Developer: Deck13 Interactive
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Genre: Action, Role Playing Game
I’m a total sucker for anything with a Dark Souls style. When Deck13 and Focus Home Interactive unveiled an upcoming Souls game with a dark sci-fi setting, they had my attention. With Lords of the Fallen under their belts, the team had already shown they knew the direction they were going. How does a world full of murderous robots and insane folks in exo-suits compare to dark fantasy, though?
The game certainly has some darker content in it. From people losing their minds due to being brain-hacked to cults and references of evil that transcend the physical realm, there is some jarring content here. The overall tone of the game feels downright evil-scientist with a twist of ghost story, too.
Complete dismemberment is a core mechanic of The Surge. Like any Souls game, you can lock-on to enemies, but here you can target individual limbs (or the torso or head) for a killing blow, during which time slows down and you see yourself tear your enemy limb from limb as blood and eviscerated body parts fly around. There are also scenes you’ll come across where previous folks have clearly been slaughtered and dragged to their final resting place as indicated from the massive bloody streak leading to their corpse.
Given its dark setting and penchant for intense violence, it should come as no surprise that the game isn’t shy of utilizing coarse language. Expect anything you would experience from an R-rated film, including S***, F***, and more.
There are posters throughout the complex with pin-up girls in swimsuits and other revealing attire.
There are some references to drugs, as one of the survivors you’ll encounter is suffering through withdrawal of “medicine” the medical database has no record of for him. He tasks you with getting the substance for him and rewards you for getting him his “meds.”
Throughout the dark journey, you’ll come across several survivors. From barricading themselves in a room with no sustenance to finding displaced family members and more, you can show time and again that good can thrive in a world of evil.
At its core, The Surge feels like a mix between Dark Souls and Dead Space. Set in a world that’s been destroyed by global warming (a contentious future some would argue within the realm of possibility), futurist technology company CREO has risen as a potential savior, creating everything from everyday home appliances to exosuits to amplify human capability to research into chemistry and biology in an attempt to solve mankind’s plight of a dying planet.
The narrative has a decidedly dark tone, showing that humanity, despite its best intentions, is a destructive force to be reckoned with. Apart from the first few minutes of the game, we’re never really given much motivation for Warren, our protagonist. He arrives at the CREO complex and gets outfitted with an exosuit as everything starts to hit the fan. The surge hits all of CREO’s employees and machines, driving them into a murderous frenzy. From that point forward, he wants only to survive and escape, guided by a scientist trapped elsewhere in the facility. There are a handful of interesting characters throughout the 30-40 hour journey but the tale otherwise feels like a rubber-stamped sci-fi script we’ve seen in a half dozen sci-fi thrillers in the last few years. Despite occasional dialog options, Warren feels like a fairly one-note personality. The narrative is somewhat redeemed, however, by world-building created with emails and journals scattered around the complex.
To its credit, The Surge is a fun game with engaging combat and progression mechanics. Lessons learned Lords of the Fallen (a solid game in its own right) were clearly taken to heart as The Surge feels like a more polished experience. While I don’t understand the reasoning everything uses makeshift medieval-styled weapons in the future, it works. The star of the combat system is its targeting, which allows you to target individual body parts. As you fight enemies, a bar builds up. When the bar is full enough and your foe is low enough health, you can perform an execution. Executing an enemy while targeting specific body parts grants you blueprints for weaponry and armor as well as upgrade materials to enhance your gear. You’ll also earn “tech scrap,” the game’s version of currency/experience to pay for upgrades and exo-suit enhancements.
As you explore the world, you’ll come across enhancements you can plug into your exosuit. These can do everything from grant you healing items to passive buffs to elemental damage on weaponry and more. Your level restricts how many slots you can use for upgrades (so level 53 would give you 53 slots) and each upgrade consumes a set number of slots. With only five weapon types, the addition of enhancements gives you a fair deal of control of customizing to suit your playstyle.
While the game is fun, it has some significant issues that both concern and frustrate me. My primary gripe is with guidance. I know games of the genre are typically obscure on purpose, but there were multiple times where I had to wander for hours to figure out where to go or what to do. The game will give you a minor, sometimes vague clue and expect you to stumble across the resolution. Of my 40 hours with the game, over half a dozen were spent wandering aimlessly, looking for that proverbial needle in a haystack. I also had a couple of hard crashes in the middle of boss fights that had me on the verge of going postal. Speaking of boss fights, they’re downright rare compared the game’s contemporaries, but if it’s challenge you crave, they’ll certainly satisfy.
The Surge is a decent looking game. The animation is smooth and the occasional slow-motion execution can be a satisfying reward to a job well done. That said, the dismemberment and blood effects feel dated (or even last-gen). Blood spatter looks unrealistic, breaking immersion in the midst of chaos. I think the variety of enemy design is solid, however, leading to quite a few options for your personal gear. It’s not uncommon to looks like some sort of cobbled-together Frankenstein’s metal monster.
The sound design excells at establishing a tense, macabre atmosphere. The groans of otherworldly beings and the slink of metal-on-metal echo in the distance as eerie music builds up at the right moment. The voice acting is passable, though it feels particularly well done in the scattered audio logs. Though it initially felt a bit out of place, the honky-tonk song played in rest areas is actually pretty catchy (as well as theme appropriate).
Overall, I enjoyed my time with The Surge. Though the voice acting is mediocre and blood/dismemberment animations are a bit jarring, the game is excellent at building a wild atmosphere to enjoy. The combat and progression mechanics are satisfying and the bosses, though rare, are difficult yet enjoyable. The game’s lack of clear guidance can be infuriating at times, but that’s nothing Souls fans won’t persevere through (or look up a guide for). While it lacks some of the polish of its competitors, The Surge executes on some unique, enjoyable mechanics, easily establishing itself as a competent option for fans of the genre to enjoy.
Review copy provided by Evolve PR
The Bottom Line