The Surge (2017, PC)

By AJSA Delrith / May 16, 2017

First off I'd like to state that I was given a press copy and have played this game extensively — about 20ish hours in the first playthrough of NG. I've also got a LOT of experience with Soulslike games and have even done things like SL1 runs in DS and NG+7 on Bloodborne.

The Good Things
-The game is visually appealing and retains high graphical quality. The character especially looks fantastic when you're plowing through in power armor. A lot of the weapons are also extremely attractive to look at.

-It has a great concept. The idea of sci-fi Dark Souls is an appealing one. The idea of it involving exosuits is even cooler.

-It appeals to anyone who particularly enjoys grinding for long periods of time without progression. It's an extremely grindy game.

-It has SOME BASIC concepts of combat that are enjoyable for a little while. The game feels good for about three hours. The Surge DOES do a good job of making you feel great while you play. Attacks are meaty, weighty and have good impact. Just like in any Souls game, you lock on to enemies and play the "cat and mouse" chess game with them. Normal enemies are VERY hard, and The Surge focuses almost exclusively on them — boss battles are few and far between. You can focus armored or non-armored areas, the latter of which giving you access to finishing moves to lop off that armor and take it for yourself as a schematic. The game is harder when you do this, and the play loop that results is fairly unique (albeit... black and white) — focus yellow areas if you want gear, and focus blue areas if you want to live and progress easier.

-The difficulty: This game is very, very hard... for both good and bad reasons. Every enemy can kill you in a few hits, and it's more intense on a moment-to-moment basis than Dark Souls. In addition, the maze-like level design feels cramped, which makes the game more intense because there are usually very few places to get comfortable and fight in line of sight of other parts of the screen (to see if other enemies are about to jump you). Bosses are challenging and fair, just like in Dark Souls. They are hard but not super hard, usually requiring multiple attempts. I just wish there were more of them. They are all beatable, because the game has prepared you well given how hard the regular enemies are. With that said, if you are a casual or average gamer... I would not recommend The Surge due to the massive difficulty.

-SOME of the story/lore objects are interesting to listen to and establish a basic understanding of the universe. I liked what little I got.

-Misc. Good Things: Great lightning effects, VERY GOOD PERFORMANCE (never dropped below 60 fps), a unique setting (however, one that the story does a poor job of enhancing and developing), really great animations and execution animations, and one of the best options menus in gaming (everything is explained very well, in detail, and is fully customizable).

   That's where the positives end. The negatives are staggering so bear with me.

The Bad Things
-The combat is extremely clunky. Combos have queue systems which results in you doing things you didn't intend to. You cannot cancel combo chains. Anything heavy takes quite some time to use/swing and it results in you doing quite a few single-strike attacks. Multiple enemies are not limited to the same clunky mechanics. A lot of them have almost instantaneous-instadeath attacks.

-Enemies have hyper armor. Most enemies can straight-up ignore any assault you're delivering to them due to a game mechanic called "impact". This mechanic makes most light and quick weapons useless as you CANNOT trade with enemies effectively. Even the most powerful weapons in the game do not stagger throughout combos and result in you being struck repeatedly. Enemies, even weaker ones, will power through your attacks and royally kick your butt. This applies to EVERY enemy.

-Deaths feel cheated due to "cheesy" mechanics. A lot of the time you die you'll feel as if it was cheaty. A lot of enemy "downtimes" are bugged right now which results in them IMMEDIATELY recovering from a stagger or attack. This "hyperarmor" results in you dying a lot more than you should and makes you feel underpowered in almost every situation early on. A lot of the enemy types have lunges which TRACK MID-AIR and deal 120+ damage which results in an almost instantaneous death at any point. These enemies are common throughout the entire game.

-Leveling up virtually does nothing. It's almost impossible to "power up" in an area you're having issues with. If you're having issues fighting in an area you CANNOT increase your power through means of leveling. Upgrading your power core does not increase your strength, stats, health, or damage. This results in a "hitting a wall" feeling in some areas and forces you to skip large packs of enemies. Gear progression is gated. This also means you CANNOT specialize in one type of weapon to make it better with stats.

-There is only really one "viable" way to fight each enemy. Trying to do combos or trading blows will result in your death. The majority of my entire playthrough (through sheer death) was nothing but dash-attacks then dodging out as getting hit was bad. I couldn't use any of the neat combos that a lot of the weapons had simply because you are punished FAAAAR too hard for doing so.

-I don't like how The Surge focuses so heavily on trash mobs. They are the meat of the game, in addition to navigating the maze-like levels finding "switches" or "consoles" to open new areas or unlock a door leading to the next boss. It gets VERY tiresome grinding trash mobs over, and over, and over... and because they are so hard it sometimes feels very sluggish going through the game.

