At a certain point, we should stop referring to a game as a clone or copy of something specific and instead refer to the source material as a genre in and of itself. Of course, we’d end up with a genre name as cumbersome as ‘metroidvania’, so you can’t have it all. With The Surge, developer Deck13’s latest effort to take the Dark Souls formula established by From Software and run with it, is certainly the studio’s best game to date. The Surge looks and feels polished, more so than the their last effort Lords of the Fallen. But above all, even though The Surge could quite easily be referred to as Dark Souls gone sci-fi, it brings enough to the table to carve out a small slice of its own.
Those looking for a soulsy style of game won’t be disappointed. The sci-fi world presented in The Surge is intriguing and the way in which the loop of exploration, intense combat, dying, and trying to get a little bit further will feel familiar. If a bit forced, thanks to the sci-fi setting. For everyone else, let’s say those looking at The Surge as a melee-focused action-RPG in a sci-fi universe, the learning curve will be steep. Like, huge. And that’s okay. This is a game built around the idea that combat in a lot of cases (see: most) will end up with you dead, and that running around an environment will only become easier once you learn where enemies like to hang out and what path or route might net you some trusty scraps to craft better gear. Or upgrade the stuff you already have.
Plus, learn the ins and outs and specific timing of dodging, vertical attacks, horizontal attacks, blocking, and so forth.
Also, this is a style of game where there won’t be any maps or handy sign-posts. And you can forget about quest markers or even a list of objectives. At this point it’s worth noting that my appreciation for the souls-like experience is one of admiration more than love. As much as I enjoy the feeling of overcoming an obstacle, especially after initially thinking ‘well, that’s it, no way is that even possible, two hits and I’m dead’ – this is not the sort of game that I’d go out of my way to play. Which is to say that my criticisms with the The Surge and the genre itself could be taken into consideration when looking at the score.
But again, I admire the classical design of Dark Souls. The way in which it feels almost completely old school in how punishingly difficult it can be, and how disinterested it is in utilising modern gameplay mechanics -- whilst retaining a sense that it has all been planned methodically in advance. And isn’t cheap.
There are plenty of cheap deaths in The Surge though. Which although annoying, become predictable when you realise that every blind corner will basically feature an enemy that will lunge at you. And proceed to kill you in a couple of hits. Where The Surge makes a name for itself is in the combat, and progression that revolves around targeting enemy limbs. With the idea being, if you want that cool weapon then you better target that exo-suit dude’s arms. It’s a great setup that also plays into the crafting and upgrade mechanics, as well as the difficulty of each encounter.
Attacking body armour in order to obtain the right bits so you can upgrade your own might sound like a great idea, but that will take way more hits than attacking a shiny blue exposed leg. And probably end up with you severely injured. This strategic element of The Surge’s combat also plays into the grindy aspect of the game, where you’re expected to go out and collect consumables and hopefully be alive long enough to take them back to base to trade for upgrades or new items. The limb system and your overall exo-suit powers feel well thought out in terms of balancing the different pieces and modifications on offer.
Where The Surge falters though is the feeling that turtling, or focusing on becoming a tank, doesn’t seem to have been given the same priority as the faster assassin type builds. Which for the first half of the game seems to be the only way to go. It seems like with The Surge, it’s only after you’ve invested some considerable time that all the different systems and mechanics and options will begin to make sense. Even the narrative all but disappears for several hours after the introduction. It’s a shame that the pacing is off like this because The Surge has a great sense of atmosphere, even for a game filled with the sort of futuristic industrial and factory environments that we’ve seen countless times before.
It’s safe to say that The Surge completely focuses on providing a souls-like experience from beginning to end, offering up deep combat mechanics with interesting and large-scale boss battles. The story, although engaging to a point, takes a back seat to this singular goal. It’s not without its flaws, and its appeal will primarily be limited to those looking so this one type of experience. But The Surge feels like a success, and one that we’ll probably end up dying several hundred more times in.