Ever wondered what a Sci-Fi Souls-style game would look like? Well this is it… kinda.
Platform: [PC], Xbox One, Playstation 4
Developer: Deck13 Interactive
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release Date: May 16, 2017
The Surge is Deck13’s second attempt at a Souls-style game and the combat feels extremely similar to FromSoftware’s Dark Souls and Bloodborne. Much like Dark Souls, the movement is heavy and the combat has varying speeds based on the type of weapons you’re using. But much like Bloodborne, the dodge mechanic is more of a side step than a dodge roll. If you’ve played any of the Souls games, the combat is virtually the same. However, there are some changes.
One of the changes in The Surge is that you’re strength with a particular type of weapon isn’t leveled up with tech scraps (souls), it’s leveled up by using those weapons. There are five weapon types; one-handed, staves, heavy-duty, single-rigged and twin-rigged. I used single-rigged weapons throughout the game so my single-rigged weapon proficiency was leveled up fairly high but I wasn’t really crazy about this system. If I wanted to switch to twin-rigged weapons or staves, my weapon proficiency for those weapon types was zero and I couldn’t effectively use them unless I went to grind up that particular weapon proficiency a bit. While I liked the single-rigged weapons, it didn’t feel like I really had room to freely changes things up if I wanted to.
Armor is also treated differently than in other Souls-style games. In Dark Souls, armor really doesn’t matter and it results in players playing “Fashion Souls” more than anything else. In The Surge, armor does matter. When you’re wearing a complete set of armor, you receive a special boost that varies based on the complete armor set you were running. The set I used, Lynx armor, gave me faster attack speed; which worked great in combination with my slower single-rigged weapons. Again, my variety felt stripped here. I want to mix and match my armors so that my character looks cool, I don’t want to feel like I have to use a specific armor set that doesn’t look that great just because it covers the weaknesses of the weapon type that I already feel like I’m forced to use throughout the game.
The Surge also has an implants feature where you can plug different kinds of abilities into your armor. Things like increased health or stamina can be added through these implants. I feel like armor set bonuses could have been incorporated into the implant system to allow players to customize their armor. It’s a small thing, but I want to make my character look cool and unique. I don’t want my character to look like everybody else’s character or just default to a “best” weapon/armor combo (more on this later).
One of the combat changes in The Surge is the attack style. In FromSoftware’s titles, you have a weaker but faster light attack and a stronger but slower strong attack that cost different amounts of stamina to use. In The Surge, these are replaced with horizontal and vertical strikes that cost the same amount of stamina. The Surge’s combat encourages you to formulate combos, mixing in sliding attacks and different types of strikes, to defeat enemies. It’s a fairly easy and fluid system to adapt to that does enough to differentiate itself from Dark Souls and keep the combat interesting.
The standard practice in Souls-style games is to have a health bar and a stamina bar. In The Surge, you also have an energy bar. The energy bar builds up as you fight and allows you to use different actionable implants that you set within your armor. For example, one implant allows you to convert your energy into health so once you reach the required energy amount, you can heal yourself without using one of your limited healing injections. The energy bar drains when you’re not actively fighting enemies so it’s basically like an adrenaline system.
The energy bar is also used for a drone that acts as a bit of a sidekick for you. The drone’s base function is to reach objectives that are out of reach in order to open doors but it also has combat abilities. The drone can ram enemies to knock them down, shoot enemies at range or it can shield you to reduce damage. Each of these functions uses energy and has different benefits. The shield helps out against stronger enemies at the end of the game, the ranged attack helps pull individual enemies so that you don’t get swamped and the ram attack helps control faster enemies so that you can control the engagement. Incorporating your drone into combat is a neat little addition to the combat system and it was nice tool to have on hand.
The most significant change to The Surge’s combat, however, is that you can target individual body parts. In Dark Souls and Bloodborne, you simply target an enemy and mash them down. In The Surge, you can individually target each body part of an enemy, which can be armored or unarmored. When you do enough damage to a particular body part and have built up enough energy, you can then execute your enemy and dismember that body part. If the body part is armored, you can then loot that piece of armor off the enemy. If the body part is unarmored, you won’t gather any loot but you’ll kill the enemy significantly faster. It becomes a matter of weighing the risk/reward of killing enemies based on what your current situation or objective is. I really liked this system and I think it made the game interesting enough to keep playing because…
Bosses are not treated the same in The Surge as they are in Dark Souls. In Dark Souls, the bosses are really the goal. While fighting your way through areas is fun and interesting, the real game is about fighting incredibly challenging bosses and overcoming them. The adrenaline rush that you feel when you take down a damn tough boss is something that you just don’t feel in other games and it’s what makes Souls-style games shine. The bosses are really the strength of the genre and it’s what you’re playing the games for. In The Surge, the bosses aren’t a focal point.
There are only five bosses in The Surge and they’re not particularly difficult. Each one offers an interesting mechanic and the final boss is reasonably challenging, but they’re nothing compared to the hardest bosses in Dark Souls and Bloodborne. The focus in The Surge is more on the regular enemies and the different areas you explore as you play your way through the game. It’s basically Dark Souls without the bosses. To counteract this, each boss contains a small challenge that can make the fight a little more difficult and result in receiving a better reward for winning the fight. The Surge does a decent enough job in this area, but it really disappointed me that bosses take a back seat here.
One of the things that FromSoftware titles have become known for is that their stories aren’t particularly clear. In Dark Souls and Bloodborne, there are bits of the story spread out all over the place and the only way to really understand what’s going in is to search the far corners of the game and try to plug in the holes that are unexplained. The Surge starts off fairly similarly. Warren, the main character, is handicapped and is plugged into an exo-suit that allows him to walk. You then wake up in a scrapyard and everything has completely gone to hell. You don’t have any idea what’s going on and there’s really nothing to indicate what happened.
