There's no better way to describe The Surge other than a sci-fi version of Dark Souls. They share so many elements that the increasingly popular "soulslike" descriptor is an apt descriptor for the game. I say that with a tangential knowledge of Dark Souls, having only played a few hours of the first. So those looking for a comparison to the Souls series will be disappointed, but I would imagine many of the elements I discuss below will be familiar. In any case, The Surge is one enjoyable ride.
Players step into the shoes of Warren, a wheelchair-bound man who comes to work for Creo as a sort of souped-up factory worker, finally able to walk again thanks to his exosuit. Something is immediately wrong, of course, and Warren must fight off crazed people also in exosuits and wielding tools and machinery, robots, and more all while wondering what is going on.
Sci-fi fans will immediately recognize the story as one they have heard a million times before. Creo is a company of the future whose inventions have permeated all of daily life, and they are inventing and implementing plans to save the world. If you guessed that their ambitions led to catastrophe, you're a winner.
The story can cause some problems too, as it is mostly background information, giving players no direction on where to go next. There were a couple of times where I was running around for at least twenty minutes trying to figure out where to go to progress.
The combat definitely fits the soulslike moniker, where running straight into things without assessing what's in front of you will always get you killed. Every enemy type has their own moves and abilities they'll use against you, and there's a lot of variance in their mobility and armor as well. The Surge is all about patience unless you really like frustration.
The Surge has a lot of different enemies and weapon types to use, all of which play much differently from one another. Everyone will settle into their favorite type or two, which allows for quite a few playstyles. There are gear and weapons to facilitate those that like to run around their enemies, striking quickly and then getting out of danger, and of course those that like to heave big weapons for great damage in a single blow. Degrees between those two extremes exist for players to choose from as well.
The most important part of the combat is evaluating your enemy, quickly analyzing them to understand their strengths and weaknesses. That includes a few things players will want to figure out fairly quickly: what type of enemy are they (robot, drone, human, etc.), what weapon are they wielding, what armor are they wearing, and what part of their body is armored. All of those factors have a lot of variety in them and can dramatically change a player's approach to an oncoming enemy.
Learning the quirks attached to each weapon and enemy type teaches players what they need to look out for in defending and dodging, as well as when to take advantage of an opening and strike. Armored enemies will change up your strategies depending on where they're protected. An unarmored enemy might just be easily dispatched by running up and chopping/smashing/hacking him to bits, but the armored enemy may take a lot more movement and time. A more careful execution may be in order.
Speaking of armor leads to one of The Surge's core mechanics: enemy dismemberment. Tearing out torsos, ripping off heads, and hacking off limbs—who could have guessed that this one mechanic played a vital role in pretty much every part of The Surge. It is of course tied to combat, but it is key to acquiring more weapons, more gear, and upgrading gear and weapons as well.
Each enemy has certain limbs (or other attachments in the case of a robot) that players can target. This is The Surge's twist in the soulslike arena. On the prevalent human enemies, you can target either arm, either leg, their torso, and their head. Each portion can have a piece of armor or not, those limbs that do will be highlighted orange when targeted and those that don't will be blue.
Landing successful attacks on an enemy will generate energy, the blue bar above. Once you have a certain amount and the enemy is weakened enough, you can execute that dismemberment in a violent fashion. Each weapon type has multiple different animations to show off a good amount of gore, for each limb too.
It's not as simple as choosing a limb after an enemy is damaged enough, though. The actual limb you want to take has to be the one you damage. So there's no targeting an unarmored limb then going to the armored one to rip it off. If not enough damage was done to that one limb you want, Warren will just do a general kill animation, leaving all that good gear on the body of your enemy.
For each piece of armor you want, you'll have to take that limb. If you want the whole set of a piece of armor, you have to take one arm, one leg, one torso, and one head each to get the schematic for them to craft later in what amounts to a pretty basic system. You get the schematics, you get the materials from tearing limbs off enemies (tearing off heads gives you the material for crafting/upgrading head armor), rinse and repeat. It's just another thing to consider when targeting a limb on enemies.
The gear can change up your playstyle to an extent as well. Each set has a different focus, whether that be mobility, survivability, elemental defense, or anything else. Wearing the entire set is advised as well, as many have some great bonuses.
The final form of progression/variety in playstyle comes in the form of implants. These, along with gear, use up the core power you see in the Specs screen above. Implants range from straight health/stamina/energy upgrades to healing, to trading energy for health, to allowing you to see enemy health bars and more. They can definitely change the way you play and what you focus on.
You get more power core levels by investing scrap into your power core. You obtain scrap by defeating enemies and finding it around a level. It functions exactly the same as Souls in Dark Souls. You accrue them, drop them when you die and have the chance to recover them, and they are your currency for the game. Scrap is used for purchasing upgrades to gear and weapons, as well as upgrading your power core. There's not a whole lot to say about it other than it exists and definitely helps play into that soulslike feel. You could be carrying around a ton of scrap and die, die trying to recover it, and see an hour's worth of progression disappear. Gotta love it.
All of this plays into your ability to choose how you play the game. The implants, gear, and weapons all have their own unique things they bring to the table to let you fashion Warren into the type of warrior you want him to be. Getting stuck into one won't really work, however. Well, it probably will eventually, but you'll throw your controller and/or yell a lot on the way there.
This is no truer than with the boss fights. All of the boss fights are pretty varied throughout The Surge, my personal favorite being an assembly line that's out to kill you. Depending on the playstyle you choose to stick with, or maybe you like to spice it up, boss fights will force you to figure out what fits best for them. It's not a necessity to change up your weapons or anything else for a boss, but it definitely helps. As far as I can tell, every weapon and gear combination will get you through most likely, just some combinations will be much better at it than others.
Thankfully, these boss fights are the highlight of The Surge, as well. Each one is unique from the other and offers a great, satisfying challenge. Each death, and there will be many, should see progress until you are fluidly moving throughout the fight dodging and landing hits as you whittle away at their health. The frustration dissipates quickly once the challenge is overcome.
And that is the best way to describe The Surge's difficulty: satisfying. It's not cheap or artificial; if you pay attention, you will figure out whatever's in front of you. The game gives you the tools, you just have to learn to use them correctly.
The final thing I want to mention is the level design. Each portion of The Surge is designed wonderfully. There are lots of places to go, it's all paced out well, and the whole level slowly becomes interconnected as you progress further. It's not hamfisted either. What I mean by that is that there are not just obviously three different hallways to go down, knowing you need to complete the one thing down each to progress. Each level is sprawling or as contained as it needs, and it all comes together naturally in a very satisfying way, shortcuts and other pass-throughs naturally blending into the environment. Getting your way around The Surge is fun and easy, which is great as there is no map to refer to.
If you like the Souls series or games like them, you will probably like The Surge. I can't comment as to whether it offers a similar challenge or level of difficulty, but it has great gameplay and wonderful levels to get lost in as you run around throwing limbs about and destroying robots. It's a satisfying playthrough and features a New Game+ option which I am very tempted to work my way through.
The Surge was reviewed on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer. It is also available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
The Surge has great gameplay and wonderful levels to get lost in as you run around throwing limbs about and destroying robots.(Review Policy)
- Satisfying Combat
- Varied Enemies
- Offers Many Playstyles
- Great Level Design
- Generic Story
- Boring Setting