It seems remarkably easy to prevent an apocalypse. Don’t make killer robots, avoid neural implants, and keep invasive technology to a minimum. Easy. Of course, if there are three things people want, it’s robots to talk to, convenient neural tech, and ‘better’ body parts. The Surge tries to remind us of why these are all bad ideas, and while it misses the mark in many areas, there are plenty of things that it gets right. It’s no Dark Souls, but it’s a fun romp for those who don’t want to git gud to enjoy themselves.
You play as Warren, a down on his luck paraplegic hoping for a chance at being able to walk. Lo and behold, the future is full of many incredible new technologies, including power armour that drills into your skeleton. After being gifted with his new rig and neural implant at CREO HQ, something goes wrong, and Warren awakes to find himself in a junkyard. What could have possibly happened? Could it be that the neural implants were overloaded by an electrical surge and caused people to go insane like every other sci-fi story involving neural implants? Could CREO, the very same company who plans to save the planet, be the bad guys!? Well, yeah.
The story is nothing special. You’ll get your fill of the usual fear of technology sentiment, and that’s fine, but it’s nothing memorable. There are certainly a few good moments in there (especially the opening sequence), but this is a game that doesn’t try to push the envelope on the narrative front. Where the game places most of its focus is in the gameplay, but don’t expect Dark Souls level of brilliance here.
While The Surge offers a very Souls-ey experience, it doesn’t capture what made the Souls games so great. Combat, while slower paced, lacks intricacy and can be mastered in a couple of hours. The combat feels more like Dead Rising than anything else, providing a Dark Souls-lite approach to gameplay. It’s more approachable than a typical Souls game but with a skill ceiling as low as the standards of CREO’s OH&S department. The simple combat doesn’t make the game any easier to beat, though.
Despite the simple combat, The Surge is an unforgiving game. Take two or three hits and you’re dead, and that’s true for just about every enemy you encounter. The brutality of the game feels unnecessary, and I would have preferred a slightly easier experience considering how light the combat feels. Hell, the implants you have installed are unusable mid-swing, yet they will immediately take you back up to full health. The balance between difficulty and challenge feels wrong, save for some fantastic boss fights.
While combat can be a tedious experience most of the time, the boss fights almost make up for it. Each boss offers a well thought out battle with multiple phases, and once you figure out the trick of the fight, it feels amazing to pull it off. There are a few exceptions to this, like the first Big Sister’s blowtorch phase involving poorly shown AoE attacks, but these are still far and away the best parts of the game. Boss fights only crop up once every few hours, so the game’s main temptation to keep you coming back is sci-fi themed loot.
The Surge isn’t a game about getting better with the tools you have so much as getting more tools. New equipment is gained by hacking targeted limbs off enemies, and crafting works in much the same way. Some of the things you find are fantastic, ranging from iron pipes to chainsaw gloves, but the fundamental problem is that there’s no reason to find them. As you use a particular kind of weapon, you’ll gain a proficiency rank that increases damage done, so it’s almost a punishment to switch from a power hammer to a chain-sword. You can upgrade weapons too, so why would you ever switch from one to another? Because they look frakkin’ rad, that’s why.
If there’s one thing the game gets right, it’s the aesthetic. Everything from the power armour to the next robot boss looks like something from a sci-fi novelists’ wet dream. The bosses look especially good, making great use of the lighting to bring across the terrifying nature of these mad machines. There are instances where pop-in is an issue, though, and some armour sets look almost identical, but everything still looks freakin’ awesome. It’s hardly a future I’d want to be stuck in, but it’s one I like looking at. Apart from the costumes. Oh man…
Although The Surge is an enjoyable game, it’s no Dark Souls. Most of the combat is easy to game and lacks any real depth or precision, but man, I do love chopping off limbs to acquire some ‘better’ body parts. The narrative also doesn’t try to push the envelope and make you think deeply, quite unlike a useful neural implant. Most of the enemies will two-shot you for no good reason, too, and yet those killer robots just look so damn cool. Ultimately, The Surge is not a particularly engaging game, but it’s far from bad and is definitely worth a look.