However, The Surge is a bit clearer than FromSoftware’s titles in discovering the story. As you play through the game, you slowly start to gain an understanding for what happened at the facility and what is going on. The story is mysterious and cryptic but not impossible to decipher, which I liked. There were a handful of characters that offered you side quests, and one in particular that serves as your guide throughout the game, but none of them really resonated with me (not that they usually do in these kinds of games).
There’s no question that this game feels like it’s supposed to feel. This is a game about an industrial facility that went wrong and there’s no mistaking that. The atmosphere is terrific; between things like flickering lights, obstructed pathways and destroyed equipment, it always felt like I was making my way through a ruined industrial facility. Whenever I got a chance to leave the facility, the sunlight and blue skies felt refreshing.
The story was immersive, no two ways about it. As I’ve mentioned, you pretty much get thrown right in and don’t have a clue what’s going on. I could definitely relate to my character discovering what actually happened as the story unfolded throughout the game but that’s probably the only thing good I can say about the main character.
The lack of customization in The Surge is an absolute killer. I’ve already touched on some of these things with armor and weapons but there’s more. When I play a game like this that’s not stressing a particular character’s story, I want to customize my character and I want them to feel unique. In The Surge, your character is just the standard middle-aged white guy who might as well just be the default Sole Survivor in Fallout 4. There’s absolutely nothing special or significant about Warren that makes me feel any attachment to him. It sucks and it impacts my feelings toward the game. There’s really no reason for the game to shoe horn you into just a standard role like this.
On the whole, The Surge is not as difficult as Dark Souls or Bloodborne. I would say that, as you progress through the game, combat with regular enemies is roughly the same. There are some fairly easy enemies to fight and there are others that can be pretty challenging. The bosses just aren’t nearly difficult enough to keep the gap between these games close enough. It’s still a tough, punishing game; but not nearly as much as it could be.
Graphics & Visual Design
Visually, the game looks great. The Surge nails the steampunky/sci-fi/industrial feeling that it wants and the lighting is excellent. But the lack of variety really sucks. You’re either in a rundown factory, a busted up lab, a dark pipeline/tunnel or just outside the facility; it’s all the same location and nothing really differentiates itself aside from one greenhouse area. The game nails the look it was obviously targeting but it got stale by the end. Most every room looks and feels the exact same. Eventually, I got more annoyed at the environment than I liked it.
The entire game takes place in a small handful of areas and it’s not like these are gigantic, wide open spaces. Each area is tightly wound together and incredibly dense. One of the big changes from other Souls-style games is that there aren’t bonfires all over the place; there is one medical clinic in each area that serves as the game’s bonfire system. These clinics are somewhat centrally located and all of the different pathways branch off from there. You’ll be running around opening shortcuts and side rooms all over the place but it feels like every time you turn a corner you’re in the same hallway. There were a few times that I got lost running in circles trying to find the right way to go and it was frustrating. Combine confusing hallways with a lack of fast travel and it made backtracking to previously inaccessible areas not worth the effort. I really feel like The Surge would have been a better off if they let these different areas breathe a little bit. Expanding and mixing up the environments a little bit would have really helped freshen this game up.
The sound in The Surge is just as good as the environmental design. The game sounds like what you would expect a ruined industrial plant to sound like. Lots of sparking lights, rusty metal and mechanical sounds help round out the game’s atmosphere. An excellent touch was that areas that were dark like pipes deep down in the facility were very quiet and it was ominous. I don’t remember any particular pieces of music that stood out but the sound design overall was pretty good.
The controls for The Surge are great. It’s supposed to feel like a Dark Souls game and it absolutely hits the mark. The controls are smooth and I had no issues with them. The way new elements were added to the combat system, like targeting specific body parts, was very fluid and the combo system flowed beautifully. My only complaint with the controls is that there is an auto targeting system that locks onto enemies you’re fighting as soon as you enter combat and it’s a setting that’s on by default, with no indication that it exists. This resulted in some problems for me, particularly in boss fights, until I realized it was a setting that I could alter. Outside of that, the controls for The Surge are great.
Overall, the game ran perfectly fine. I maintained a solid 60 fps on the highest settings and had no issues. However, I did suffer one crash that seemed to be a random occurrence and not the result of a particular action. The Surge feels fairly smooth and polished so no complaints here.
I’m not really sure that The Surge has much replayability. If you just enjoy these kinds of games then you can go nuts. But again, the draw to NG+ in these kinds of games is the harder boss fights and that’s really not a factor here. The Surge was a nice game and it might be fun to play through again at some point in the future, but I’m hardly itching to play through it again right now.
The Surge feels like Dark Souls on a much smaller scale. The game’s not quite as big as its Souls-style counterparts but it nails the feel of the Souls-type game that it was trying to be. Overall, The Surge does what I think it was trying to do fairly well. I just wish they would have placed more of an emphasis on different areas than they did. I can’t get over how disappointing the boss fights were in this game and it really hurt my experience of playing the game.
The Surge is a good game that’s well made. If you’re a fan of Souls-style games and you play a fair bit of games throughout the year then I would absolutely recommend that you play it. It’s not better than Dark Souls or Bloodborne, but it’s different enough that it should be able to hold your attention and provide some solid entertainment for a bit. I don’t think it’s one of those “must have” titles unless you’re a gigantic Souls fan and you’re craving for every bit of it that you can find. My suggestion here would be to hold off for a bit and buy it in a sale. It’s nice that The Surge is a bit cheaper than the standard price of new games but I think around $30 is probably a fair price range for what is a solid game.