitely a worthy sequel, or even a good starting point if you’ve missed the original. It doesn’t have the AAA polish of its peers, but it’s doing the best with what its got. Barring some occasional screen tear when rotating the camera, it’s a good looking game. You can tweak between framerate and graphical performance in the options, if you can feel a lacking difference in either.
Whilst it misses the mark with its tacked on elements, it’s a decent contender in the hardcore action/adventure genre that From Software has refined and blazed trails with. Its story may be following the beats of many sci-fi films and games like The Matrix, Akira, F.E.A.R and many more of the obvious ones, it’s at least self aware enough to take those inspirations and not squander them.
World exploration may be minimal, but the satisfyingly tactical combat system and customisation makes up for that. The Surge is a “sum of its parts” game, in that the weapon and armour varieties make up the gaps in the massive expanses we’ve come to expect with these games.
The reward is in finding and sculpting new kit to enhance your potato, to try and encourage different playstyles and range of combat options. Whilst not touting the “you will die a lot” cliche, be prepared to as you will find what suits you best.
It has a few misses with the checkpoint/med bay system, sometimes restarting you at a door you left instead of a conveniently placed respawn unit, which can be a pain if your dropped tech shards are further away than anticipated.
But you know what? These are all just minor points in an otherwise decent game. If you were to sit and nitpick each minor part, The Surge 2 wouldn’t hold up to the scrutiny. Yet if you play it as a whole, it’s a brutally beautiful romp in the mold of what we’ve come to expect from this type of game.
The Surge 2 is available now on PS4 (reviewed on PS4 Pro), Xbox One and PC.
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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