What is The Surge?
It’s an exploration+action-heavy “hardcore” third-person RPG much like the Souls series, Nioh, Salt & Sanctuary and Bloodborne. The unique twist with this title is an industrial near-future setting, and a dismemberment-based approach to the combat system from the aforementioned games.
Therein lies the biggest issue with The Surge: that most people will approach it from a mindset that this game will have all the hooks of a Souls game. They’ll fondly remember the interconnected swiss-cheese world of Dark Souls (2011), and the moment when the elevator from the Gargoyles took them back to Firelink Shrine or when they were hopelessly lost in Blighttown with no bonfire in sight.
Here’s the Thing
The Surge isn’t Dark Souls though. And no, it’s also not “just Dark Souls in space” – despite the futuristic setting, you’re always on Earth.
It’s just infuriating to see a game disliked just for being different from the traditional titles of the genre – if more people were to judge it on its own merit, they’d probably be surprised to find an incredibly deep and rewarding game with some shining moments of brilliance that you can’t find anywhere else.
If I had to describe The Surge, I’d say it was a Metroidvania that took nods from Dead Space’s level design. Even the combat system, in practice – is much closer to Nioh than anything FromSoftware has made.
Is it like Lords of the Fallen?
The bread-and-butter of this game is in its combat, and I’m glad to say it’s incredibly satisfying once you get a feel for all its quirks. No doubt, many players will (perhaps not so fondly) remember Deck13’s last project – Lords of the Fallen – which was criticised for having a “clunky” feel to it, where no matter the character class, you’d hit hard and move slow.
This flaw is immediately dealt with – right in the introduction the game offers you a choice between the Lynx class and the Rhino class, and even if you were to choose the latter – which is the tanky class – the pace of combat in The Surge remains blazing fast – and I’d say it’s even faster than Bloodborne.
Okay but what’s the gameplay REALLY like?
The only way of getting weapons and armor in this game is to rip it from your enemies with your bare hands. It’s very visceral, and really makes you feel like you’ve earned it – because you have to work for it. There are no light or heavy attacks in this game, only vertical and horizontal. You have to damage the body part you want using a combination of these attacks along with the various movement options at your disposal – like dashes, slides, and jumps. Just the inclusion of this mechanic make every enemy encounter interesting because you’re constantly evaluating what you want to target in order to get the desired drop.
A special resource in this game is energy, which builds up as you hit your enemies – different weapons give different levels of energy per hit, which is usually determined by how fast you can attack with them. Energy can be used to do finishers to cut off body parts, to heal, to use projectile attacks, or for other power ups. Not only do you have an insane amount of build variety because of this, you often have to make lightning-quick decisions as energy is quick to fade away and you may not survive another enemy encounter. It all makes for some exciting combat where every encounter is different.
The bosses too, while they take nods from Dark Souls, are slightly different. They all have multiple phases, although you may not get to see all of them before they die – I remember being amazed when the second boss of the game had something like five phases – which reminded me of Furi and its lengthy boss encounters. Of course, the game only has 5 bosses – but each one of them is unique and has its own gimmick.
Still not convinced.
Then there’s the secrets – The Surge leaves so many things for you to figure out by yourself that even 40 hours in I was discovering new stuff that I didn’t notice from the beginning of the game. This is very subjective but in my opinion encourages a vibrant community scene for the discussion of hidden mechanics and mimics that feel of discovering cool stuff by talking about game with your friends from the times before the internet guides took over.
For example, I only noticed about halfway into the game that there are two versions of every boss weapon, with the special one being unlocked by beating the boss in a particular way – which adds a ton of replayability, or at least enough for a couple of NG+ runs. Another example would be how attacking with perfect rhythm consumes less stamina (like Nioh) which is indicated by a flash of the stamina bar.
Lastly, I have to mention the hot-swappable system with regards to your character’s build. While you level your Core Power – all it really influences is your equip load really. The meat of this game’s progression lies in finding implants and better equipment – which can be swapped out at any point in the game. This encourages a lot of experimentation – do you go for more healing items? Or do you equip an implant to turn built up energy into heals? You don’t have to grind on a new save file, you can just try things out. This kind of experimentation is further encouraged by having a bank like system for your experience – which you usually just lose in the Souls games.
Worried the bank might make the game too easy? If you lose your experience in your game (and you will, I’ve cleared the Old Hunters and this game still kicks my guts in at many points) there’s a timer that ticks away – at the end of which your experience fades away forever. You can’t idle away your time or take safe routes that are longer. At the same time, the game still encourages you to engage in fights and not just run to your lost EXP by extending the timer for every kill you get.
TL;DR when you consider all the little tweaks that’ve been put in place around the Souls-like combat, The Surge becomes something else entirely, encouraging a much more aggressive and fast paced play-style, while retaining its own sense of depth and satisfying, unique mechanics. If this is a game that you skipped over because its developers made Lords of the Fallen and it’s not a Miyazaki game, I beg you to reconsider. This game has been a genuine surprise to me this year and has had me hooked much more than I ever expected – it deserves a try. You’ll find a spin on the Souls formula that is different but still extremely enjoyable.
Now it’s not perfect, just like any other game – you could complain about the enemy variety not being as diverse as some other games, obtuse systems, and a lackluster story – but it’s well worth checking out if you have even a passing interest in this genre, especially considering that it’s not full-AAA price. And if we have to make comparisons after all, I’d say the little innovations that The Surge implements make the gameplay far more interesting than what Dark Souls 3 did.