The Surge - Patience Is A Virtue | A Short Pause Review
In the interest of transparency, let’s get this out of the way first: No, I have never finished Demon’s Souls, any of the Dark Souls games, Bloodborne, or Lords of the Fallen. I have dabbled with them, and taken down a boss or two in Dark Souls 3 and Bloodborne, but I’ve ultimately lacked the time to properly commit to seeing any of these games through to completion. It's always been a pipe-dream of mine to find the time to see a couple of Souls-like games through to the end — a feat which is actually much more of a possibility for me these days, thankfully! I came into The Surge excited to finally have the time to truly invest in one of these punishingly difficult titles, and I couldn’t be happier with the results.
Tale of the Tape
Title: The Surge
Release Date: May 16th, 2017
Developer: Deck 13 Interactive
Platforms: PS4 (Reviewed on PS4 Pro), Xbox One, PC
The Surge is Deck13’s follow-up to their successful 2014 title, Lords of the Fallen. Set within the confines of the CREO research facility in a not-too-distant dystopian future, players step into the shoes of Warren — a new employee who begins the game bound to a wheelchair before selecting one of two exo-suits — light and nimble, or heavy and hard-hitting — which will grant him the ability to walk again. However, as the suit and its implants are being installed into Warren’s body, things go horribly wrong and he soon finds himself awakening to his body being dragged from the facility by a rogue droid. Armed with his new suit and whatever weapons he can scrounge up, Warren sets out to learn what happened to the facility, tackling the deadly foes who now inhabit the mostly-abandoned research complex along the way.
Warren’s first task is to locate a new core for his exo-suit, and it’s at this time that Deck13 teaches players the mechanics of the game they’ll need to master to be successful. Much like its contemporaries, players need to keep their stamina gauge in mind as attacking, running, blocking, and dodging will deplete the meter, leaving them unable to dodge or attack should they get too careless with their approach. On the other end of the spectrum, where The Surge sets itself apart from the pack is with its strategic limb-lock-on mechanic. This allows players to focus their attacks on a specific extremity — head, left arm, right arm, body, left leg, or right leg — either assaulting an unarmored part of the enemy to yield a higher damage output or attacking an armored portion of the foe in the hopes of successfully performing an execution to gain that enemy’s weapon or a schematic to craft a piece of their gear. It’s a blast earning new armor and weapons through this mechanic, and it’s fun to experiment with different combat approaches
After locating the new core and returning to the medical bay, players can install chipsets that help give them an edge in combat. These span the gamut from increased health and stamina to damage buffs and elemental effects. Players start with two chipset slots unlocked, but more become available as they level up with the game’s Souls-like currency called tech scrap, or install rig upgrades that they may happen across during their travels. Tech scrap is also used to purchase weapon and armor upgrades, as well as for building gear from the schematics you secure from enemies. Players can bank the scrap they’re carrying before venturing back out into the dangerous world beyond the medical bay walls. It’s worth keeping in mind that any time you choose to return to deposit your scrap or face an unfortunate demise, enemies slain will respawn. If you find yourself back in the medical bay due to death, you’ll have 2 and a half minutes to return to where you were killed to reclaim your lost scrap.
Perhaps The Surge’s greatest achievement is just how fluid the game runs. I played this on the PS4 Pro and the game gives you the option to optimize graphics (higher resolution that super-samples on a 1080p TV and runs at a locked 30fps) or performance (1080p but at a locked 60fps). This is where The Surge truly shines. I stuck to the performance mode and, impressively enough, I didn't notice any frame rate dips or hitches during any combat encounters.
The performance enhancements afforded by the PS4 Pro were especially appreciated during the boss fights. Some of these monstrous machines are agile and prove to be quite a challenge as players are tasked with learning their attack patterns and choosing the right moment to strike once a weakness can be exploited. One boss in particular has a section that will see you dodging lasers and attempting to take down a handful of mechanical arms. The action can get pretty intense during a couple of these epic showdowns and being able to tackle them without any frame stuttering is icing on the cake. Much like a Souls boss, the big baddies in The Surge will punish and (likely) kill you should you get greedy and open yourself up to their attacks, so be prepared for some tense moments as you try not to get too sloppy while excitedly watching their health bar deplete towards zero.
While the majority of the boss encounters in the game are unique, there are a couple that I was sad to see were repurposed. One fight has you focused on fighting the head of security (more on enemy variants in a minute), but sees him retreat into a room after a few minutes and call in none other than the very first boss you encountered in the game. He does this a couple of times throughout the fight so hopefully you've got that pattern down! Sadly, even after this fight, the next "boss" was yet another guard with a similar weapon and a similar attack pattern. They make sense for the areas they're encountered in, but I also felt they could have mixed things up or at least upgraded them for these additional encounters.
There's no question that the boss fights are the pinnacle of what The Surge has to offer, but that's not to say the road to these encounters is a stale one. The CREO facilities are quite a sight to behold, and exploration will net players some great chipsets, audiologs, and valuable piles of scrap. The audiologs in particular stand out for their contributions to world building. They paint a clearer picture of the way CREO truly operates as past employees share their horror stories and experiences with the corporation, foreshadowing some future story beat reveals in the process. The story itself isn't anything special — nor is it a main selling point for the game — but it's serviceable and still capable of producing a few “whoa, that's not quite what I was expecting" moments (in a good way, of course). Every area feels unique and the enemies reflect that. From the mindless, zombie-like commoners in the opening area, to the merciless robots and brutal dog-like machines in the Research & Development department, The Surge will keep you on your toes throughout as the enemies grow increasingly more difficult as you inch closer to the epicenter of the game’s conflict..
The Surge is an impressive package overall. Souls fans, or players seeking out a challenging endeavor, will likely be pleased with what Deck13 has brought to the table here. This game builds a strong case for itself as a worthy entry in the brutally challenging third-person action sub-genre popularized by Dark Souls and the like. Although the story isn't quite as memorable as I would have hoped, I came away feeling this game was more about the journey than the destination. Even if the story was great, the addictive gameplay would still be the thing bringing me back for more. With a fun combat loop, huge and dangerous areas to explore that are filled with secrets and precious loot to uncover, and some adrenaline pumping boss fights, The Surge is more than worthy of your time (and patience).
We reviewed The Surge on PlayStation 4 Pro using a digital code provided to us by the fine folks at Evolve PR
- Silky smooth frame rate on PS4 Pro
- Intensely satisfying initial boss fights
- Fluid combat and limb targeting make for addictive gameplay
- Enemy variations by location keep encounters fresh throughout
- Story isn't very memorable
- Recycled bosses