A few years ago, Deck13 Interactive launched the Dark Souls-inspired game Lords of the Fallen to mixed reviews. Despite some flaws, Lords of the Fallen showed potential, leaving fans of the genre excited to see what the studio could do with its next game, The Surge. As it turns out, The Surge plays a lot like Lords of the Fallen and Dark Souls, but it falls short of expectations due to a few issues with the gameplay.
The Surge's main gameplay hook is the ability to target specific enemy body parts and sever them to farm for specific loot. This works well enough, but combat itself is marred by an unreliable lock-on system, which becomes especially frustrating to deal with when there are multiple enemies on-screen at one time. While switching between different body parts is a breeze, switching between multiple enemies never seems to work like it should, and that combined with an occasionally wonky camera often leads to cheap deaths.
Like the games that inspired it, dying in The Surge is potentially catastrophic when it comes to progressing through the game. As players kill enemies, they gain XP that they can then cash in at designated points. If the player dies, then they have one chance and a limited amount of time to retrieve that XP by returning to their dead body before it's lost forever. This mechanic is used to add tension and dread to the proceedings.
The same can be said for The Surge, except that the game's lack of polish compared to the bigger budget Dark Souls-style games can sometimes make this particular gameplay mechanic rage-inducing. There were multiple instances where XP was lost completely because it seemed to have glitched into a wall or other object in the environment, meaning that we didn't even have the chance to retrieve it. So while this mechanic is meant to create tension, the way it's handled in The Surge can potentially lead to more frustration than anything else.
In regards to its leveling system, The Surge retains a couple of elements that were introduced by Lords of the Fallen that enhance the tension of XP recovery in a good way. In The Surge, the longer players hold on to their XP, a multiplier builds, meaning that players have to decide whether to cash in and be safe or go for the bigger XP payouts. To make things even more intense, players have to return to where they died within a certain amount of time to regain their XP. These features, which are relatively unique to Souls-like games, help The Surge stand out from the other games of its style, and enhance the experience.
Another way The Surge is able to carve out an identity of its own is its science-fiction setting, which stands in stark contrast to the gothic horror environments of Dark Souls and the feudal Japan of Nioh. The Surge is set in a dystopian future, where a mysterious corporation known as CREO has offered a second chance for the wheelchair-bound protagonist, Warren, to walk again. After a horrific scene where Warren is outfitted with an exo-suit, he is then thrust into industrial wastelands, forced to fight deadly robots and other people outfitted with similar technology.
The Surge's setting is definitely one of its most appealing factors, as it offers something decidedly different than what fans of the genre are used to. Its dark, twisted sci-fi story is also a highlight of the experience early on, but the plot fizzles out before too long, with long stretches of repetitive grinding between plot developments that make it hard to stay invested in Warren's ordeal.
Grinding is one of the key elements to The Surge, with players often exploring the same environment and fighting the same enemies repeatedly to build up XP and collect loot. This is common for games like this, but with The Surge, the grind is not quite as compelling because the enemy AI is not as fun to fight. Most of the time, the enemies just charge right at the player, with encounters boiling down to waiting outside their range as they try to attack, and then landing a few hits when their guard is down. Outside of boss fights and when there's multiple enemies to deal with, combat in The Surge is just not very challenging.
The grind through The Surge is a long one that is not always rewarding, but the game has enough original ideas to make it worth checking out for fans of Souls-like games. The Surge delivers an intriguing sci-fi world with dark themes and should satisfy any genre fans looking for something to play now that the Dark Souls series has ended. Just don't pick up The Surge expecting a game that is as polished as From Software's flagship franchise.
The Surge is available now for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided with an Xbox One code for this review.