I can almost guarantee that “Soulslike” is a term which is likely going to soon be used to describe this new era of “hardcore RPGs” which punish the player for the most smallest mistake. The Surge is the latest “Soulslike” game from the developers of another “hardcore RPG”, Lords of the Fallen. But can it shake the Dark Souls comparison, or is it the same-old Dark with different Souls?
Okay, so lets get this part out of the way, I personally don’t really get on well with Dark Souls or any of the Souls games for that matter. I’m not really a fan of choosing the right moment in amongst a dark world filled with undead skelebobs and corpses. I’m an impatient gamer where I want to hack and slash my way through life leaving an array of bodies in my wake.
So you’re probably wondering why I even bothered taking the task of reviewing The Surge? Why not hand it to someone who actually knows what they’re doing without the need to “Git Gud”. Well, my answer to you, my hypothetical judgemental friend is that I’m selfish. Let’s be honest who wouldn’t jump at the chance of playing The Surge early? Selfishness aside, I also wanted to see how accessible a new type of Soulslike is to those not too familiar with Dark Souls.
Now, imagine the world as it is today but much more greener. Global Warming no longer exists, pollution is at a minimum, and the Ozone layer is fully in tact. That’s the aim of CREO, the megacorporation in The Surge which promises a new life for generations to come by sending rockets into space to repair the damage of our forefathers. However something has gone horribly, horribly wrong.
In The Surge you take the role of Warren ahead of all of this, who at the beginning of the game looks like he’s done with life, his slumped demeanour and general downtrodden posture shows someone who’s finally ready to give up with life and is opting to take his final days doing good by joining CREO. However things just don’t go as planned and after a fairly shocking introduction you awaken in a wasteland of twisted metal being pulled apart by robots.
From here you need to quickly learn the ropes in order to get by. Fortunately you’re introduced to a quick 101 of Soulslike games, however if you’re familiar with Dark Souls you’ll immediately know the control system. Clicking the thumbstick down locks onto a target, and the right bumper and trigger is used for attacks, oh and you dodge with “A”. There’s also the ability to block using the left bumper, but who blocks in these games anyway?
After you smash your way through a couple of drones keen to pull you apart piece by piece, you make your way to the first Med bay. This is where you’ll be spending most of your time, so get familiar with the layout. This is where the game sort of differs itself from the Dark Souls style. This hub is where you’ll perform upgrades as well as craft parts.
One thing I have to applaud Deck 13 for is its tutorial, while some tutorials in games such as this pile so much on you it’s difficult to keep up, The Surge actually has a very simple “learn as you play” system. The tutorial portion really only lasts for a few minutes until you’re fully left to your own devices, but the way it introduces you to the game’s mechanics as well as its robust looting system is fantastic and really helps someone like me, who’s pretty apprehensive about these sorts of games, feel welcomed and not like a fish out of water.
As for the looting system, this is probably the most enjoyable looting system of any RPG I’ve ever played. In The Surge you’re actually required to target and rip off a particular body part you require in order to gain the parts to craft the bit you need, however getting to this point does require skill as each hit charges up energy. Enemies also have a weak point, some have one, others have a few, and in some rare cases they won’t have one at all and targeting this weak spot hits harder and depletes the enemy’s health which enables the ability to pull apart your enemy provided you have enough energy.
It’s finding this balance between hitting hard but not too hard so that you gain enough energy and that your enemy is weak enough, to then target the body part you need the parts for in order to execute the attack to slice or tear off the part you need. All of this is done in a spectacular gory fashion that’d even make Jason Vorhees blush. I actually found myself comparing The Surge to Pokémon in some respects being able to deal enough damage, but not too much, in order to “capture” the parts I needed.
Initially I found the game to be pretty difficult, much like any Soulslike game. You really need to bide your time, watch for cues, and dodge accordingly. It was definitely a style of play I wasn’t necessarily used to but one I found myself picking up after a good couple of hours of dying repeatedly. Much like Souls games there’s also no real direction to The Surge, you just explore your surroundings fending off waves of exo-rig wearing zombies, recycle drones, and various other things keen to pull you apart.
This is actually one of the many joys of these types of games, exploring every nook and cranny finding new shortcuts, RIG modules, and much more. Many times I’d walk down a corridor I’d walked down a million times before only to see a hidden pathway behind some boxes.
Wandering around aimlessly can also pose a bit of a problem, too. I realised this once I’d managed to overpower a circuit and activate the security system which in turn activated the game’s first boss which was incredibly overpowering compared to the RIG I had equipped. It also took me a good couple of hours to really get to grips with the looting system, but once everything fell into place it was really a pleasure to play.
Naturally, bosses are the hardest parts of games like this and Deck 13 have done a fantastic job ensuring that each boss, while incredibly difficult, has a tell which allows you to quickly jump in, take a jab, and get away relatively unscathed. However it’s always easier said than done, and one wrong move no matter how little, can usually mean a guaranteed fail.
One thing I did struggle with was being able to really control Warren, I often found that the attacks weren’t as responsive as I’d like them to be and sometimes it’d register full combo strings even though I hit the attack button once or twice. This lead to Warren performing one too many hits on an opponent taking up the final bit of Stamina preventing me from jumping out of harms way. This is particularly frustrating when in boss battles.
While The Surge is being touted as a hardcore RPG there are certain additions which make the game a little more accessible to those not wanting to risk everything only to lose it all. For example, much like Dark Souls killing enemies rewards players with Scrap, this Scrap is lost if you end up dying but can be acquired by returning to where you died. To make things a little riskier you’re given two and a half minutes to get back otherwise they’re gone forever. Fortunately killing enemies on the way stocks up this timer by a few seconds at a time.
One thing I discovered after almost 15 hours playtime is that you can completely avoid this risk of losing it all by heading back to the main hub and banking your Scrap once you’ve done the necessary upgrades (or even before the upgrades). This seems like a pretty controversial option as you can ultimately spend your time farming scrap in order to bank it each time so you’re never left short. But at the same time it allows for a much more accessible and less punishing game, which some may applaud however others may strongly dislike.
That being said, you aren’t FORCED to bank your Scrap, so you could simply just pretend that this feature doesn’t exist…
In terms of story, there are various ways players can find out more about what’s going on in the world of The Surge. There’s also various little plot points throughout the game which give you some sort of direction, however they’re not at the forefront of the game which is quite commendable as it doesn’t really interfere too much with the overall gameplay, though if you’re hoping for a deep story there’s not too much to go on here. There is definitely an essence of curiosity as to the reason behind the events of the game, but you’re too busy making sure to tear off the enemies legs to get that sweet bit of gear than to pay too much attention to the plot.
While The Surge will never be able to shake its comparisons to Dark Souls, I feel the game stands incredibly well on its own. There are many unique features to the game which I absolutely love, from the setting, to the variations in enemies, to the looting system. Sure, it’s a game which made me almost throw my controller at the TV, but I have to say, a game hasn’t provoked those reactions out of me for a long time.
I do however feel that hardcore Souls fans may have their expectations a little too high and may find faults in the game, like with the Scrap banking system, which may taint their experience on an otherwise fantastic game.