Review: The Surge — An accessible Dark Souls-like experience

The Surge is a third-person action game along the lines of Dark Souls III. The focus here isn’t much on being skilled at combat as it is to keep on upgrading your character through the enemies you encounter. In many ways, The Surge is meant to be played as a roguelike. You keep on repeating certain areas until you’re fortified enough to defeat any foe with ease. Then comes the next level and you have to repeat this process. While it’s possible to play The Surge by using incredibly skillful combat, that’s too cumbersome because you need to constantly loot materials to upgrade armor and weapons. Would you rather spend an hour chipping away at the health of an enemy that can destroy you with one hit or would you instead farm some normal foes and increase the damage output of your weapon? The majority of players will choose the latter because even someone who doesn’t have amazing reflexes can play The Surge.

The Surge is a thrilling but incredibly challenging action game

The main innovation the game brings to the Dark Souls-like genre is the ability to upgrade your character by taking equipment from your enemies. For example, do you really like that shiny helmet some demented security officer is wearing? Well, you can target-focus his head and sever it through repeated hits. Just be sure to trigger the quick time event when it prompts you to do so or else you won’t get the part. You can then take your newly-discovered helmet to the printer and make yourself a new one by spending some scrap material and other rare alloys. This forms the foundation for the game. In order to get better—attain better armor and weapons—you have to focus on specific body parts and use a combination of horizontal or vertical strikes to pry them off. Upgrading existing items works the same way as you have to collect certain body parts to harvest enough, let’s say “leg-building” metal, for that new leg.

The plot of The Surge is quite convoluted and confusing. The player takes on the role of Warren on his first day working for CREO. CREO is a megacorporation trying to solve the world’s problems. The planet is at the brink of disaster and CREO’s experiments seem to be having unintended consequences. Somehow a personal struggle for survival—which is a focused and relatable plot—turns into a race to prevent humanity from morphing into mindless, aggressive husks. How this happens is unclear but that’s what you have to do! Additionally, many disabled gamers and advocates may have issues with how the game starts. Warren initially uses a wheelchair and is subjected to horrific experiments. Instead of being outraged at the violation, he’s glad that he can finally walk again despite the fact that hundreds of enemies are trying to murder him and he’s trapped in the most hostile place in existence. It’s as if the developers are trying to say that being in a wheelchair is worse than unauthorized medical procedures and having hundreds of people who want you dead. It just seems insensitive.

The level design in The Surge is also confusing. Most of the interior factory environments look the same and you’d be hard-pressed to find where you’re supposed to go towards the end of the experience. Dark Souls III doesn’t present this issue because all of the areas are distinct and there’s a clear path even though it’s not marked. The Surge requires a lot of backtracking and navigating corridors which lack any differentiation feels like an impossible task. There isn’t a map or any other diagram you can consult. After awhile it becomes an exercise in tedium because you’re going around looking for paths you may have missed. Lastly, the characters in the story are so unhelpful and it’s unclear what you have to do or where you have to go. It’s as if the developers designed them to help people already familiar with the game instead of newcomers. The interactions are so vague and confounding.

The combat is definitely the highlight of The Surge because it can be as fast or as methodical as you want it to be. For example, using fast attacks is a great way to tackle slower enemies. You get in a few hits and boost away. However, it’s best to use heavy weapons with faster foes because you want to kill them as fast as possible. Just dodge their strike once and strike them in the head. Don’t try to combat speed with speed because you’ll fail. Players can quickly change weapons so you can tailor your approach to any given scenario. With that said, most gamers will be fine if they equip the tool which does the most damage. Just be sure to upgrade it so it doesn’t become obsolete.

Implants are also a great way to personalize The Surge. For example, players who are great at dodging can equip powers which increase their stamina. For other players who want to be tanks, you can increase your health and stock up on health injections. Damage boosts and other abilities are also available. You can truly customize the game the way you see fit. This is unlike what the Dark Souls series offers because it’s simple and doesn’t force you to make permanent decisions regarding health, strength, dexterity or stamina. Best of all, as you become more comfortable with combat—in particular dodging—you can choose to replace some of your health implants with stamina packs. The experimentation The Surge offers is unprecedented in the genre.

The Surge offers some of the best combat and customization in the genre

Despite the criticism of the plot and some aspects of level design, The Surge is still a great game which players who love titles like Dark Souls III and Lords of the Fallen should try out. It’s much more forgiving and features fluid combat despite running at only 30 FPS on Xbox One. If you’re fascinated by games like Bloodborne and Nioh—but found them to be daunting challenges—then The Surge is a perfect entry point. Anyone can play this game and enjoy it. Defeating monstrous enemies and becoming a force to be reckoned with is supremely satisfying experience which even beginners can pick up.

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