Imagine a dystopian future where we've ruined the planet to the point we need to take drastic action to prevent the extinction of the human race. That action comes in the form of rockets being blasted in to the stratosphere to do... something... That something goes horribly wrong in The Surge, the latest game from the makers of Lords of The Fallen, Deck 13 Interactive.
Warren, the protagonist, is about to start his first day on the job at Creo working on the operation touted to save the planet when that fateful something goes wrong. During the procedure to fit him with an exosuit the system fails and he finds himself being operated on without anaesthetic. Eventually he blacks out when his neurolink is installed. Waking up some unspecified time later he finds that a drone is dragging him somewhere to be decommissioned. Obviously he objects to this and picks up a pipe to beat the Tech Scrap out of the drone and the game begins properly.
At first glance the combat is rather run-of-the-mill hack and slash action RPG fare - lock on to an enemy, beat it to a pulp whilst avoiding/blocking incoming hits, collect the XP (in this game it is called Tech Scrap) and any loot that drops and move on. However, when you approach an enemy you can often cycle through the various body parts.
If you want a quick kill you can lock on to an unprotected body part and be done with them in moments, or you can choose to attack an armoured part. This makes the combat longer. but if you finish off the enemy with a proper finisher you get to loot the severed body part. Why would you do this over the quicker kill? Because this is how you earn blueprints for new gear and the parts necessary to build that gear.
A practical example - upon entering a new area you encounter enemies with different armour. You can go around the new location and keep fairly close to the Operations Centres (the respawn points in The Surge
) whilst fighting these enemies with new armour, prioritising taking off each armour piece to gain the plans and parts needed. You then bring all your tech Scrap back to Ops, cash in your broken bits of loot for parts and start crafting the new armour.
Tech Scrap is also used to level up your suit's power rating - the higher the rating the better armour you can equip. The power rating is also used to buff Warren in different ways through the application of different chips. More power allows you equip more chips, and each chip can do things like increase health or weapon proficiency. It can have an effect on the total number of healing items you carry as well and give you resistance boosts to certain types of damage.
The world of The Surge
is made up of several large interconnecting levels built upon various sci-fi themes of monstrous factories and clean labs. The layouts make sense in the context of the game and feature some of the best looping design I have seen for some time.
You'll be lost in a maze of corridors and maintenance walkways when you'll suddenly recognise where you are, or see a little sign on a wall pointing towards the Operations Centre. Countless times I stumbled through a door I unlocked, almost dead and carrying more Tech Scrap than I'd feel happy hauling around, to find that I had looped around and made a shortcut. Safe, I could level up, craft and plan my next move.
The story in The Surge
is done sparingly with characters coming and going and only marginally more informed than Warren, some of them suffering in one way or another - characters like Davey who you can meet early on. Davey is going through withdrawal from a drug given to him by the company he works for, and as you progress and keep looping back to where he is holed up he gets progressively more distressed. There are multiple characters you can repeatedly run into who dripfeed the broader story to you. You can also miss them entirely, just as you can miss the multiple audiolog story threads if you're not thorough with exploration.
Boss fights are both brilliant and highly frustrating. Each has pronounced phases where you'll need to change strategies to bring them down and will test both your patience and your timing. There is little room for just brute forcing things here. On the frustrating side of things the bosses can be erratic to read and dodging doesn't produce the consistent invincibility frames you might be used to from this particular type of hardcore action RPG, so you'll find yourself dying from hits you'll swear blind you'd dodged.
has excellent sound design that uses musical cues to prepare you for what's coming your way, although the overall musical score is forgettable. In this case, though, that is forgiveable because in places the atmospheric soundscape creates the tension you'd want from this type of game. Voice acting is good enough to convey what the story requires. It's nice to hear a variety of accents from the different nationalities that came together in the ill fated attempt at saving the Earth.
This is a vast improvement over Lords of The Fallen
and does enough of its own thing to separate it from other games in this growing genre. Having the story dispersed throughout the levels rather than being thrust in your face is how I prefer this type of game, and the more you invest in uncovering what happened the more you'll get out of the game as a whole. Deck 13 has produced an excellent and occasionally tough-as-nails action RPG most fans of this particular sub-genre will enjoy.
+ Excellent combat, especially the limb targeting
+ Interconnected level design that rewards exploration
+ The crafting is necessary for progress but not overbearing
+ Whilst story takes a backseat there is enough to keep you going forward
- Deaths can feel cheap because of inconsistent dodging
- Warren is a bland protagonist
SPOnG Score: 8/10