The Surge PC Review

Lords of the Fallen was the first big attempt by a studio to take a stab at the Dark Souls gameplay. It came out at a time where only the Souls series was doing what that series has being gaining popularity for – bringing a distinct class of action RPG that focuses on methodical challenging and rewarding combat, fascinating exploration and an eerie sense of isolation in the worlds birthed by Hidetaka Miyazaki. Lords of the Fallen did a decent job, but it had some issues. The game could not uphold the standards set by titles that inspired it, but it was a solid attempt by German studio, Deck 13, who cloned the formula of Dark Souls, even down to the fantasy setting.  I mentioned in my review of Lords of the Fallen that there is potential here that could grow if the studio became more ambitious, and lo and behold, Deck 13 have return to the formula with a better attempt, doing what I thought they should have done with their follow up, The Surge.

The most noticeable change is the switch to a sci-fi setting, one that takes place in a future where the world’s resources have drained and the planet is ravaged by war, climate change and the issues it causes for society. Up steps mega corporation CREO with its Project Resolve, a plan to help fix some of the issues on the planet by launching probes into space and bursting a chemical mixture into the air to balance the Earth’s atmosphere. To support the project, CREO is constantly looking for new blood to join its work force. This is where the main character, Warren, comes in, who wants to apply for the company that will hopefully begin the steps to repairing the world.

Warren also has another agenda, which is revealed in the beginning when he arrives on a train to the CREO location. Warren is paralysed from the waist down, and his dreams of walking again are answered by the exo-suit applied by CREO. There is a scene where they show how the suit is applied, and man, that is some brutality to the poor chap’s body before he passes out. His wishes are answered, as he is finally able to walk again.

The Surge removes classes from the game and incorporates the starting role into the story through the job type Warren is applying for. There are only two, light or heavy, and this sets what armour and weapons Warren begins with. It should be noted that there are no limitations to a role. Players can freely replace armour and weapons without worrying that their beginning choice will bound their gear selection – it’s purely a story based way to pick your starting gear.

Things go to shit when Warren wakes up after his exo-suit is fitted. He is somewhere outside without an explanation, surrounded by what looks like the aftermath of an explosion. Another person in an exo-suit furiously attacks Warren for no reason, and it’s here players are left to start the adventure into the depths of CREO and their huge facility. The game no longer cares about Warren’s story, as its focus shifts to the dangerous situation on CREO’s site and their corporate greed. As far as the story goes, this is familiar evil cooperation sci-fi tropes, a tale delivered straightforwardly to easily understand it. There are characters and voice logs dumped around the place to fill in backstory, but it never builds an interesting tale to care for the world where The Surge is set.

I can say the same for the actual setting. A big difference from the Souls games is that The Surge‘s world isn’t fully connected. An on-site tram is used to move the player between areas, giving off the vibe that this world is much smaller than other titles in this subgenre. Each area begins with a operation room, and shortcuts are often found in the zone that lead back to the start of the area to be able to make use of the operation room’s safety to perform upgrades. The use of zones makes it easy to keep track on how to return back to those areas, but they don’t do enough to differentiate the themes between each other.

The prospect of a sci-fi themed game that is inspired by the Souls formula has so much potential, but the CREO base is too focused on being an industrial facility made up for corridors after walkways after boxed rooms – a labyrinth of thin passages connecting rooms, construction zones and warehouses. The potential of the setting is wasted. There’s the occasional spark, mostly when being outside for the brief moments, such as a visit to the greenhouses, but most of the indoors are made up of similar room designs that loose their identity, blending the CREO facility into one big, repetitive and unremarkable location to explore.

Thankfully, it’s what you are doing in those areas that is the best thing about The Surge. Its combat takes a step up from Lords of the Fallen, building a well designed system based on targeting body parts. Enemy parts are highlighted either blue (no armour) or orange (armour). Targeting the weaker part would make sense, but if you want to acquire the gear the enemy is using, then players need to make use of the game’s dismemberment mechanic that allows for the targeted body part to have chance to break off, turning it into blueprints to craft the item. This can be easily done by using the right stick to lock onto to specific areas of the enemy,  beating it until death or executing the finishing move to gain a higher drop rate (and a painfully looking death for your attacker). This concept makes it easy to acquire missing parts of an armour set to reap their bonuses. Of course, if you have got what you want or just aren’t interested, then aiming for their weaker part is the preferred way to fight. This loot drop limb execution offers a sort of risk/reward idea to lure in people who want to steal new exciting gear from fresh foes.

Combat is tough, as enemies can easily send Warren to the grave with a few hits. It’s always advised to go steady when entering a new area, scoping out the enemy position for the next visit, because there is no doubt you will die, no matter how good you are. Death has become an essential experience with the From Software games, and it’s no different for this game. The developers of The Surge like to put the AI in sneaky places, such as one visit to a new area where an enemy hid behind a box of creates, who screams and comes smashing through them with a pair of short, twin-rigged blades to gave me one of my earlier deaths.

