The Surge is Deck13’s latest attempt to ape the Dark Souls formula that many have tried, and failed, to replicate the huge success of. Deck13’s previous attempt with Lords of the Fallen was probably one of the worst copycats to release at the time but The Surge shows that they’re able to learn from their mistakes and craft an engaging action game.
Platform: PC, PS4, and Xbox One
MonsterVine was supplied with a PC code for review
The Surge introduces you to your character Warren who has joined the company CREO to become part of their exosuit program which will allow him to walk again, in exchange for becoming an employee at the company. As you can expect, things go bad pretty quickly, with your exosuit surgery getting botched and all the workers turning into mindless drones dead-set on ending you. The story is a bit more straightforward than other games in the Souls-like genre, with actual NPC’s giving you goals to work towards and audiologs to find, but there’s still a good chunk of it that’s left ambiguous. Something I wish the game did better though was toss you into a more realized world. Deck13 definitely nails that sci-fi heavy industrial look they were going for, but it’s such a bland style and you never really feel eager to see the next environment as you move from one factory zone to the next. The game world being split up into separate levels that you have to travel through via a train system is also a bit of a bummer since you come to expect a seamless open-world in this genre.
The combat in The Surge is more Bloodborne than Dark Souls which will either get people excited or make them run off. Enemies hit fast and hard, always keeping you on your toes throughout even the most minor of fights. You’ve got a host of weapons to play with, from pipes and staffs to massive hammers that all dish out their own brand of destruction. There are a half dozen weapon types so you’re bound to find something fun to play with, and there are even variations of weapons within each type. You’ll also have your trusty drone with you as you move through the dark CREO factories. You’ll start out with a simple blaster drone but can find components to unlock abilities for it like a flamethrower or shield. Successful attacks during combat will also build up an energy meter that you can then use to perform finishers or activate your drone’s abilities.
The Surge’s highlight feature is its limb focused combat. The game advertises being able to target enemy limbs to hack off and claim the armor the enemy is wearing for yourself. It’s surprisingly simple to perform as you lock onto an enemy and simply scroll to the limb you want to focus your attacks on. Limbs are even color coded blue or yellow; blue for unarmored and yellow for armored. Hacking off an armored limb will reward you with helpful materials, but unarmored limbs will deal considerably more damage to the enemy if targeted. This places you in a position where you have to decide what type of limb you want to specifically target or if you just want to get the fight over with and take the enemy out quickly. Focusing your attacks on a specific limb will cause damage to that piece of armor, which will then allow you to perform a spectacularly violent finisher move on the enemy.
I will admit though, that the game’s advertising is mildly misleading when it discusses this mechanic. It implies that you’ll immediately acquire that piece of armor upon cutting a limb off when in reality you’ll acquire the schematic for it after the first time and every following attempt will reward you with crafting materials to then go make the armor. So if an enemy has a cool helmet you want, cutting it off will only give you the option to craft it; it’s now your job to go out and cut off more helmets to acquire the necessary amount of helmet parts to then craft it. Not only that, but there are four different material tiers for each piece of armor so if you want to craft a Mk.2 version of your Scarab arm piece, you’ll need to go to a previous part of the game to farm those enemy types
The way the crafting system works is that you can either create an item at its first tier, requiring Mk.1 materials, or you can craft it at any of its higher tiers using Mk.2, Mk.3, or Mk.4 materials at a substantially increased scrap cost. The issue with this system is that it’s vastly cheaper to create a piece of armor at the Mk.1 tier and simply upgrade it. This of course requires you to acquire materials from enemies of each of the four tier levels. So in this way, the game is inadvertently encouraging you to revisit previous areas to farm for armor parts. This can be particularly difficult if you’ve upgraded your weapons since you’ll then be too powerful and kill an enemy before you get a chance to perform a finisher on them.
Of course, you could just suck it up and spend the absurdly higher scrap cost to craft an item at a higher tier, but it always feels like you’re getting ripped off. I like the system this game has, I just wish they’d change this one annoying part of it. Getting rid of the tier types for materials and removing the ability to craft an armor set at a higher tier would fix this annoyance altogether.
Besides the limb based cutting, there’s also a really neat dodge mechanic that helps add some visual variety to fights. If an enemy swings their weapon towards your head you can actually duck below the attack by tapping the dodge button and flicking the mouse wheel down. Doing the opposite will allow you to perform a jump for any attacks targeting your legs. As cool as it is pulling these maneuvers off, the game isn’t exactly very clear on what kind of attacks require which of the three dodge types. A simple block won’t block all attack types which means they require either a duck or jump to avoid but even then it’s still not always clear which of the two you need. Considering how fast paced the combat is in this game and the number of attacks an enemy has, it can get particularly frustrating to perform a jump on an attack that definitely looks like you should be jumping over only to get hit anyway.
When you’re not looking for new armor to hack off and make your own, you can also insert new implants into Warren, granting him additional passive abilities. You’ll find typical things like health boosts or injectables that increase your damage output, but the fun part is deciding which implants to take depending on the scenario you’re in. You might want to roll with a balance of health and stamina boosting implants, or maybe you want to build up your energy quickly in a fight so that you can pull off finishers sooner. Equipping implants requires core energy, as does equipping armor and you can spend scrap metal to increase your total core power. Your core power is basically the equivalent of your level, and determines how many core energy points you have to equip items with and can also be used to override the locks on doors to secret areas.
Being a Souls-like game, The Surge also features a currency that is dropped upon your death and requires you to reacquire it without dying. The twist here is that you only have two minutes to get to it or else risk losing it forever, death or no death. I’m not a big fan of this feature since it encourages you to bum rush it to wherever you last died, which in this style of game isn’t always a smart thing to be doing. It seems like an addition that was made for the sake of adding an extra layer of difficulty for the sake of it. One change to the formula I did enjoy however is the inclusion of a multiplier to your scrap; each enemy you defeat adds to this multiplier and it’s reset either upon death or revisiting your base of operations. This is something I could definitely get behind since it really encourages you to risk staying out as long as possible to reap the benefits of a high multiplier.
I will say, as of this review some of my issues with the game have actually been fixed in a recent patch, such as the armor set that’s meant to give you protection in poisonous environments now actually giving you that protection and various other technical glitches I had encountered. It’s nice to see that Deck13 was quick to jump on the various technical issues and balance fixes the game needed.
The Final Word
The Surge might have some quirks that stop it from being something truly great, but it’s nice to see a developer who’s clearly improving with their games which makes me eager to see whatever they do next.
– MonsterVine Review Score: 4 out of 5 – Good