German video game company Deck 13 Entertainment has already tried to cash in on the success of the Dark Souls-franchise with Lords of the Fallen, their own version of a ‘Souls-like’ game. The game was a mediocre Darks Souls rip-off at best and didn’t get a lot of positive criticisms from gamers and press alike. Now, Deck 13 Entertainment has taken another shot at creating a game that features a lot of Dark Souls mechanics, while also adding some new gameplay elements.
The most obvious difference between the Dark Souls games and The Surge is the setting. Whereas Dark Souls takes place in a medieval fantasy setting, The Surge is set in a dystopian future where Earth has been ravaged by war and global warming. The story starts pretty intriguing and lets you take control of Warren, a wheelchair-bound man that applies for a job at the CREO company. Here, he will be outfitted with an exo-suit that makes him able to walk again. After choosing your preferred exo-suit configuration (Rhino for focus on strength or Lynx for agility) you get fitted with said configuration. However, things go wrong and Warren undergoes a rather painful operation. He later wakes up in a drone-infested scrapyard and quickly realizes that he’s not supposed to be alive. It is now up to him to fight his way through the CREO site and uncover the truth.
Like I said, the story starts pretty interestingly, but after the prologue and tutorial level it immediately loses focus and doesn’t give you that much more exposition or lore. Most of the game, the story comes down to “go there to do this, then advance to next location”. While the Dark Souls games also don’t have an interesting or well-written main plot, it did have a lot of background stories and additional world-building lore that made their settings so immersive and intriguing. The Surge doesn’t offer anything special in terms of story, which may turn off fans of Souls-like games.
Great combat system
The combat in The Surge is almost identical to the Souls games. You have a light and strong attack, can block enemies and dodge out of harm’s way. Defeating enemies and bosses rewards you with ‘scrap’ which is the game’s currency that you can use for upgrading your exo-suit with additional bonuses (like better health management). But The Surge adds another element to the combat system: dynamic targeting. Every enemy in the game, except bosses, have weaknesses that you can hit for extra damage. This makes killing enemies easier, but also less rewarding since you took the ‘easy way’ of dealing with them. The harder way is by targeting specific limbs to dismember them after dealing enough damage. Severed limbs reward you with schematics that lets you craft new types of weapons and armour for your exo-suit. The dynamic targeting gives more depth to the combat. Instead of simply avoiding enemies and attacking them, you now also have to choose between going for the easy kill or risking your life (and scrap) on a longer battle in the hopes of acquiring a new type of gear. Long story short, the combat in The Surge is great.
More forgiving but still difficult
The Surge is seemingly more forgiving than Dark Souls. I say seemingly because the enemies themselves quickly receive a huge difficulty spike after the first hour or so, and it only gets worse after that. Still, The Surge does come with some tweaks to the unforgiving gameplay formula that Dark Souls is so notorious for. For example, collected scrap can be stored in safe zones to prevent losing your currency after dying in combat. This means that after getting revived in one of these safe zones, you don’t have to waste time on backtracking to find your lost scrap. The Surge also comes with a weapon proficiency system that improves your efficiency with different types of weapons. The more you use a weapon, the better your proficiency becomes, which can help a lot with difficult bosses. Then there are the implants, which become more effective after each time you ‘level up’ your power core. These implants grant you passive abilities and upgrade your Vital Injection’s effectiveness, which are the game’s equivalent of health potions. Leveling up your power core also unlocks new locations, acting as some sort of guide that prevents you from entering high-level zones with a weak character. Dark Souls veterans may not like these additional mechanics, as they make the game easier, but it also makes the game a little more accessible for newcomers of the genre.
The visuals in The Surge are nothing special. Some of the enemy designs look great, but the weird lighting effects and motion blur can make the game look unfinished. The console versions also suffer from regular frame drops and texture popping. If you were to play the game, I’d suggest to play it on the PC and turn off some of the graphical settings.
The Surge is a competent Souls-like title that adds some unique changes to the gameplay formula. The story is lacking and the visuals are not that impressive, but the combat is great. If Deck 13 Entertainment is able to improve the story and lore with a sequel or possible DLC, we may be looking at a worthy successor to the Dark Souls franchise.