This review ended up being one of the toughest things I’ve had to do since we started Geek.Sleep.Rinse.Repeat. It’s not that I dislike reviewing games, or at least attempting to anyway. In fact given the opportunity to play more games and distribute more reviews would be very welcome. The reason that this review ended up being so difficult is down purely to my personal preference of video game genres.
To make it a little easier to read, having to play The Surge was actually quite intimidating, because I’ve never fully played a Soul’s-esque game before in my life. I bought into the Bloodborne hype and did purchase that a year after launch, gave it a few hours but found out then this genre is not for me. I’ve since actively avoided the genre as the difficulty of them puts me off. I play games for fun, and while I’m sure fans of the Souls series or Bloodborne might raise an eyebrow at that sentiment and argue that they have fun playing those games, good for them, but I apparently do not have the patience to retrace my steps over and over or kill enemies over and over should I die while trying to make progress on an area. That to me is not my idea of fun. Sorry.
So that again is another reason why this was a hard review as how can I possibly write up an impartial review? Having not played or enjoyed another Soul’s game, how can I make a respectable comparison to other games of this genre? My feelings for The Surge may differ completely to a fan of those games. So this review is perhaps a one of a kind. It’s a review on a game from the perspective of a complete ‘noob’ to the genre. A disclaimer, this review does contain spoilers.
The Surge is an action RPG following the formula made famous by the Souls games. You play as Warren who makes his way to work on the monorail for the first time at CREO as the game begins. The opening of the game threw me right back to the very first parts of Half Life 2 as you make your way to a very strictly patrolled train station. The opening moments of the game get you to grips with looking around and basic movement. I was initially surprised to find Warren in a wheelchair based on the promotional videos for this game featuring a walking protagonist, so knew that this easy first day at work was going to take a bad turn rather soon. As you are pointed to the direction of your first job, a cut-scene begins showing the very painful looking procedure that Warren undergoes to have an ‘Exo-suit’ fitted to his body. Apparently during the procedure the futuristic mega corporation is the centre of some unfortunate events which we do not witness. We simply wake up as Warren in what appears to be a rocket scrap yard.
From here you’re thrown into the deep end to progress through the game without any knowledge of what happened and what the cause was. The opening area of the scrapyard serves as a way to get you accustomed to the combat system. And here’s where my lack of experience with other games of this genre plays in as I do not know if the following is common in other games or not. When in combat you can lock onto certain parts of the enemies body. By doing this you can focus on the enemies potential weaker spots which will be outlined in a cyan colour. The other areas of the body that’ll take more slugs are outlined yellow. This is actually a very integral part to the game as the enemies that you’ll be butchering appear to be some half robotic zombies in their own Exo-suits. So by cutting limbs off your enemies, you collect the pieces from their Exo-suit to gain scrap for upgrades to your own Exo-suit. The more you target the legs of enemies, the more leg scrap pieces will be dropped which can then be eventually used to build leg armour for your Exo-suit. Same goes for torso, arms, helmets and weapons.
The hit detection from this mechanic is almost faultless. If you specifically want to target that particular enemies left leg, you click the right analogue stick down to lock onto that enemy, then flick the right analogue stick down and left to target that limb. From then on out you will always hit that part. The tricky part is quickly targeting the limb you want to hit on some of the later enemies as they thrust at you with little time to perfect a ‘lock, target, dodge’ combination. The torso also tends to be tougher to ‘flick’ the analogue stick to for some reason. But the accuracy of your attacks on the specific limb is faultless. Once you’ve got the limb to the point of amputation, if your combat energy bar is maxed, you perform a gruesome finisher on the limb salvaging the parts you need for your future use.
As you collect your tech scraps and Exo-suit upgrades, you can head back to the Medbay at the start of the area to deposit all your hard earn scraps in a safe location and craft new parts for your suit and upgrade parts you’ve already got. Be warned though, once you leave the Medbay, the enemies that you dispatched will be back again. Apparently this is very much a thing that happens in Souls. It’s nice though to be able to deposit your scraps and know they will remain safe at the Medbay. On one of many occasions I was a little to brash in my aggression and paid for it by dying, the tech scraps you’ve attained to that point are dropped at the spot you snuffed it. You have 2 minutes and 30 seconds to get back to this point (with all the enemies you’d taken care of now back in the area) to collect what you dropped. However you can acquire more time by destroying enemies on route to your dropped goodies.
With the ability to constantly respawn the enemies by simply returning to the Medbay, I found that in preparation for taking on the first boss (after an attempt prior not realizing what I was about to walk into) I was simply grinding away taking out a batch of 5-10 enemies in an area surrounding the Medbay to get scraps for upgrades. Is this something you’re accustomed to in Souls? Grinding? I’m fully aware Destiny was a grind, but I’m not sure if this style of play is to be expected in these type of games. Well grind I did. Eventually tough enough to take care of the first boss P.A.X.
