When developer Deck13 released The Surge
a couple of years back, the tagline or elevator pitch was that it was Dark Souls in a sci-fi world. A genre or like-for-like comparison that explained several key design elements found in its brutally challenging build-your-own-exo-suit action role-playing world. Maze-like level design that looped and twisted back and forth as you progressed towards a boss encounter. Surviving and making it to a save point the only real way to level and grow in power.
Elements of the Souls-like wrapped up in a tale about human augmentation with chunky pieces of metal you’d refer to as limbs, and nanite corruption affecting anything with a microchip. To create a hostile world in which one needs to fight to survive using the ancient art of futuristic melee combat with electric blades and a giant chunk of what used to be a steel support beam from the local spaceport. And all in a universe seemingly devoid of projectile weaponry. To quote Demolition Man villain Simon Phoenix
, “Where are all the Phaser Guns?”
Where The Surge 2 feels like an immediate improvement over the original comes with the flow of combat and how it allows for varying playstyles. Combat that makes ample room for players that find solace in either the ‘be quick and evade’ or ‘time those blocks and parries’ camp. Both of which are executed with style and nuance, with agility and speed that doesn’t negate the sheer weight behind each hit (or miss) and blocking that focuses on matching incoming attack direction to stagger enemies. Both offering just the right amount of time to pull off a kinetic combo of clanging metal and spark-filled destruction.
“Elements of the Souls-like wrapped up in a tale about human augmentation with chunky pieces of metal you’d refer to as limbs, and nanite corruption affecting anything with a microchip.”
And it’s here where the appeal of the brutal and challenging Souls-like gives an air of accessibility to The Surge 2 – a feeling that was all but absent in the original. By letting players come to terms with just one of the above playstyles (late game of course requires mastery of the two), successive victories in minor skirmishes against single foes or taking on two or three at a time add that much-needed feeling of accomplishment. Whether you’re cashing in tech and scraps of metal to upgrade your rig, targeting and lopping of heads and limbs to get new blueprints for better gear, or adding a few more points to your health or stamina pool - The Surge 2 never really puts a sense of urgency on the events depicted. Or, making it to the next area.
Which is great because the level design in The Surge 2, although confusing at first, is intricate and impressive in all the right ways. Finding shortcuts that loop back to medical bays (for saving and crafting), discovering the less dangerous road to travel, or simply exploring the environment of Jericho City and its surroundings. Without a map screen or mini-map in the corner to guide you, learning where the threats are in addition to where this path might lead is another feather in The Surge 2’s shiny cap. Even if a lot of the threats are enemies waiting and hiding behind every corner ready to ambush you.
The sense of discovery is commendable, and where the original failed in this regard – The Surge 2 succeeds in instilling a want and need to learn where everything is and where you could potentially head to next.
The Surge 2 does pick things up where the last game left off story-wise, but unfortunately the narrative presented remains the weakest element. It’s not entirely bad per-se but the way in which you discover recordings and digital flashbacks is a little bland and uninteresting. A sentiment that also applies to most of the voiced characters you come across, where their accompanying plastic and featureless expressions look a little bit ‘last-gen’. In fact, the strict adherence to the Dark Souls formula and the rogue-light structure of the progression cheapens the narrative ambition on display. Leaving all the mystery and wonder to the lore-filled environments you get to explore.
“Where The Surge 2 feels like an immediate improvement over the original comes with the flow of combat and how it allows for varying playstyles.”
In the end though it’s the improved combat, minus a few camera issues and frustratingly difficult boss encounters, the progression and build possibilities, and the wonderful level design that go a long way to make up for the lack of narrative drive. Or interest in what happens to the world. In this regard The Surge 2 is an improvement, but an experience that still feels like it’s a few more brutal dismemberment finishers away from finding the right plan to research and build its full potential.