There’s no doubt in my mind whatsoever that The Surge will be compared to the likes of Dark Souls, and although there’s clearly not quite the same level of craft or quality implemented in the former, this is a game that showcases Deck 13’s otherwise fantastic range of skills. Set many years in the future at the HQ of a huge corporation known as CREO, technology is (as expected) practically a necessity of everyday life. Humans are now fully kitted with exo-suits that have been combined with their body, making them faster and stronger than those without. The game immediately has you questioning the motives of CREO through propaganda advertisements not too dissimilar to the likes of Abstergo from the AC series. This is a massively dominating company that’s promising a better world with their vision in mind, but as always with any corporate giant that seems to good to be true, there’s a catch, and it’s going to cost you your humanity.
You take on the role of wheelchair-bound Warren who is off on his way to get himself an exo-suit under the condition that he works for CREO and substitutes some of his humanity. Things go from questionable to worse when his automated procedure fails to correctly administer pain relief, meaning the whole installation turns out to be one scream-filled gory transition. Once he comes back from his unconscious state, life is far from perfect. Exo-suit wearing soldiers are now hell bent on destruction and it’s up to Warren to get to the bottom of it and hopefully save himself in the process. As far as introductions go, The Surge hits all the right marks. It’s captivating, it’s brutal, and it instantly hooks you with an unapologetic dark theme. Sure, Warren might be about as flat as a pancake and as dull as they come, but the premise is very well rounded. Everything from here on out is a constant climb towards getting better gear and building yourself into an equally as brutal killing machine.
With that being said it’s important to note that The Surge is much more about character progression and growth than anything else. You’ll achieve this by slicing your foes body parts off and stealing the equipment for yourself. That may sound simplistic on paper, however actually pulling that off is anything else but. This is a game that will have you dying again and again in your journey to bettering yourself. As you defeat those that stand in your way, you’ll obtain tech scrap that can be collectively used to upgrade your exo-suits power core. Looting on the other hand is just as straight forward, and as aforementioned, this consists of dismembering enemy limbs. You do this by targeting either the head, body, arms or legs of a foe, with specific attack patterns giving you more chance at pulling off a finisher and gaining your loot.
See someone with a particularly sweet looking weapon? Get in there and chop that freaking arm off and claim it as your own. This is what The Surge is all about. It’s about paying attention to your opposition and telling the difference between all out killing and careful maiming. Enemies will present themselves with body parts that are both armoured and unarmoured, and these are coordinated via highlighted colours of yellow and blue, respectively. Once you’ve picked up some loot you can then use that to craft a new piece of armour using a schematic, alternatively you can choose to upgrade armour using pieces you have taken from duplicates. Scrap doesn’t tend to hang around for too long, meaning if you walk away you can kiss goodbye to seeing it again. The general rule of thumb for the game on the other hand is that (for the most part) almost everything has a use in one way or another. If you don’t want your metallic ass handed to you on a regular basis, you need to stay on point and continue to build on yourself throughout.
Every area houses an Ops Centre that you need to visit in order to level up, build, and upgrade either your armour or core. Upgrading your core will enable you to use extra slots for your implants. Implants come in a wide range of different forms, such as added health feeds, health increases, stamina, and more. Each one will use up core energy, which is also the same for any armour piece on your rig. It’s a brilliant system that works well but it’s never truly explained to you, much of your effort to proceed will be by trial and error. You can also spend tech scraps at any given Ops Centre, as well as get your health feeds replenished ready for your journey back into the dangerous world. There’s only one Ops Center located in each section and getting to them is not always simple. Mercifully you can seek out several shortcuts to bypass other (more deadlier) routes and get to where you’re wanting to go in half the time.
There’s a lot of grinding involved to stay on par with the progressively difficult enemies, but thanks to the brutally satisfying combat it never really gets old. The Surge gives you enough choice to play the game how you like, you can go opt in for speed over strength, or prioritise brute force over quick movement. Staying on top of your stats is key, but it’s equally as important to maintain a build that suits your playstyle. There’s a wide collection of different gear sets that you can chase down and benefit from. You can mix and match gear to achieve that middle-ground build, or alternatively obtain a complete gear set to gain an additional boost. Customisation is fluid and meaningful, but that’s not to say that you’ll always feel the difference. Defence for example is less notable than (let’s say) attack, simply due to the fact that most of your encounters can dispose of you with as little as two hits.
Your biggest enemy throughout The Surge isn’t the countless exo-suit wearing murderers that patrol each environment, or even the impressively large boss battles. Nope, that honour sits with the camera. In wide open spaces the camera behaves well and does the job fine, you’re able to see the action that’s unfolding and you have enough perception to effectively manoeuvre around the environment. In close quarter combat and confined spaces however, that’s an entirely different story. The camera will constantly struggle to stay on track, so much so that you’ll die as a result if you don’t pay close attention to the sound of enemy attacks and movements. It can be a massive pain in the ass, especially for a game where it’s far too easy to bite the dust. Thankfully this doesn’t tend to happen a lot, but when it does, it’s pretty unforgivable.
Gameplay itself is comfortable and precise, made apparent by how mobile Warren is. When the camera isn’t trying to ruin your day, you can feel each and every movement within, near perfectly. Warren will parry, dodge, and attack exactly how you want him to. I found no issues whatsoever with the controls, they were mapped out exactly how you would expect and as alluded to, the feedback is great. Much of the story can be soaked up via audio logs that are dotted around the entire game, so it might pay off to enjoy this experience at a fair pace and pay attention to your surroundings. Those that plan on running from A to B are bound to miss out on the backbone of the plot, and as far as sci-fi action games go, this is certainly one that you want to get the most out of.
Visually The Surge is gorgeous to observe. There’s definitely room for slight improvements, case in point the textures are low resolution when you’re up close to characters, but amidst everything else in the game that’s been carefully detailed and well crafted, it’s a beast that I can overlook. The level design is not only interesting, but excellent in delivery. The game gradually takes you through some unique industrial and futuristic structures, starting out in ruins and eventually taking you through the clinical confines of the CREO complex. I did get a little tired of seeing the same sort of environments near the end of the game, but that may have been down to being stuck on a specific boss for well over two hours.
A further disappointment comes from the re-skinned enemies. It’s not very noticeable at first but when you get roughly half way through, heaps of your encounters are just slightly modified versions of enemies you’ve already faced off against. This isn’t the same for the epic boss fights, which are arguably the most action-packed and satisfying encounters out of them all, even if there’s only a handful. As for the audio, this is also well implemented and suits the theme of the game remarkably well. Don’t get me wrong, nothing particularly stands out to the point that it will stick with you post-completion, but there’s no denying that each and every sound effect and splat you hear when dismembering a foe is something you’ll appreciate every time.
The Surge isn’t perfect and it hardly rubs shoulders with Dark Souls. The gameplay is swift, fluid and satisfying and the visuals and level design are well structured and go hand in hand brilliantly. Sadly the camera can be a nuisance in tight close quarter situations, often costing you a life and some of your sanity when it occurs regularly. The voice acting isn’t as good as it could have been, and the re-skinned enemies shave a layer of immersion off the overall experience. Combat and looting is absolutely outstanding and it’s easily the selling point for anyone that enjoys gear hunting and crafting. The Surge tells an intriguing story about technological advancements and how that impacts human life, it may sound quite ‘run of the mill’ on paper, but it’s surprisingly well struck nevertheless. That being said, there’s enough personality within to justify a recommendation to any gamer that loves a Souls-like challenge.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.