So, it seems ‘Souls-like’ is a genre now. Since the birth of FromSoftware’s beloved Souls franchise, we have had games that grab it, twist it and turn it into something else with the Souls blood still very present and coursing through the veins of the resulting property. FromSoftware’s other highly acclaimed IP, Bloodborne, and Koei Tecmo’s Nioh have taken on the punishing structure made famous by the mighty Dark Souls, and before it, Demon’s Souls, and came out smiling as both of those games were fantastic. Now though, it’s Deck13’s second attempt, as their first outing, Lords of the Fallen, was not the success Deck13 hoped for, so they try their luck again with The Surge.
In The Surge, you are Warren on his first day under the employment of CREO, a company that promises that humankind will prosper after all of Earth’s resources are used up. Warren is also wheelchair bound with hopes of being able to walk some day using one of CREO’s machines. He gets his wish, getting kitted out with a mech suit but is soon knocked unconscious by an explosion in the complex, waking to find the entire place in disarray and under attack by vicious machines. Whilst the opening is quite action packed and story focused, it sets the scene brilliantly, but as the game progressed, the story diminished, resulting in me later forgetting what I was fighting for. Dark Souls is lovingly remembered for its lore and world building, but The Surge never reaches the heights set by its source material.
The Surge’s saving grace is its stellar combat. Each enemy encounter is a familiar dance of telegraph and exploit, as Warren is very capable of some nifty looking combos depending on which is your weapon of choice. Many types of weapons are at your disposal, such as one-handed and two-handed variants that are blunt or sharp, such as pistons and saw blades. There are also dual-wielded weapons for those that favour speed over power, allowing Warren to whip out some stylish flurries. The combat deepens with the ability to target specific body parts of enemies with the flick of the right thumb stick. Targeting unarmoured limbs inflicts more damage; however, focusing on a particular armoured limb gives a high chance of taking that piece of armour for your own suit, which works for weapons too. As with any Souls game, The Surge is punishingly difficult. One false move can soon see you dead, with most enemies capable of taking you out with a quick one-two. I died at least once every time I encountered a new enemy type. The drone you acquire after completing the first area can help draw out opponents from a crowd, as taking on more than one enemy at a time means certain death. Guarding can’t be done on the move, so Warren’s best method of defence is dodging, much like in Bloodborne, it keeps it fast paced and very tense.
The Surge doesn’t hold your hand, even less so than any of the Souls-like games we’ve seen so far, and this is because Deck13 have scrapped any type of online functionality. You’ll find no messages from other players warning you of what’s ahead, nor will you find summoning bells or soapstone signs, you’re all alone in this steampunk utopia full of narrow corridors, surprise pitfalls and loads of branching pathways. The CREO facility is no Lothric Castle, though, there are no memorable locations or striking environments that will make your jaw drop in awe, instead you’ll navigate an uninspiring and dull recycling complex and office blocks populated by strategically placed enemies and bosses that take a lot of patience to best.
To overcome tougher challenges, your suit, parts you’ve acquired and weapons can all be upgraded using Tech Scrap, which is The Surge’s equivalent to souls or Amrita. Death means you lose all the scrap you’ve accumulated, but it can be retrieved at the site of your demise. There are also no bonfires or checkpoints, with your only solace being in a single room, a ‘safe’ room if you like, where you can make all your adjustments and save your progress. Each area circulates these rooms before tackling the boss and proceeding onto the next, standard Souls fare. The Surge is an ambitious take on the now-familiar Souls formula, but it lacks any sort of sustenance to be as exciting and intriguing as other games like it.
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 16th May 2017