It would be easy to dismiss The Surge 2 as an unrefined sci-fi clone of FromSoftware’s popular Souls series, but you’d be missing out on the best interpretation of this style of game yet released. While it may lack the cohesion and nebulous charm of the best Souls games, The Surge 2 has a flavor all its own. It is the Dr. Pepper to the Souls Coke Classic.
Awakening to a nightmare
Expanding on the limited scope of the original game, The Surge 2 takes players onto the streets of Jericho City. The city is a crumbling, quarantined wasteland overrun with nanites, a swarm of molecular-sized machines that were hastily deployed to counteract the effects of the Earth’s destruction due to climate change and other factors. Rather than saving the world, the nanites have left most of the population dead.
A plane carrying our protagonist is downed in Jericho City by circumstances set in motion at the end of the first game and is left in a coma. The world’s remaining government quarantines the area to protect against a nanite-disease known as “Defrag”. Top minds work tirelessly to come up with a solution to prevent the final annihilation at the hands of the nanite spread. Our protagonist wakes up from the coma to find themselves in a prison where all hell is breaking loose. Players must journey outwards into the city to find out what happened to the characters in the first game, as well as work towards reversing the progress of the nanites.
A new beginning
Players will start in nothing more than a hospital gown with their custom characters, attempting to escape the facility starting with a pair of charged hand weapons. Everything in the universe of The Surge is closely related to cybernetics and augmentation. Your character builds strength through acquiring implants and exoskeleton augmentations. These will be especially helpful against the decidedly unfriendly denizens who inhabit the burning husk of Jericho City who almost always have cybernetic augmentations of their own.
Combat in The Surge 2 works much like the Souls games produced by From Software. Veterans and fans of that series will quickly become comfortable with the third-person combat that is built around light or heavy attacks. Locking-on to enemies, sidestepping, rolling away, and backstabbing are all mechanics that are nearly identical to Souls games and make for interesting and rewarding interactions. Each weapon type you equip offers its own unique playstyle, offering pros and cons and capable of further variability through upgrades. As is common in the genre, learning from failure is the key to success. You will be murdered by just about everything in Jericho City, from random folks on the street up to large, screen-filling bosses.
There’s more than one way to dismember a robot
The Surge 2 makes its own name in the genre by adding some very important wrinkles to its gameplay loop. Firstly, players have the ability to jump, which is most often used to kick off a fight and gain the upper hand against an enemy by landing a flying attack. Both light and heavy attack types can also be charged to offer different attack animations and possibilities. These types of attacks also recharge your battery faster than regular attacks. The charging system in The Surge 2 adds another level of depth to combat where players have a third UI bar below the standard health and stamina meters. Landing attacks fill the meter, which can then be used to bank health boosts. These boosts work like Estus flasks from the Souls series, except that you can repeatedly earn them during fights by playing smart. Players can choose to level up battery efficiency to make health boosts more effective.
During combat, you will also be presented with the ability to perform finishing moves during combos or attacks. These will trigger custom animations that offer satisfying kills. They work a bit like the finishers from the later Arkham games, albeit with much more dismemberment. Dismemberment plays a critical role in your character’s progression. Chopping off arms, legs, and heads is the fastest way to acquire implants, weapons, and armor upgrades while playing. Once you lock onto an enemy, it will be divided into blue or yellow chunks. The yellow chunks will offer a strong chance at a drop. If an enemy has a weapon you want, chopping off the arm holding it by using the built-in targeting system gives a better chance of getting it for yourself. You will have to use the appropriate attack to get the body parts you want. Sometimes, vertical attacks will be required to lop off specific parts, while horizontal attacks will be preferable in other situations. Alternatively, it is possible to find an implant that makes all of your attacks hit the targeted section, regardless of your weapon or angle of approach.
Building a better arm chopper
As you progress through The Surge 2, you will get drops from enemies or by finding them in hidden areas. These come in the form of weapons, implants, and armor. Weapons can be upgraded by spending scrap and using found component to craft improvements. Implants offer a variety of upgrades, boosts, or helpful passive effects that make traversing Jericho City slightly less daunting. Some implants offer more damage against specific types of enemies, while others may help you charge your batteries faster.
Armor can be found or come from drops and is used to make your character more durable. In typical genre fashion, armors that offer more protection come at the cost of maneuverability. If you prefer to roll around like an armadillo in these types of games, it is a smart play to stick to light armor, while tanks should opt for heavy-duty equipment. Armor can also get bonuses from wearing multiple pieces of the same set, adding a bit more RPG flair to the game’s itemization. Weapon and armor crafting is handled at medbays, which are The Surge’s version of the Souls bonfires. Implants can be altered on the fly without needing to backtrack and reset enemies in the world.
