What if Dark Souls had an industrial sci-fi setting? Deck 13’s newest IP The Surge, attempts to answer that question. Set in a corporate dystopia in the wake of an ambiguous event, you are plunged into a world of high stakes combat and tense exploration. So, home sweet home for fans of FromSoftware. However, what should be a must have Action-RPG is instead an experience with solid foundation, but little enough else make a bold statement for the genre.
Combat in The Surge will feel right at home for fans of the FromSoftware franchise. You awaken in the aftermath of a disaster with a futuristic exoskeleton (gruesomely) attached to your body. The suit does allow for some incredible feats of strength but not exactly the most nimble movement, what results is an interesting combination. The quick dashing of Bloodborne is mixed with the heavy handed swinging of Dark Souls. The combat feels responsive, with half the battle coming from understanding individual enemy movesets. The fighting, in all its technical prowess, has a tendency to feel hollow, with most attacks having no visible effect on the enemies. Likely because the majority of the enemies in the game are mindless husks due to the mysterious industrial disaster. The weapons and gear implemented in the game are all held to this single theme, industrial machinery.
Every weapons inspiration can be traced back to construction and industry. This does create some truly fascinating weapons, such as a wicked hand saw or a massive hammer ripped from a machine. After some time with the game, this theme does wear thin. Picture for instance, all the weapons in Dark Souls were on fire. Fire is cool, who doesn’t like fire? But after a while, wouldn’t it be nice to see some weapons that maybe weren’t all trapped in this theme. That’s the issue with The Surge’s weapons, it is trapped by its own theme. There are many weapon types, One handed, two handed, dual wielding and staffs. But few if any are able to escape the label of futuristic construction equipment. In lieu of spells, projectiles are done with your drone companion. Which suffice to say, is very dull, there is little joy in using this Amazon Delivery-esque drone to “pew pew” at enemies. Armor in the game is handled through your exoskeleton, the wearable extension of the player character.
The exoskeleton takes on a much different role than armor in traditional role-playing games. In lieu of leveling up your character with confusing and unclear stats, leveling up is simply adding more overall energy to your exosuit. Every armor, weapon and implant is affected by this energy level via core power consumption. The suits total power is like a budget, and equipped items have to be managed accordingly. This level of customization is truly impressive. A more seasoned player could opt to save energy by removing implants that allow the enemy health bars to be displayed. Being able to readjust the characters entire playstyle is a truly exciting feature, and one of The Surge’s highlights. This customization would be great if the world and story were enough to push the player explore all of these options.
The Surge adopts more than just the combat from the Souls games, the less is more storytelling is front and center. The method that works very well in Dark Souls is……not so effective here. In Dark Souls the reason for the ambiguity worked, in The Surge, it feels forced. Like the full story is front and center but instead it would rather have mystery for the sake of mystery. Most lore is hidden in audio logs, a gimmick that ran its course after the third Bioshock game, or unhelpful NPC’s, which is Dark Souls bread and butter. The mishmash of storytelling combined with an environment that isn’t terribly compelling to explore leaves a game that behaves like an imitator as opposed to an innovator.
For those that absolutely have to scratch that Dark Souls itch, but don’t feel like replaying the series, The Surge could be just what you’re looking for. For the gamer looking to add the next hit action-rpg to their shelves, it may be time to wait for a sale.