The Surge is a game that we’ve seen before. But despite taking combat elements from games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne, in addition to their world-building and narrative tropes, The Surge finds room to stand on its own, paving the way for an action-RPG experience that is mostly successful.
Players take control of Warren, a wheelchair bound protagonist who participates in an experiment to be mechanically hardwired to an exo-suit, not unlike those seen in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Upon awakening from this transformation, Warren begins his journey through a post-apocalyptic world in a bid to uncover the mystery behind the madness. It’s a cliche story to say the least, but it works enough to lay the ground work for some narrative based exploration, gradually unfolding the story around you, as you find details throughout the world.
Although the various environments presented are lush and vibrant, The Surge falters slightly in its actual world building. The story marches at an uneven pace, the bulk of it told through small details you must discover of your own accord. When this approach works, it makes the drip-fed story feel natural in a way that encourages you to come to your own conclusions. There is a shift towards the endgame toward linearity, however, that leaves you feeling more or less locked into its conclusion. It clashes with the open ended nature of the game’s early hours.
The Surge’s main draw is the combat system. It works very much like Dark Souls or Bloodborne, utilising the shoulder buttons for horizontal and vertical attacks. These work similar to regularly used light and heavy attack buttons. However, The Surge does something not seen often. By allowing you to highlight specific enemy limbs and areas allows for a greater detail in combat, you are encouraged to hack of certain limbs in order to gain body-part-specific gear which may be of use to you. For example, detaching the head of an opponent may result in you gaining some gear and armour for your head, while attacking the limb carrying a weapon allows you to take said weapon for yourself. It’s an interesting system, as battles revolve around your need for specific resources.
Combat goes hand in hand with the customisation options The Surge offers it’s players. As players are encouraged to select certain limbs in order to reap and recycle scrap (The Surge‘s currency/ XP system) to upgrade current armour and weapons, it’s the implants that steal the spotlight here. Implants allow the player to take on board specific abilities, such as regenerative health or the ability to see an opponent’s health gauge. These implants can also be upgraded but allow for some interesting and versatile outcomes, provided you are willing to match and try new combinations.
Challenge and difficulty is the name of the game in The Surge. Much like Dark Souls, the difficulty is cranked up mighty high. This may be disconcerting at first, but this challenge pushes you to get better with every run through, encouraging you to craft new gear, upgrade your current gear, and install new implants to give you the edge on your next play through. It’s the lack of hand holding which pushes you to get better, but also yields immediate results, as these upgrades allow you to push further and further on your journey. An issue present is the lack of hand-holding. I found myself frustrated by the difficulty at first, but coming to terms with the combat system is all so rewarding, decreasing the level of difficulty you may have felt previously.
While games like Bloodborne do much of the same, the lack of hand-holding doesn’t hold you back from progression. Progressing through the the city of Yarnham in Bloodborne is linear compared to The Surge, but feels more natural, with clearly visible paths and distinct locations. Locations in The Surge are interesting to say the least, but lack originality as everything becomes similar looking after a few attempts. Being thrown into an open area with minimal directions and objectives is not always a good thing, as I found myself exploring often, but getting lost even more so, failing to guide me on my journey in a way that feels smooth and unforced. While the story picks up considerably in the second half, this overly long exploration with unevenly paced and important story beats makes The Surge feel like an assortment of interesting ideas, that don’t always work well together.
To sum it all up, The Surge is an interesting and bold addition to the Sci-Fi/ RPG genre, thanks to it’s strong combat and customisation options. While providing an average and unoriginal story, the game’s environments and sense of exploration engage your curiosity enough to push forward. While the lack of a traditional narrative frustrated me at times, I found myself invested enough to pick up my weapons and head out into the world of The Surge to give it yet another try.
Score: 7.0 out of 10
Highlights: Excellent combat system, weapon variety, customisation.
Lowlights: Unoriginal story, lack of focused narrative.
Developer: Deck 13 Interactive
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Platform: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC
Release Date: Out Now.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4.