The developers at From Software were onto something huge when they began developing the Souls series. The core gaming audience was left clamoring for more of the signature “tough, but fair” gameplay after New Game+ lost its luster. To fill this void, we began to see a swath of Souls-clones that attempted to capture the core gameplay, while providing their own stories; one of the more successful of these titles was Deck13 Interactive’s Lords of the Fallen in 2014. Lords of the Fallen gained traction for taking bits of the Souls series and putting them to work in a more accessible, fresh take on the concept. It’s safe to say that Deck13 has kept the spirit of Lords of the Fallen living through its successor, The Surge.
The Surge opens with possibly one of my favorite intros to a game this year. You control Warren, a man confined to a wheelchair, as he arrives at his future employer, CREO. In a dystopian future, mega-corporation CREO is making bold promises to save the planet with an all-new initiative.
The promise of a RIG, an exoskeleton that would allow him to walk again, convinces Warren to signup with CREO. When Warren arrives to the registration office and chooses his role in the company, he then goes to surgery to install the RIG and things go horribly wrong. I won’t spoil the details, but this starts off the game proper; where the experience shifts to the Souls-inspired gameplay.
It would be difficult to talk about The Surge without any mention of the iconic Souls series; It’s immediately and overwhelmingly obvious when the inspirations make an appearance. The Surge has a currency/xp system called scrap that function similar to souls in From Software’s series. Both games focus on a nuanced combat system that favors patience and timing, and both have respawning enemies as well as grand scale boss encounters. Even the death screens appear similar.
There’s no doubt that Deck13 pulled heavy inspiration from Souls, but they succeed in giving The Surge its own personality. For example, The Surge contains an interesting limb targeting system. The player could aim for a weak point on the enemy for extra damage; while conversely, they could aim for an armored point and dismember the limb to gain the armor schematic for their character. This system makes loot drops more accessible than in the Souls series, as you have more control of what pieces you can try for. How you get the armor pieces off the enemies is up to your play style.
The Surge has a variety of weapon types that all control differently with varying attack speeds and combo setups. Each weapon feels distinct and it feels like a part of the adventure itself is discovering what works for you. I was stuck in the second area for hours trying to use a gigantic single-rig blade weapon, but after I switched to a faster one handed weapon I breezed through the area. The combat in The Surge contains no shields, more of an allusion to Bloodborne. For me, this prompted a more aggressive style that saw a lot of evasions and counter strikes.
I had one glaring issue with the combat in The Surge, even though it is tuned fairly well. There was no way to cancel out of an animation once an attack string began. This led to situations where I helplessly watched my character swinging his weapon until he fell into a bottomless pit; I would also desperately need to dodge, but was stuck in animations.
Warren’s RIG can be modified with a variety of customization options. The Surge features stat altering implants in addition to RIG armor. These implants include using healing boosts like Estus Flasks in Dark Souls, regaining health after killing enemies, and raising the health bar. The coolest part about the implants is that each of the effects can stack. For example, you could use 4 slots to boost your usable health packs to 12. There are plenty of combinations that players can experiment with regarding implants, making it a bulk of the character building process.
As I mentioned before, The Surge has one of the best intro’s I’ve seen this year. There is tact and impact, as well as a story revolving around a disabled protagonist; that story quickly becomes squandered. Despite the intro’s exposition and world building, once the game gets rolling the story gets left behind. It feels like in the attempt to get the aesthetic of the Souls series, Deck13 ditch one of the most interesting things about the game in favor of the Souls-like vagueness of plot.
This feeling of abandonment of the story translates to the gameplay as well. Each area should have felt distinct because of the narrative around it; similar to the locations in Dark Souls. However, each area was similar to the last. The setting had a lot of potential, but it turned out so very repetitive, making the maps confusing to navigate.
Each main area had one “bonfire” area with several shortcuts placed around it to get to other areas quickly. However, because all of the settings blended into a generic futuristic jumble, it was hard to keep straight where exactly you had to go. The potential for a futuristic Dark Souls is massive, yet it feels like The Surge just scratches the surface.
The Surge provides quality combat that, while not as refined as the series it admires, scratches a Souls gameplay itch. There’s enough variation here that can allow The Surge to stand on its own, but ultimately the audience that would get the most from the game are those who have completed the Souls series and are hungry for more. Ultimately there was not enough substance to the futuristic setting to fully take advantage of it. In a world where I could just play Hidetaka Miyazaki’s iconic games, the appeal of The Surge falls.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Putting the Repeat in "Live. Die. Repeat."
Gameplay - 8/10
Plot - 5/10
Design - 7/10
Some serious cases of repetition put a damper on the game, but as a whole, The Surge does just enough to stand as its own experience. However, the main audience this game will draw is players of the Souls series that are looking for a different setting.