Following a very early boss fight in the game, the player will be awarded control of a back-mounted turret drone. The drone can make use of various ammo types, each offering situational effectiveness. Ammo management is a must to make sure you have drone benefits during tough encounters and the drone can be refilled at medbays. More times than I care to admit, I found myself hiding behind level geometry and relying on the drone to take out problem enemies for me.
Pounding the pavement
I found myself enjoying the moment to moment action in The Surge 2. For the weapons I enjoyed using, I found the combat to be fun and engaging. For the weapons I couldn’t gel with, I found the experience to be dreadful. It is possible to play the entire game with the equipment you find in the first ten minutes, so settling into a weapon you like is the key to having a great time. Much like the Souls games, building around a specific weapon or playstyle becomes its own reward and could be used as justification for making multiple trips through Jericho City. The variety in locations and environments is a welcome change from the first game, which never managed to escape its confined laboratory. Seeing a lush, green forest in this type of game a sight for sore eyes.
Often, the difficulty would make wild swings from insanely difficult to laughably easy. Players are not forced to take a linear path through the game, which can lead to stumbling into the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time. This will likely be good news for those planning to live in Jericho City for months but will be extremely off-putting to casual players. The overall pacing of the game is a noticeable step down from the Souls games. NG+ mode is opened once the game is completed, offering tougher foes and a chance to try different equipment combinations.
Occasional boss fights litter the path to victory and generally serve as a nice bit of variety to the regular encounters. I predictably died over and over to most of them but found fun in attempting to learn patterns or recognize animations. I only felt like throwing my controller once against a particular mech boss, but I eventually managed to sneak by it. Playing on the PC, I had the option to experience the game at 30, 60, and 120Hz. This was my first time getting to work with a Souls-style game at a high refresh rate (From Software games feature a 60Hz lock) and it made combat feel so good. Subjectively, the perceived input lag felt lower and I found myself feeling more connected to the on-screen action. This is one area where The Surge 2 clearly stands tall over its biggest competition.
Cybernetic sights and sounds
There are times when I loved the presentation of The Surge 2 and other times when I felt like it was missing the mark. It is not a very noticeable upgrade over its predecessor graphically but still managed to offer some impressive moments, particularly in its animations and particle effects. The face models are much better than you'd get in a Souls game, but that is not a particularly high bar to clear. The game has a very high-contrast look that often makes the light so bright that it kills any detail. More than once I found it nearly impossible to make out my character’s face in a room because the reflection of light created an absurd amount of bloom. Other times, the dark stairways and multi-colored computer lights offered an intoxicating dystopian picture.
The PC version I reviewed did not seem to offer HDR support, which is disappointing, as I feel that Jericho City is ripe for a vibrant, detailed implementation of the technology. Performance is a mixed bag. In my opinion, The Surge 2 is not the best-looking game on the block, but at max settings, it places demands on hardware that its graphics can’t justify. I had to dial back the settings all around to try and get any sort of consistently high framerate, even on a 9900K and 1080 Ti at 1440p. The game was also incredibly inconsistent with its frame times, offering nearly constant stuttering in my playthrough, even when I made use of driver-level framerate locking. Perhaps a patch can work out the jitters here, as playing this game at a smooth 120Hz or above is a real treat.
The console versions run at 30Hz, with the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X offering the promise of fluid 60Hz action, though I have not seen those versions myself to confirm. The PC version is also notable for running on the Vulkan graphics API, rather than the more common DirectX or OpenGL APIs. It would not surprise me to see the game appearing on other platforms in the near future, in part due to the use of this API.
The sound design is a bright spot, with the ambient sounds of the city and the crumbling buildings being spot on. I really enjoyed the music cues, particularly when the tempo would ramp up for big enemy encounters. The sounds of metal colliding with metal worked well and the voice acting was adequate.
Deck 13 has produced a game that offers genre fans a lot to like. The story and setting is a welcome departure from the swords and sorcery that typically dominate similar titles. Most sci-fi games rely on gunfights or boring intergalactic diplomacy to handle conflict, while The Surge 2 presents medieval violence as a path to enlightenment. I can dig that. Uneven pacing, some visual issues, and inconsistent performance serve to prevent the experience from reaching its full potential, but the foundation is solid. Strap yourself into a medbay and upgrade. Who wouldn’t want robot legs? 8/10 cybernetic implants
This review is based on the Steam release. The game key was provided by the publisher. The Surge 2 was made available for Steam, Xbox One, and PS4 on September 23, for $49.99.
The Surge 2
- Outstanding third-person combat
- High refresh rate support offers best-in-genre fluidity of play
- Great music
- Offers great replayability with item design and NG+ modes
- A unique setting for the genre
- Uneven visual presentation
- Pacing issues
- Inconsistent performance/stutters
- Lack of multiplayer
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