The Surge 2 (Xbox One Review)
‘Difficulty’ seems to be the buzzword these days ever since the debacle over Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice tough natured combat. The question that’s now on everybody’s mind is whether developers should tilt their own design philosophy to suit a wider market. Accessibility is never a bad thing, but it should never compromise a developers artistic vision or a games mechanical integrity. Deck13 have been known for creating games that are typically hard-won. The Surge 2 differs in that regard by combating the need to make the game easier through difficulty options, rather, making the character they play as more flexible in the way they function. Deck13 allows players to use the mechanics at their disposal with character flexibility at the forefront of that.
Straight off the bat, The Surge 2 introduces players to the character creator — foreshadowing the importance of player choice over its predecessor — letting them choose their backstory, appearance and clothing for the rest of the game. Shortly after, you’re greeted to a cutscene that shows us the aftermath of the events of the first game and where our character fits into all this. As a survivor of a plane crash and struck with long term memory loss as strange images flash before your eyes. The only thing you can remember is a name calling out to you through visions of past events and following them in hope of finding some answers. While The Surge 2 is a direct sequel, it requires absolutely no prerequisite knowledge to enjoy. That’s not to say that returning fans don’t get their dose of nostalgic lore for their troubles, they’ll just need to dig a little deeper to find it.
What’s clear as day, however, is the improved combat system The Surge 2 offers from its prequel. The standard ballet of horizontal and vertical swings returns allowing players to easily target and cut off particular body parts with ease — Sliding attacks and airborne plunges make a return too. What’s new is the parry mechanic, jolting back swings from eager opponents to put them off guard, quickly following up with a devastating attack of your own. If close combat isn’t in your comfort zone then you’re also outfitted with a ranged drone, with a very limited supply of ammo, that can eloquently take out targets in a pinch. Throughout your journey you’ll be upgraded these tools of destruction when you see fit at any medical bay. To do so however, you’ll need to cut the limbs of those who stand in your way. Cutting of an opponent’s weapon arm sees them drop that weapon for you to inevitably craft but more importantly provides upgrade materials for it as well; the same goes for any other body part too. The drone on the other hand cannot be upgraded, rather it can be altered. Its single fire capability can be turned into a rapid fire machine gun or a long range rocket. Some nonsensical components even allow you to place graffiti tags and banners for other people to observe and appreciate. Regardless, none of this is handed to you from the get go, you’ll need to scour Jericho City from top to bottom to find them. And that’s easier said than done.
Jericho City has to be one of the more immaculately designed, yet infuriating, worlds I’ve ever had to traverse. From dimly lit back alley’s to desolate portside, all the way up to military infrastructures, there was always a nagging question in the back of my mind, “Where the hell am I going?”. The intricacies of Jericho City cannot be understated. Pathways weave over and twist under each other, forming shortcuts and throughways that you never take for granted. Trying to memorise these pathways is a whole other can of worms as The Surge 2 doesn’t present you with a feasible map to examine. From time to time you’ll come across a map of the city on view screens on your travels but does little else but convey which district you’re in. A real lack of any 3D map for The Surge 2’s makes traversal an absolute chore. Finding your way to your objective is interesting the first time through but backtracking and crisscrossing old paths that start to look the same is fatiguing. It’s a shame too as Jericho City is a place I’d love to explore every nook and crevice of but understanding where I’ve visited and what is left to uncover will always elude me.
The problems of navigating Jericho City are only minor when its grander design leaves the player in awe and that’s a good thing too, as you’ll be seeing a lot of it with all the odd jobs you need to undertake. Sidequests are in abundance in this small yet extensive city. A lovestruck engineer asks you to search for his lost love, a DJ asks you to leave your mark around the city and a quirky vending machine asks you to broker information. These are but a few standout highlights that accompany the main objective. None are so prolonged as to have you searching for hours on end on what to do, but they do require a bit of leg work. Thankfully most of them reside in an area that your currently in, dealing with foes that meet you level requirement.
Enemies come in all shapes and sizes wielding a variety of weapons and differing weights of armour, most of which are, regrettably, humanoid opponents. The more interesting encounters often arise from fighting machine-esque creatures that have vastly different movesets to your own. Spider-like nanomachines cling to walls and dive at you at the first opportunity while mutated denizens of the Jericho’s sewers system flail towards you testing your patience and perseverance. In most action RPG’s boss encounters are usually the real showstoppers, in The Surge 2 though none ever really left that big an impression. Bosses can range from mediocre to downright trivial affairs with the more troublesome bosses only taking about 2 or 3 tries at most to put away. Don’t get me wrong, difficulty is subjective and some players might struggle more than others. The real problem is their lack of diversity in design and movesets. Most bosses are humanoid opponents that can easily be knocked off guard or be felled in a few hits. Since the majority of the minor enemies you face are human these attacks all seem too familiar too. On the other hand the larger more robotic enemies do little else than look intimidating leaving large openings for you to get in and out without much trouble. Some might evolve their moveset over time and become more of a challenge but they’re few and far between. Ultimately these bosses don’t feel as rewarding to defeat as they should.
The real reward comes from that sweet, sweet scrap you use to level up your character. Scrap can be used to upgrade your characters stats In health, stamina and battery life. The aforementioned health and stamina stats are self-explanatory, your battery however is used to store charges of your selected injectable or in times when you need to decapitate and opponent. Injectables are reusable items like health packs and antidote-like stims that can heal you when you need them. Battery life is only gained through taking damage or doing damage, so you better be on you better keep up a good offence. Your battery levels and other stats can be altered with the likes of Implants – think of them as perks – that affect their effectiveness. All of the above however relies on your overall Power Level (character Level) so the higher you are the more you can plug in. Similar to Dark Souls — there’s your obligatory Dark Souls reference — if you are killed all the scrap you have on your person will be dropped where you died. Luckily The Surge 2 lets you bank that lovely scrap at any medical station your resting at so there’s less of a burden on death moving forward.
The Surge 2 is the natural evolution that we needed but never expected from Deck13. Combat is far more flexible this time around thanks to the ability to parry attacks, alter how our drone functions and the functions to store several charges of injectables other than just one. The design of Jericho City has me feeling some mixed emotions and the bosses are all a lacklustre affair. What matters though is that The Surge 2 is definitely worth a try but you may feel less like the challenge vs. reward factor is slightly off this time around.