As well as upgrading your Exo-suits attack and defense capabilities with tech scrap earned from enemies, there are also implants you can find which add additional attributes and functions. At the start of the game you can have 2 implants active. You can unlock additional implant slots with scrap. Some of the implants that are acquired can increase your overall health and can enhance your attack’s to use less stamina (which is highly useful considering dodging and parrying take up stamina too). Others offer aid such as injections to restore damage you’ve taken or make enemies health visible as an additional bar over them when in combat. So this is where dilemma’s can set in. Do you spend your scrap on Exo-suit upgrades which improve your attack and defense, or do you pursue additional implant slots to aid you with other areas?
To further complicate matters your Exo-suit has a power core, and with each implant or upgrade applied this consumes some of the core power, so this needs to be upgraded to ensure you can run numerous implants and Exo-suit upgrades at the same time. So more questionable decisions on what you should invest your very hard fought for scraps on.
The Surge is no doubt a very challenging game regardless of your familiarity with this genre. But the opening area of the game sucked me in with a false sense of self belief that I was getting the grips of the mechanics. Patience is a virtue and when you are aware that this game requires plenty of it you can make good strides in it regardless of your experience with the genre. The fact that I knew I would have to grind in order to even progress past the first boss was something I just had to suck up and get on with. But while on my grinding trips I was getting more familiar with the enemies attack patterns and got to the point I felt the game might actually be a better experience for me as I assumed I was getting better at it. Whether regular players of this genre would have needed to go the grind route is questionable, perhaps they could simply have battered P.A.X with relative ease? I can tell you that once you progress from the first area you get the realization that it was watered down massively to give new players a morale boost of sorts that they could enjoy the game. The second area see’s the enemies difficulty spike massively. New patterns to learn, new enemy types to factor in and a sense of having to start all over again as you immediately feel under-powered again.
The Surge also makes you feel lonely. You come across other survivors to rescue and engage in conversation with them hoping to have some answers to what happened, but they are all as clueless as you, just explain to you their lack of knowledge as to what’s happened in different ways. The only time you finally start to feel less alone is when you unlock the ability to control your own drone. This opened up a new game-play style as you could draw enemies to you in an area with more space and you feel you could control the pace of the fight if they come to you.
The areas in The Surge are all completely open, but paths and the area can be all linked together by shortcuts and figuring out how to unlock doors. This made thing easier as the game progressed as you could find the quickest route to a boss with avoiding as many enemies as possible on route. I found the drop ladder just hidden away in-front of the MedBay on the second level the quickest and easiest route to get to the areas boss. But my god finding the way to unlock the doors necessary to get that route was a task. Same as the previous area though once you’ve got a clue as to how many enemies are in each section of the area you can begin to strategically take them out or simply run past some which I found I did more of as I progressed in the game.
I don’t hate The Surge, but at the same time, I really do hate it. I think it has good ideas in terms of leveling and scaling your equipment and character up, and the idea of cutting specific limbs off enemies to further increase that area of your Exo-suit is brilliant. The slow motion finishing slice that you can make if your combat energy bar is high enough is really satisfying to watch. I can’t say I’ve particularly enjoyed the story from what I’ve played as you don’t actually find out anything about what happened and why this mega-corporation is now filled to the brim with robotic zombies, or at least, you don’t in the stages I’ve reached so far. All the survivors you do meet are very good at batting that question away when you ask them. And the initial intrigue I had in Warren at the start of the game rapidly decreased as he turns out to be just another typical vanilla protagonist. Perhaps more questions are answered about his past and why when we first see him he is in a wheelchair later on in the game, but I admittedly did not get to those parts of the game.
In terms of difficulty I don’t really know how difficult it is compared to other games in this genre having only ever played Bloodborne for about two hours and then deciding this is not for me. The Surge could be tougher, it could be easier? I really can’t tell you. All I know is that I got highly frustrated reasonably shortly into each of my sittings with the game. I would be telling myself as the game was loading at the start of each sitting “Be patient, be calm, you will die, that’s the point of these games”. But the difficulty jump in the 2nd level from the 1st shatters any sense of progress you make as a newbie to this genre.
The Surge has a very cool and unique setting to this genre. The upgrading mechanic is really creative and makes the slaughter of the enemies you encounter more interesting and tactful as your will target areas you want to upgrade. The difficulty for me as an inexperienced player is ridiculous. So fans will enjoy the challenge. The enemies design can be slightly repetitive and the protagonist Warren goes from interesting to standard action hero rather rapidly. However if you like the genre, and are interested in playing in a new environment and setting, you will more than likely really enjoy The Surge.