The Surge is the latest game from developer Deck 13 Interactive whose previous game attempted the Souls-Like formula with Lords of the Fallen. This time, they traded in fantasy for sci-fi with a great step forward in design, but not without some major stumbling along the way.
You play as Warren, who is heading to his first day on the job at Creo — A high tech corporation of the future aiming to save the world. Everyone at the company gets fitted with high tech rigs that augment their strength, and in Warren’s case, allow him to walk again.
After the surgery is done, he finds the factory in ruins and he’s being hunted by drones and the workers who seemed to be controlled by their implants.
The basic foundation of The Surge is definitely souls-like. Killing enemies drop tech scraps which are the game’s currency. Die, and your scraps drop to the ground awaiting you to come back and get them. One twist is that there is a time limit to pick up your scrap before they are gone for good.
The level design is all built around large locations with multiple shortcuts, alternate paths and enemies to find. What’s interesting about the game is how leveling is tied to progression. Tech scraps can be used to upgrade your power core. In return, this lets you equip more and stronger gear, and is used to overcharge circuits. By overcharging, you’ll return power to the respective sector which can unlock new paths and challenges.
Besides your core, the real upgrading comes from acquiring new gear and weapons, and where the Surge goes in its own direction.
Instead of buying gear or finding it like in Dark Souls, The Surge feels more at home with Monster Hunter. Weapons and armor can be found off of all the enemies you fight. When you meet an enemy, different parts of their body will be armored.
You are able to lock on to different parts of the enemy, and the armor locations are randomly assigned when enemies are respawned. Hitting an unarmored spot will do more damage, while striking armored pieces will take less.
The reason why you want to hit the armor is that it gives you the chance of getting that piece when you finish off the enemy. Finishing enemies require energy that is generated when you attack. The more you strike the respective armored part, the greater the chance you’ll get the piece.
Getting armor will allow you to craft them and duplicates will be broken down into resources. Armor comes in a set, with a unique set bonus for wearing it all.
The game features multiple weapon types and basic combos built around horizontal and vertical attacks. Weapons belong to different classes with their own move-set, and there are proficiency bonuses for using the same weapon type.
Keep killing enemies without recharging back at the safe room and you’ll gain a scrap multiplier. Besides your gear, you can also add implants that provide passive buffs or skills tied to energy use.
Being able to customize yourself with the tools of your enemy is a great touch, but The Surge’s combat is both the best and worst parts of the game.
For fans of recent action-based games like Nioh or Dark Souls 3, The Surge’s combat leaves a lot to be desired. The biggest twist in terms of gameplay is how The Surge has a greater focus on regular enemy fights instead of bosses.
Normal enemies are fast, can attack with combos, and past the first area do massive damage. This wouldn’t be so bad, except for the pacing when it comes to fighting. Enemies are able to attack you through your combos in a lot of cases. The damage output between the first and second areas is massive; with one normal enemy type able to kill you in three hits.
There’s nothing more frustrating in a game like this then to get the drop on an enemy, to only have them immediately counter you in mid strike and kill you. Every enemy has an attack designed to attack you on recovery, but the animations are too similar.
When an enemy is staggered, the next hit will immediately chain their attack regardless of their position. This is compounded by the poor lighting in indoor sections. The darken areas makes it very hard to see the enemy, and more importantly, see their tells. When Bloodborne, a game that has entire sections at night is easier to see, you know there’s a problem.
Adding difficulty is the fact that most enemies have a running dash attack that tracks you. I found myself having to play the game very mechanical compared to something like Bloodborne or Nioh. This would be acceptable if the game’s progression model could carry things, but the loot system does have its limitations.
The base elements of the loot system are great in the Surge, but it’s missing that little something to make it truly addictive. You’ll quickly find that the number of possible equipment options does not match the size of the environments. Given the amount of restarting and grinding you’ll do, I wish that there was more diversity or personality to the gear.
This could be either in the form of having randomized modifiers, or being able to add bonuses when crafting or upgrading. The foundation is there to have rare parts or elite enemies to mix things up.
Another point that needs to be mentioned is the lack of proper in-game documentation. The game goes for a streamlined approach, but the UI could do a better job of managing resources and explaining the stats.
I kept feeling like I was always behind compared to the enemies in the level, instead of growing more powerful over time.
The Surge is an okay action game, but not a good souls-like. What it does differently from other souls-likes works incredibly well. However, the combat system feels like someone copied From Software’s formula without understanding the finer details.
In trying to make The Surge standout from Dark Souls, Deck 13 stumbled into a trap of frustration that From Software has managed to avoid. Making the regular enemies incredibly difficult just makes the game more of a slog, and corpse runs more punishing. In turn, it makes it harder to actually progress and grow more powerful.
When I thought about it more, The Surge has the same problems that I ran into with Let it Die. Instead of making the game challenging, it was difficult for the sake of being difficult. When you have challenging games like the Souls-Likes, you have to give the player some kind of edge, or all you’re doing is creating a masochistic experience.
You can watch my attempt at The Surge over on YouTube.