From Soft’s Soulsborne games make up my favorite series of all time and The Surge is far and away the best non-From Soft developed Soulsborne title to date. Eschewing the dark medieval fantasy of Souls and Gothic Victorian horror of Bloodborne, Deck 13’s The Surge instead takes place within a near futuristic industrial complex, opting for a heavy dose of science fiction and industrial punk to fuel its apocalyptic narrative.
Not entirely new to the genre, Deck 13’s previous entry in the Souls-like lexicon “Lords of the Fallen” was…kinda not that good. I’m not entirely sure what happened, but their sophomore outing really amped things up and delivered an incredibly satisfying and challenging experience with what I would say is honestly probably the best combat any of these titles has ever had.
It is deep and satisfyingly weighty, you can really feel each and every hit, but it never comes across as sluggish or unresponsive. In addition to your usual blocks and dodges you can also jump and duck under enemy attacks.
One of the sort of running gameplay concepts in The Surge is the use of risk vs reward. This can be seen in its combat via the limb targeting system, where you can (no shit) target individual limbs or areas of an enemy (head, torso, left/right arm/leg..usually) in a manner very reminiscent of Eternal Darkness. Where the risk vs reward comes into play is in how this works in conjunction with the game’s loot system.
New weapons, armor schematics, upgrade materials, etc. are obtained through dealing enough damage to a specific limb of an enemy and performing a finishing move to actually sever that limb and take it for yourself. If you see a weapon you want, chop his arm off and wield it with pride. Like his helmet? Cut his head off and gain the blueprints to make your own. Need materials to upgrade your own? You know what to do!
Armored parts do have higher defense however, meaning you will be engaged in combat for a longer period of time, putting you more at risk. If you just want to cut through an enemy as quick as you can and minimize the chances of making a mistake and taking hits, most enemies will have unarmored sections or weak points you can target that will take more damage and put them down quicker, at the cost of losing out on the additional loot and schematics you would otherwise get. It’s a great balancing act, it adds variety and strategy to the combat and it’s just plain fun to boot.
The only real downside to this is there does get to be a point that you don’t really need additional blueprints or upgrade materials and you’re likely going to just try and kill something as quick as possible and I would have liked to see some way of keeping it all relevant throughout, but given that you’re still pretty much getting new stuff and upgrading through the majority of the game (and on NG+ cycles you can upgrade your equipment further requiring higher upgrade materials) they did at least make an effort at counteracting this so props to them for having some foresight.
In addition to a pretty solid variety of weapons (broken down into single or twin rig, staff, heavy duty and one handed), many of which are re-purposed industrial tools akin to Isaac’s weaponry in Dead Space, you have your companion drone that you will be upgrading throughout your adventure. While its uses in combat are limited, something Deck 13 has stated they will be addressing in this year’s sequel, it is nice to have and it shakes things up even if only a little bit.
And yeah, the weapons are awesome. From fork lift arms to a giant fuck-you knife to claws made up of nanomachines, blades that shoot fire, a bunch of stuff added via the paid expansions or free updates, there’s a lot of aesthetic variety, a solid handful of movesets and statistical differences, and it all just feels so badass.
Something that the genre is really known for is its focus on big, spectacle boss fights, and while The Surge does have some really, really cool bosses (I absolutely love its last two boss fights in particular), I actually feel what sets it apart is a much greater focus on combat with normal enemies. The Surge is a HARD game and a big part of that comes from making each and every single encounter a genuine threat to your survival, more than most other games in the genre do even. It makes just trying to run through an area much more difficult, as you’ll often have to strategically engage enemies, trying to 1v1 things as often as possible as you’ll die more often than not if ganged up on.
On the subject of bosses, something that The Surge does that I found really cool and unique (though I want to say Lords of the Fallen did this as well, I could be wrong) is having a “hardcore” kill for each boss, something to add an extra layer of challenge to the fight in order to obtain better rewards at the end of it.These range from preventing a certain boss from hitting itself with one of its own attacks to cutting all of the legs off of one boss rather than only a certain number or another boss that has somewhat more complicated requirements.
The reward is, typically, an upgraded version of the weapon you would normally get for beating that boss, often having special properties or moves (one of my personal favorites adds special fire attacks to its moveset), with the final boss actually having two entirely different weapons based on how you defeat it. It again plays into that sense of risk vs reward that pervades the design of this game.
And just to finish off my thoughts on risk vs reward in The Surge, the game’s take on “souls”. Much like any other game in the genre, you collect a form of experience or currency from defeating foes (souls in Dark Souls, blood echoes in Bloodborne, scrap in The Surge). However, something that The Surge does that really stands out above the rest, the longer you go and the more enemies you kill without banking it or resting at this game’s bonfire equivalent, the higher the multiplier you build, meaning you’ll gain more and more the bigger the risk you take.
On top of that, when you do die and drop your scrap, a timer starts and once it runs out, if you haven’t reclaimed your scrap, you lose it forever (and of course the usual Souls rules still apply, if you die before collecting it, it’s gone too) but each enemy you kill on your way adds to that timer, giving you longer to get to it. And on top of that further, if you’re engaging enemies in the area around your lost scrap, as long as you have not yet picked it up, you get bonuses (though I can’t recall to what exactly, I do apologize) for fighting in the area around it.
The environments are incredibly realistic, they genuinely work to feel like an actual working environment, everything makes sense in the context. The game also would give any fan of the much lauded method From uses for weaving levels back around on themselves and opening shortcuts a raging hard on as this game’s interconnected areas and shortcuts are absolutely astounding and well done, From could even learn a thing or two in this regard.
A quick mention to the augment system where you can sort of customize your build around various implants that give you different abilities or enhancements and can be swapped around, the higher your level the more or stronger ones you can equip. There’s a decent amount of variety here and everything from your ability to heal to bonuses to the amount of tech scrap you gain to how much your energy meter (used for things like finishers or your drone or other abilities), damage boosts, etc. It’s a cool system I look forward to seeing more from.
I’ve gushed about this game online plenty in the past and I will continue to do so in the future, and with a sequel coming this year that looks to really expand upon the world and build on the already solid ground work, I could definitely see that receiving just as much praise before finding its own place among my top 10 list if it doesn’t replace the first outright.
Last little aside. The music is great too, I’ve found myself becoming especially fond of Stumfol’s “Prisoner”, a song you will come to know very well if you spend much of any time in an Ops center. It is also the track that plays over the game’s closing credits and given the direction the story ultimately takes is actually incredibly fitting. Speaking of which, the story was interesting, there were some really cool twists, the ending was great, I rather not spoil it for you, but I think it should catch a mention regardless. We also have been informed that we haven’t seen the last of our protagonist, Warren, as his story will continue in the coming sequel even if we won’t be in his shoes ourselves (my money is on him either leading some sort of resistance or possibly acting as a boss at some point, maybe even THE boss?).
So that’s The Surge, one of the most criminally underrated games in recent memory. It finally started catching some attention thanks to it recently being one of the free titles given out via Playstation Plus back in April, exposure I was so thrilled to see the game finally getting. I really sincerely hope that this was helpful or informative, if it at all caught your attention I implore you go out and give the game a shot. It won’t necessarily be required to be able to jump into the sequel, but it sure couldn’t hurt right?