By this point, hearing that a game draws heavy inspiration from Dark Souls is a pretty common occurrence. Developer From Software created an original game in Demon’s Souls that was so good that it not only spawned a very successful series, but really a whole new genre. The emphasis on challenging combat and extremely hazardous, labyrinthine areas that you need to slowly progress through via trial and error is a winning formula, and now developer Deck13 is back to give the genre another stab.
Their first attempt with Lords of the Fallen didn’t turn out as well as it could have, but thankfully they’ve learned a lot and improved with The Surge. The Surge follows the same design philosophy as the Souls series, though it notably features a vastly different setting. While most of these types of games feature a medieval-esque setting, Deck13 has created a sci-fi world for this adventure. It’s a move that works, resulting in a notably different atmosphere and mood compared to its contemporaries.
While a tightly-focused narrative is really never the focus of these kinds of games, The Surge puts a little more effort in trying to get you invested in its plot. In a nutshell, the world is in very bad shape due to mega-corporations being greedy with resources, though now a corporation named CREO is positioning themselves as the savior of all. You control a paraplegic character named Warren, who decides to work for CREO as he knows they have the medical technology that will cure him. Well, after a brutal surgery Warren finds himself surgically-attached to a powerful exoskeleton, not only giving him the ability to walk but also allowing him to move faster and hit harder. It came with consequences, however.
Apparently Warren wasn’t quite good enough for CREO, so he was dumped in the dangerous lands just outside of the facility. This results in a narrative that slowly unfolds as we lead Warren through this devastated world and learn more about it and the shady organization CREO, keeping an ominous tone throughout. The story never gets to a point where you’re dying to see what happens next or anything like that, but it nevertheless sets the tone for the harrowing places that Warren needs to trek through in order to survive.
Areas typically are claustrophobic and riddled with all sorts of machinery, which makes sense due to the factory setting we’re dealing with. They aren’t as impeccably designed as a Souls game, but they do their job in providing labyrinthine layouts that are rewarding to overcome. Warren will regularly come across other discarded exoskeleton-infused people, though they aren’t looking for friendship. The average enemy in The Surge is just as hard as you would expect from a Souls-like experience, and taking on more than one at a time is pretty much a death sentence. When you inevitably die over and over you will be sent back to a medbay (basically a glorified bonfire), and you’ll need to recover your tech scrap (basically souls) before its lost forever.
While this all sounds very much like Dark Souls, it makes some key tweaks to the formula that really set it apart. The biggest one is with combat, as it’s much more strategic. The game allows you to target specific body parts of enemies, with their being armored and unarmored points that you need to take account of. Attacking an unarmored point will do more damage and stagger an enemy, making it the first choice for those just looking to bring the enemy down.
However, there’s an engrossing risk/reward mechanic at play here that makes this combat all the more interesting. As you attack enemies you will slowly fill up a special meter that will eventually allow you to pull off a finishing attack. If you do that on a body part with armor you will chop that armor off, allowing you to acquire it and eventually equip it. You obviously do less damage against the armored sections of enemies, so the game puts you in a situation where you need to constantly ask yourself if the risk is worth it.
Combat itself is also paced differently compared to the Souls series, as the same tricks that you might use in those games won’t really work here. Blocking is something that rarely comes in handy in The Surge, as instead boost dodging out of the way is the safer option. It creates combat encounters that are very intense, though it doesn’t play out quite as smoothly as the Souls games. Trying to target certain body parts while dodging and attacking an enemy can feel a little clunky at times, leading to needless aggravation. The boss encounters are mostly solid, requiring certain strategies to bring them down and providing plenty of challenge without feeling cheap.
You have several different weapon types to choose from in this game, which are one-handed weapons, staves, heavy-duty weapons, single-rigged weapons and twin-rigged weapons. Each weapon type comes with its own strength and weaknesses that make them more suitable for different occasions, such as lower or higher impact and attack speed. The problem here is that the game utilizes a weapon proficiency system, which makes weapons of a particular type more powerful the more you use them. This results in you picking your favorite weapon type and sticking with it for the duration of the game, as experimenting with other weapon types the further you go on becomes less and less viable due to your proficiency being much lower. It’s not a system I like, and I think the game would be better off without it.
What I do like is the character progression system that the game has in play, with the game providing implant slots and the like to your exoskeleton that allow you to strengthen your character and teach him new abilities. This could result in you getting more healing items or even being able to convert energy to heal without wasting items, and much more. You’ll also using the scraps you acquire from enemies to create and upgrade your weapons and armor, giving you plenty of options to become more powerful and take on the increasingly-tough enemies. The aforementioned tech scrap also goes towards leveling up your exo suit, which not only makes you stronger but also allows you to access new areas depending on your suit’s level.
Deck13 has done a very solid job with The Surge, creating an intriguing new twist on the Souls formula that is truly able to stand on its own. The sci-fi setting of the game works very well, and the innovations that they brought to the combat system add a great new layer to the intensity. It’s not without its flaws, but most of them are easy enough to overlook. If you’re a fan of the Souls series and are looking for a new challenge, then The Surge definitely fits the bill.