The Surge – Review
PC, PS4 and Xbox One
There’s doubtful been any worse ‘first day on the job’ scenario presented in gaming than that depicted by Deck13 Interactive in The Surge, their sci-fi follow up to 2014’s highly derivative Lords of the Fallen. Within the first few minutes, wheelchair bound protagonist Warren takes a job with the CREO corporation and is outfitted with an Exo-rig, a mechanical exoskeleton that grants him the ability to walk once again. Immediately after, a catastrophe at CREO’s facilities, presumably the titular ‘surge’, fries the neural implants of all long-term CREO employees and turns them into ruthless killing machines. Warren wakes up shortly after with no training, a splitting headache and no way out but through his gibbering co-workers.
A pseudo spiritual successor to Lords of the Fallen, The Surge takes many elements from its predecessor and improves upon them considerably, demonstrating that Deck13 took on board much of the criticism levelled at their debut title. While utilising the same stamina-management, high risk approach to combat made famous by From Software, The Surge introduces a number of concepts which shake up the formula enough to set it apart from its contemporaries. The most obvious is the Limb system, which allows players to target specific limbs on enemies for two reasons; to take advantage of an unarmoured weak point or specifically target armoured areas and weaponry to collect them. The latter of these is accomplished by dealing enough damage to the targeted area to enable a QTE finishing move, which gives a chance for the item to drop.
Limb targeting, as well as being a compelling element to the combat of The Surge, is also integral to the upgrades system. In order to improve armour and weapons that have already been collected, further parts must be removed and scrapped from enemies. An intriguing implementation of risk/reward, it forces players to carefully balance the targeting of unarmoured limbs lest they forego upgrading equipment for too long and find themselves farming to survive in later areas with tougher enemies. To make matters worse, The Surge isn’t afraid to mess with enemy configuration and placement as players progress either, with some early areas of the game sporting tougher enemies after particular story beats.
Further adjustments to mechanics established in similar titles are the storage and multiplier systems attached to Scrap, the main currency. Near the entrance of each area is a Med Bay which allows Warren to adjust gear, replenish his healing items and take a breather. By avoiding a trip to the Med Bay between bouts of slaughtering enemies, a multiplier can be built up which increases the rewarded Scrap for both skilled and risk-inclined players. To assist risk-averse and less skilled players is the banking system, which lets collected Scrap be stored for use in the future. These features work in tandem to ensure that all levels of player are catered to and might help to convince players who get frustrated at these types of games to give The Surge a chance.
A side effect of the Scrap and Limb systems interlocking design is the ease at which weapons and armour can be upgraded and made viable, especially in later stages of The Surge when a players’ current approach to combat might not be suitable. It makes it entirely possible to start the game using a slow speed, high defense/attack build before switching to a lightly armoured, dual weapon wielding whirlwind with minimal fuss. The implant system, The Surge’s equivalent of abilities and spells is similarly diverse, catering to a wide range of play styles and approaches. Implants are made more entertaining by version info being used to denote their efficacy – finding the v.3 version of a treasured v.1 implant ensures a quick return to the Med Bay in order to upgrade.
While the general mechanics and systems of The Surge are solid, it does have room for improvement. Areas are labyrinthine, with many shortcuts to be discovered by diligent explorers feel more rewarding than sprawling open areas and give a strong feeling of both progression and mastery, often revealing further layers on later visits. Offsetting this however is the limited pool of visual motifs to areas, hampered no doubt by the industrial setting. By the third area, nearly all of the variations on offer will have been seen by the player, and subsequent areas feel akin to remixes of existing art and assets. This is compounded by a limited selection of both human and robotic enemies, an issue which makes sense given the setting but still hurts the game overall. Above all of its faults however are the camera issues found in The Surge, arguably the biggest sin any third-person action game can commit. While infrequent, they seem to occur at the most inopportune times, most notably during boss battles which go from fairly challenging to infuriating when death is caused by a sudden lock off or rotation of the camera rather than player performance. That said, this is an issue which could be easily addressed by a patch and thus shouldn’t be cause for too much concern.
Ultimately, one’s enjoyment of The Surge can be largely predicted based upon enjoyment of similar titles. With a fresh take on some old formulas and an aesthetic that moves away from the grim fantasy players are used to, there is no doubt than fans of the genre should give it a shot. That said, it won’t be a revelation to any who have remained disinterested thus far.
It was whilst toiling away in the bowels of the now mythical Australian Gamer forums that Stephen’s attempts at writing were recognised by then up-and-coming Matt ‘Hewso’ Hewson as “not terrible”. Since then he has contributed to such sites as The Age’s now defunct Screen Play, the now-long retired Black Panel and currently serves under Editor-in-Chief Hewso for Player2.net.au, at least until the pattern of decline obvious in his previous engagements is picked up on by Hewso and he is exiled from games journalism forever.
Writes on Yugambeh land.