Set in a dystopian tr-future, The Surge is an action RPG that demands as much skill and persistence as you can muster. Focusing on merciless close quarters melee combat, you’ll need to explore an industrial complex and overcome tough foes to uncover the truth.
The Surge comes to us from Deck13 Interactive, the same people behind 2014’s Lords of the Fallen. Our character finds himself in the middle of a grim speculative future arriving for his first day at work with CREO – a technology company promising a solution to the problems caused by global warming. Upon arriving you are fitted with a standard issue exo-suit, which augments human strength and endurance, and also serves as the base for character progression in The Surge.
Combat is where hardcore action RPGs live or die, and The Surge differs enough from its contemporaries in the genre to stand out. You can lock your focus onto enemies, letting you move relative to their position for easier dodging and positioning. As well as targeting enemies generally, you can choose to target specific body parts – this becomes hugely important as you progress through the game. Enemies are generally wearing similar exo-suits to yours, along with armour, and you can choose to strike unarmoured body parts to do more damage. While this seems like the obvious best choice, it’s not quite so simple
Building up your suit with upgrades forms the central means of improving your character’s resilience and strength. When enemies are defeated you will gather Tech Scrap, which essentially acts as experience points. These can be used to improve your character and gear. If you die, you drop any Tech Scrap you were holding and are given one chance to recover it by returning to your place of death. The Surge adds more stress by giving you a limited time to reclaim your scrap – if the timer expires, all that scrap is lost for good.
During combat you build up energy, and at a certain point you are able to execute a particularly squelchy-sounding finishing move, executing the enemy and relieving them of whichever body part that you had targeted. I mentioned earlier that attacking unarmoured parts does more damage, but if you do this exclusively you’ll miss the opportunity to gather schematics and scrap that can be used to upgrade your own equipment. Having the choice between an easier kill or greater rewards gives you more to consider during combat, and the freedom to adapt your play style to your mood and patience at that moment. It’s a neat twist on what otherwise might have been a fairly derivative combat formula.
You’ll face these enemies as you explore the industrial complex of CREO, which forms the second main gameplay hook. Near the beginning of each major area you will find an Operations Room, which houses the Med Bay and tools for upgrading and crafting gear. This is where you will return if you die, ready to take on the area anew. There are no other checkpoints to find while exploring – if you die, you’ll start from this room every time. However if you explore thoroughly (which can be a challenge when you weigh up the risks of finding a difficult foe potentially around any corner) you will often find shortcuts back to the Operations room. These act almost like checkpoints, letting you quickly return to an area without fighting through the entire path you took to get there in the first place.
Exploration is one area where The Surge faltered for me. The science fiction futuristic setting held the promise of interesting and varied locales, but for most of The Surge you’ll be fighting through repetitious and dull factories and buildings. There are moments of respite where you get to see the sun or more visually interesting areas, but otherwise you’re trudging through grey rooms and corridors. The world is laid out in a way that does make exploration rewarding, especially when you find a short cut after suffering through a particularly arduous series of combat encounters, but it lacks anything memorable to help areas resonate in your mind. Enemy variety is lacking also, with enemies consisting of variations on the ‘man in an exo-suit’ along with occasional robotic guards. Bosses are a highlight (aside from one in particular later in the game), but they are few and far between. Some variety arrives a little later in the game by way of new enemies and a new twist on the industrial locations admittedly, but you’ll be pushing through a lot of samey robo-men and factories before that happens. It makes sense given that your gear progression relies on salvaging parts from other exo-suits, but prevents any particular encounter or locale feeling different from the last.
This lack of variety in environments and enemy encounters sadly came to define my experience with The Surge. A science-fiction setting holds so many possibilities for environments and enemy variety, but The Surge falls back on minor variations on similar themes throughout the game. Combat is mechanically sound – while the enemies you fight won’t be particularly interesting, the choices you need to make about targeting, battle style, and taking up risky opportunities for gear advancement keep the combat engaging in the moment.
Though it might not be particularly remarkable or memorable as a whole, the science fiction future setting is a nice departure from the dark fantasy that pervades hardcore action RPGs, and there are some new ideas in combat and advancement that differentiate The Surge from its peers.
The PS4 version of this game was played for the purpose of this review. You can read our review policy HERE.