The Surge is a game destined to be forgotten. Released in the build up to E3 this Dark Souls Clone follows in the footsteps of the developer Deck 13’s previous Souls clone, Lords Of The Fallen by being slightly easier and more approachable than the From Software critical darlings. Despite the poor timing and zero marketing, The Surge not only reboots the Souls Genre, it irons out many of the issues people have with these games in a unique and challenging style.
Starting as a wheelchair-bound protagonist, you spend a few moments being transported to a facility a la Half Life. It is actually quite interesting to control a wheelchair user character, but this is a small section and only serves the purpose of showing why the protagonist Warren would agree to join the company CREO and have the painful exoskeleton fitted to his body. Much like Sam Worthington at the beginning of Avatar, he signs up for the procedure so he can walk again. After a horrific sequence where the suit is screwed in place, the screen blacks out and we rejoin him as he regains consciousness in a devastated facility full of dangerous machines, environmental hazards and crazed people in Exo suits like him.
Without spoiling the story it follows an interesting if familiar form, there are a few twists and the second half of the game picks up the pace considerably as you have leveled up and are able to dispatch more enemies before having to recharge your health. The early part of the game follows the Souls formula quite closely. You fight a few easy enemies then get to your first med station, this games version of a bonfire. Here you can upgrade your equipment, craft new body parts like arms, legs, chest, head, and body and upgrade any weapons you have found the schematics for. Here is where The Surge really comes into its own.
Unlike the Souls games, combat here includes a limb-specific targeting system which adds two elements to combat. When targeting, the various points show up as blue or yellow. Blue indicates an unarmoured part of your opponent. Striking here will do extra damage and allow you to take down the enemy faster. This is particularly useful if you are ambushed or get a chance to take someone down from behind. Attacking a yellow area is different. They are armored and take longer to weaken but they set the enemy up for a finishing strike which severs the offending limb. After this, you get a chance to salvage the limb and add its schematic to your loadout. You start the game with no mechanical limbs but soon you will be chopping off the enemies limbs and weapons and adding them to your collection. You gather scrap and salvage material and then use it to upgrade the limbs. It is a simple and elegant solution for what to use the Souls currency on. In this game souls are scrap.
Scrap is used to level up your base Exo suit allowing for it to channel more power and also upgrading all elements like weapons and attachments. After a few hours, you will resemble a transformer more than a man as bit after bit is added on to your frame. To get the relevant scrap you get into a grind loop. In the Souls games, the grind loop was essential. Basically, this is a path you can take in a level that doubles back on itself to your base. So you could go on a lap, kill all the enemies and then bank your scrap and then regenerate them and go again. After an hour or two, you would be more overpowered than the enemies and able to progress further in the game.
Here for me is where this type of game lives or dies. Bloodborne lived for me as I felt I was strong enough to begin exploring and opening up new routes through the game. All the Souls games fell flat, even after hours of grinding I never felt proficient enough to go out and enjoy the game. The Surge definitely falls into the first category. If anything you get overconfident after slaying a few enemies, then run into a large machine or group that ends your life quickly. Then we have another difference. A timer is placed on your lost scrap. You have only a short amount of time to get back to it before it disappears forever. Rather than carefully working your way back you will need to make a mad dash to get the lost scrap. This added panic removes people from their turtling techniques and encourages a more aggressive approach. Getting to your scrap may then lead you to a battle against a few enemies at once.
The only area where The Surge falls short is natural pathfinding. The areas all interlink well and the color palette the game uses is vibrant and interesting yet somehow it is extremely easy to get lost. Too often you fight your way through a large area, then into a winding or dark area only to arrive at a dead end or open a door that leads you back to the original area. There is no tower in the distance that you can keep heading towards and it is extremely easy to just keep wandering down corridor after corridor without guidance. After a few runs you work out where to go but it can get crowded and confusing. There is nothing worse than spending minutes fighting your way through a new area only for it to end up back where you started. It opens up a new loop but there still is no clear path and without the lore story of a Souls game it feels a bit out of place not to have better signposting.
Despite this minor flaw, there is much here to love, the excellent graphics, the sci-fi setting that reinvigorates the genre and the focused combat. Soon to be available at a budget price this is one game in 2017 not to be missed.
You can get it here The Surge (PS4)