Even with a sci-fi theme don’t expect to be eradicating the frenzied population with laser guns, there is a still an emphasis on melee combat with weapons falling into one of five categories – one handed, heavy, staves, and single or twin rigged weapons (rigged weapons attach to the exo-suit). Over the course of the game, expect to discover weapons like flaming staves, huge metal blades, electric rods, huge hammers, and other very metallic blunt objects that seem perfect for smacking enemies in the face.

Positioning is key for fights – with a lock-on, the game makes it surprisingly easy to cycle round opponents. The exo-suit allows for some increased manoeuvrability, speeding up the combat a tad more than what people might be accustom to with Dark Souls. The speed helps when it comes to dodging attacks, being able to tiptoe between melee range to lure an enemy to swing. Blocking is also an option, and while that’s good for multiple enemies, I found the power of the dodge, the fact that it moves Warren in a speedily manner to the side with plenty of space, made it the optimal way to evade attacks and retaliate with my own combo. Weapons have an horizontal or vertical attack (important for those limb cuts), and can be chained together for short combo strings. A few hits is often enough to take the enemy down (and the same for yourself), but each swing reduces stamina, a metre that drains when running, swinging or dodging. Stamina replenishes itself fast, so it’s only three or so seconds before it’s fully recharged.

A third metre, energy, charges up as you successfully land a hit, and can be used in multiple ways during combat in relation to the exo-suit’s implanted chips. These chips are installed at the operation rooms (think of these as save rooms, similar to the bonfires in Dark Souls), and allow modifications to fit the desired situation of the player. One chip is the finishing move I mentioned earlier, using a chuck of energy to perform an instant kill once the foe’s health bar is low enough. A surprising introduction to combat in The Surge was the use of drones, something that feels it belongs in the sci-fi setting, penetrating all this melee focused combat. Various drones can be found throughout the game, and are equipped to a button to be summoned on command. An early drone fires off two laser shots, but unless you meet the required energy limit these shots do 1 damage instead of their standard rating. I found drones made great use to act as ways to lure enemies that are too far away to attack with conventional means. Turrets are the worst offenders, where it’s near impossible to get close to the user without being shot, so using the drone to attack, even if it’s one damage, gets them to remove themselves from the gun to come chase you.

It’s a shame that this cool combat system isn’t supported more with the enemies – there simply isn’t enough variety. Not only will you tire of the environment, but I found myself fighting the same dudes in exo-suits to eventually become monotonous. There comes a point where normal equipped humans come into the fray, refreshing the combat a bit, but soon, it’s the same problem again with repetition that drags the battles down after hours spent fighting similar opposition. Bosses bring a big change to fights, but with only five in the game (unless there are some secret bosses I’ve missed?) there isn’t enough to break up the lack of enemy variety.

Defeating enemies or breaking down items gains scrap (souls), which has many uses in The Surge. Skill points are nonexistent in this game, Levels are gained solely by using the scrap to upgrade the main energy core of the exo-suit for more health, additional core power and to unlock additional slots to implant more chips. In replacement of skill increases are implants, similar to the ones that offer energy based features, but are able to do much more, such as to improve healing, gain more healing items, increase health, improve damage with specific weapons or be immune to poison. There are a lot of helpful implants that can be changed at any operation safety room, making them a neat way to re-spec Warren without any catches. Implants, weapon and armour all share the same core power, meaning a balance is needed. You cannot go straight for high rated gear because it might leave you with no room for implants, or not enough to equip ever part of the gear to receive the gear set bonus, until your core level is higher for extra core power.

One feature in The Surge I loved over the Souls games is the ability to bank scrap at the save operation rooms. This removes the need to either spend or keep them on-hand until enough is salvaged for the sought after upgrade without having the dreaded event of being killed and losing them when trying to reclaim them. The whole death and claim mechanic is in The Surge, but it comes with a time limit – don’t get back to where you die before the timer hits zero? Then your scrap is gone. It’s a brutal implementation in the early game when you don’t know the layout of the environment, but soon time becomes a none issue once you’ve retreaded a few times.

Optimisation seems to be good, supporting many PC advantages, such as unlocked frame rate, 21:9 resolutions, and even a resolution scaler. I made my way through the game running on a Nvidia GTX 1080 at 2560×1440, which people can expect have a smooth experience on all settings maxed. I tried moving up to 4K, but unless you drop the resolution scaler down to 70%, don’t expect to hit 60fps consistently unless you drop down quality settings. A final note on performance is that there isn’t any support for SLI, which would have helped for a solid 60fps performance at 4K.

Deck 13 took what they learnt from working on Lords of the Fallen and added their own ideas to allow The Surge to be more than a pure Dark Souls clone. The combat is fantastic, engaging, and features a neat limb target system, and the skill progression is refreshingly open to experimentation, but the overall experience is sadly hampered by the lack of enemy variety and a monotonous sci-fi location, which has so much potential wasted with the current industrial environment. Even with those faults, The Surge is a better game than Lords of the Fallen, and one that I can recommend to fans of the popularised action RPG subgenre, because there is a good, fun experience to be had with The Surge, and some of its unique ideas bring solid additions to From Software’s concrete formula.

7 out of 10