-The grind is not justified. It is not worth it. There's not much to say here. You get tier 6 things in NG+ if you play it so everything is invalidated. You'll spend hours killing one set of mobs for specific things only to find out that the bonus is garbage and the set is not that good.

-There is a LOT of backtracking and running. You will be running back from death a LOT. There is no fast travel mechanic. There is no homeward bone. Tech scrap (souls) have a preset timer you have to beat to get back to them or they vanish. You will spend literal hours by the end of the game simply running back after deaths. Shortcuts help but it is still an immense flaw in the game's design. It's not fun. There are also containers at the BEGINNING OF THE GAME which require absurd power core levels to open that you will have to travel back to later. Again, more backtracking.

-The "bonfire" system is flawed. There is only one per level and there is no way to immediately travel back and store your "souls". This is an immense annoyance throughout the game. You never really get a "checkpoint" through levels that take quite some time to go through. Dark Souls got it right with pacing and a lot of the time you had moments of rest when needed... this gives no such relief.

-There are only five bosses in the entire game. Five. Bosses. One of them is pretty much a repeat of another one. Their last game, Lords of the Fallen, had 11, I believe? This is a complete step backwards. Also, none of them are particularly unique or interesting.

-The boss weapon mechanic is awful and there are no save files to remedy a screwup. Bosses drop a specific unique weapon when they die. This weapon can be awful if you don't do a "specific" challenge during the fight to power it up. There's no way to re-do this to get the better weapon unless you start a new game. There are no save files. You cannot repeat bosses if you make a mistake. Most players will not know that this is even the case... and you will not want to do NG+ in most cases.

-Weapon proficiency that promotes you sticking to a single weapon class hurts the game, by thwarting experimentation (Find a new awesome two-handed staff but you've been dual wielding +3 weapons all game? Don't even equip it.) It's similar to an MMO mechanic which serves no purpose. This stat invalidates most of the weapons you can use from being useful. You have to spend hours killing enemies to "level up" a proficiency (staves, single rigged, dual rigged, one-handed, heavy weapon) to make them viable. If you get a great weapon from a boss but you haven't used that "type" the entire game: it will be garbage. Later on grinding proficiency is terrible as enemies have a LOT of armor and unleveled proficiencies cannot hurt or damage them enough. It's an MMO mechanic that was not good for this game at all.

-The world design: The Surge is basically... a sci-fi Dark Souls. However, levels are VERY small, and interconnected through a main hub. This results in a more interconnected experience, at the cost of environmental diversity. Every environment screams "I'm a Factory" and has a lot of repeat art assets and textures. I grew very tired of the levels by the end of the game. Also, a lack of WOW moments (Borreal Valley in DS3, Dragon Aerie in DS2) — the scale at which the game exists is very small, dense and compact. The levels feel like mazes... for better or worse.

-Level design is EXTREMELY repetitive. There are only six real levels throughout the entire game. SIX LEVELS WITH BACKTRACKING. Same hallways. Same corridors. Same walls. Same enemies. Same pretty much everything (until the end; that's kinda cool).

-There is no character creator (which is fine)... it allows the main lead to speak and have good development in a rich story. The problem is... the story takes a back seat and is quickly shoved under the rug. Warren himself (your character) is boring, terribly voice acted and very one-dimensional. He doesn't question much, nor show very much emotion. It defeats the purpose of having a predefined lead in the end, because he doesn't get developed. Other NPCs are bland as well, and the voice acting is cringe-worthy.

-The game has no real story or objectives. There's no guidance. There's no cutscenes. There's no waypoint system. You will spend a LOT of time wandering around wondering what is going on. You will never have the answers to who you are or why you're in the facility. You will never see ANY sort of change in the main game based on helping people out or doing bonus side quests. A lot of time will be spent running back and forth trying to find an unlisted objective you need to progress. The ending is not satisfying at all.

-Misc. Bad Things: No FOV slider (not required, but would have been nice given how cramped the game is), and really subpar music.

   ... Honestly I could nitpick and explain a lot more in detail but I don't really see the need.

If you're desperately looking for more of the same Souls goodness it's just... barely... worth a play. If you're new to Soulslike games, start with Demon's Souls. If you're looking for some real innovation in the subgenre... I have to say wait for a sale and pick it up for around $30.
   This was a step backwards from Lords of the Fallen. I believe a lot of wannabe reviewers have only seen the first few hours, but the game takes a nosedive after the first few hours straight into the ground. It tries far too hard to copy Dark Souls in some ways and the game suffers because of it. Do not buy at full price. Go play Lords of the Fallen by this company for ten bucks instead.