Have I mentioned that I like Dark Souls? I’m pretty sure I’ve said I like Dark Souls on at least 804 separate occasions on this blog. Which is impressive considering I haven’t posted that many times. That’s one of the reasons why I eagerly picked up Deck 13’s Lords of the Fallen when it was released in late 2014. And whilst it certainly had a lot of similarities (read: had no identity of its own), it was unpolished and bland. Since then they’ve…well they’ve not done much. Anyone heard of TransOcean 2: Rivals? But they have attempted to return to the Souls-like sub-genre with The Surge, and I’ll be damned if they haven’t made a pretty damn good go of it this time.
The Surge really is sci-fi Souls with a couple of little twists. The combat system is similar with a couple of additions, scrap is used for leveling up and is handled in a similar way to souls, and equipment is improved by gathering the necessary resources and enhancing it at your bonfire equivalent. Whilst it may not be terribly original in mechanics, it does just enough to differentiate itself from its source material.
You play as Warren, arriving at his first day of his new job at Creo, a (totally not evil) company with plans to save the Earth’s atmosphere, where he will be fitted with a powered exo-skeleton (think power loaders from Aliens if you like). The intro played with my character expectations nicely, although Warren’s apparent reason for wanting an exo-suit isn’t referenced again until the end of the game. Anyway, Warren gets fitted for his suit (in a somewhat harrowing scene) but his neural interface that connects him to Creo fails and he is cast out on the (literal) scrap heap to fend for himself. It seems that the neural interface has screwed up a lot of people in their exo-suits, sending them utterly insane and causing them to attack anyone who isn’t connected. And so Warren is sent to find his way to the centre of Creo to find out what’s going on and to try to stop it.
Even the plot plays out in a Dark Souls fashion, with snippets of information passed on by NPCs (many of whom have little side quests) that don’t give too much away. The movement and combat mechanics are also very similar, with dodges, blocking attacks and running consuming stamina that regenerates over a short time. Combat is very slow and deliberate, with committing to an attack at the right moment being crucial lest you suffer an enormous amount of damage from a single strike. Weapons come in an array of shapes and sizes to suit your taste, from quick two handed weapons to slow, powerful hammers. My personal favourite ended up being the staves (bit thanks to Drakulus for suggesting them to me!) for their ability to stagger enemies and knock them off their feet. Armour also comes in lighter and heavier varieties that will alter your damage and stamina consumption in various ways.
So far, so Souls. But the selling point here is how you acquire new weapons and armour. During combat you can target specific limbs of the enemy, and each hit fills an energy bar. Once a certain amount of damage is done and you have enough energy, you can perform a finisher that will sever the selected limb and unlock the armour attached to it for your own use. This is also how you gain resources to upgrade those armour pieces. It’s an interesting approach that forces you to not hit too hard lest you kill the enemy and lose the equipment you wanted. The energy bar also allows you to use certain buffs as well as your drone to attack opponents from range. It’s an additional meter to manage, but its addition is an interesting one, as it drains very quickly when you aren’t attacking thus promoting an aggressive style of play more akin to Bloodborne. A thumbs up from me on this addition.
Scrap, your souls equivalent, is collected by killing enemies and lost upon your death. Like in Souls, you can reclaim them by finding your body, only this time you have a time limit to reach it. Killing enemies on the way extends this time limit, but I rarely found myself running out of time. These are used to create and upgrade equipment as well as level up your power core. Rather than level up specific stats, this allows you to plug in more powerful augments to define your character. The augments you can install are limited by your total level/power, meaning you can’t just jam in all the most powerful ones. You may only be able to afford a few low level ones or one high level one and this creates an interesting balancing act. You probably want some healing items to take with you, but that means you may not have enough power to install an upgrade for your stamina. Each augment will increase in effectiveness (up to a limit) based on your over all core power so you can still get a decent buff from weaker options. I really like this feature. Not only does it force you to make some difficult choices, but it also allows you to completely respec whenever you return to the Medbay (your bonfire equivalent) as you can slot augments in and out as you see fit.
The environments suit the game well, but after the opening area (a gorgeous, open scrapyard area) it becomes little more than industrial areas with a slightly different colour scheme. There are a couple of nice changes towards the end, but on the whole the game was rather stuck with what it could offer. It does allow for some rather tense moments journeying through tight, dimly-lit corridors in which an enemy with a flame thrower could ruin your day at any moment. These corridors often act as shortcuts that lead back to the Medbay when needed most which is a good thing considering how large some of the areas are.
Enemies aren’t hugely varied, with many of them being people in suits of lighter or heavier armour, wielding one weapon or another. The occasional ranged drone or annoying pouncing walker will show up, but for the most part you’ll be fighting the same few enemies until the final area. The showpieces are the bosses of course, of which there are 4 (5 if you count an upgraded form of one of the ordinary enemies). Whilst these certainly look interesting, they aren’t all that challenging. In fact, I managed to defeat 3 of the 5 (including the final boss) on my first attempt which was a little disappointing. I get the feeling that The Surge wanted the journey to the boss to be the big challenge, as I died during my exploration of areas far more. Sometimes these deaths felt a little cheap as I would dodge back and end up passing through barriers and falling to my death. These little moments indicate that this is a little less than polished in places which is a pity.
However! I enjoyed The Surge rather a lot. It may be a little bland in places and lacks the polish of its source material, but it really did scratch that Dark Souls itch for me. The change from light and heavy attacks to horizontal and vertical strikes forces you to learn the best move to use to damage each body parts and the overall combat feels weighty. Whilst this isn’t one I’m going to be rushing back to straight away, it certainly is an adventure I enjoyed for its 20 or so hours.
The Surge was developed by Deck13 and published by Focus Home Interactive. I played the game on Xbox One and would recommend it lovers of Dark Souls and their ilk. Whilst unpolished, it provides good, tense fun throughout its campaign. Well played Deck13!