The Surge (Xbox One Review)
When it comes to ARPGs, fantasy reigns supreme. For the better part of a decade, many developers have been chasing after Dark Souls and the high fantasy setting it found itself in. But it’s wearing thin. Thankfully, Deck13 Interactive have stepped outside the norms and embraced the inevitable mechanical future of mankind with The Surge.
Set in a semi-dystopian future, The Surge sees Warren, our protagonist, set off to CREO to have an exosuit fitted. In one of the few cutscenes in The Surge, Warren is strapped into a chair and undergoes surgery to fit an exosuit to his frame, his eyes screaming with pain as a fully automated machine continues on with its task. Later, Warren will wake up totally unaware of his surroundings to be contacted by a mysterious female worker and given direction. There’s a distinct lack of drive as the world crumbles around Warren and the station if thrown into chaos. I never felt like I had much direction and the story’s true meaning was ambiguous at the very least. You’ll find it bogged down in exposition, which sees you collecting the audio logs which are scattered around The Surge, and even then, it’s drowned out by the ensuing enemies and action.
But very few players pick up ARPGs for the story: the beauty always lies in the combat. Having previously developed Lords of the Fallen, Deck13 are no stranger to the genre. Early on, you are forced to choose what type of exosuit you would like fitted, but throughout the campaign, you will shake the shackles of your initial choice and can seamlessly blend between the Sentinel, Operator and Goliath armour sets. Each of these sets will put a strain on your exosuit, requiring more power. Power is intrinsically linked to the level of your suit and every implant and piece of armour takes up a small portion of it–levels being earned through the tech scrap system.
Tech scrap is earned through deconstructing implants, consumable items and by defeating enemies. As time goes by, you’ll amass a tonne of scrap and can spend it on upgrading your armour, your level or your weapons. Although, should you die in the field, it will all be dropped on the spot you died. Thankfully, your scrap will not disappear, but failure to reclaim it within 2 and a half minutes will see it dissipate. Fortunately, you can extend this timer by defeating enemies as you go along. It’s an interesting twist on an established mechanic that forces the player to play more aggressive than other action RPGs. Although fighting through enemies at a blinding speed can be quite exhausting.
Throughout The Surge, there will be plenty of enemies to face and finding the best approach for you is essential to survival. Weapons range from the single-handed chainsaw seen in promotional material to massive body-length blades, and everything in between. Each of these weapons has its own series of stats. Faster weapons will do less damage, but swing at a faster rate; heavy weapons will stagger enemies more frequently, but have long wind-ups and will potentially absorb attacks while attacking; and weapons in between tend to suit all round play styles. Every weapon feels unique, but some clearly stand head and shoulders above others. By committing to a type of weapon, you will also level up its proficiency. Although, this proficiency system will force players to either commit to one weapon type early on or require a lot of grinding to level up all the weapons equally.
It’s an enjoyable grind too. Enemies all have unique attack patterns and choosing between your vertical or horizontal attacks will help you deal single target damage or scatter those surrounding you. Over time, you will acquire a drone that will harness energy from melee attacks to shoot enemies, deliver a concussive shot, and even generate shields in the latter stages.. Combining the drone’s abilities and timing your attacks will lead to devastating combinations that can fell bosses in a succinct series of blows. To double down on efficiency, you can even target weak spots on the enemies, exposing literal chinks in their armour for extra damage and more stun. Although, those brave enough to target other armoured areas are justly rewarded by The Surge’s special kill moves. Ripping targeted limbs from enemies in an onslaught of attacks by expending the same energy your drone requires. If you’re lucky enough, you might be able to knock off a key piece of armour to salvage for materials to make your own armour or unlock new schematics in your workshop hub. Leaving a cookie crumb trail of dismembered limbs and fallen enemies in your wake.
Wreaking havoc across the game is one thing but navigating The Surge is a task unto itself. There are plenty of areas to explore, with multiple routes, shortcuts, and side missions to discover. The labyrinthine world is both a blessing and a curse. Intricate designs show that Deck13 clearly know a lot about intertwined level layouts, improving on the groundwork laid in Lords of the Fallen, but I often found myself lost or confused as to where I should be going. Even the diversity of the areas often became stale as I found myself wandering aimlessly throughout the world.
It’s obviously going to take you several playthroughs to truly get the most out of The Surge and its level design. With new enemy placements, special stations that required certain power levels to open, and a bunch of enigmatic side quests that will have you hunting high and low. You’ll even gain access to higher levels of equipment for each iteration of your save.
Even with the obvious replay value, I don’t see myself going back to The Surge. In my first playthrough, I experienced three total crashes and a few issues with framerate on the Xbox One as well dialogue overlapping frequently. Beyond the three crashes, they were all minor bugs, but cause frustration as some of the overlapping dialogue often meant that some information was missed and quest direction was lost in the ether.
Overall, The Surge is an enjoyable experience that fails to capitalise on the subject matter it tackles. A lot more exposition and story could be linked with Warren as a character and his motives. Instead, he falls flat, much like the story. There is never a buy in to pushing forward, you just do, and that’s damaging to the experience as a whole. Even though enemy diversity continues throughout, these enemies are often placed in unfair areas or hide behind doors forcing the player to awkwardly pan a camera every time they want to enter a new room. Deck13 are clearly improving on their formula and those that see past the minor bugs and lack of direction will definitely have a lot of time for The Surge, especially as they’ve successfully adapted to a Sci-fi aesthetic.