Dark Souls in the future
The Surge, from studio Deck 13 Interactive, can be summed up as Dark Souls in the future — the combat, punishing difficulty, and overall structure invites an easy comparison to the acclaimed series from FromSoftware. This is not Deck 13's first foray into Souls-like territory, as they were responsible for the fairly well-received "Lords of the Fallen." The Surge proves that this formula can work in genres other than fantasy.
The story is kept vague, and all that we know is that, in the future, a company called CREO is (or was) striving to push the world forward, partly by improving human bodies with augmented exoskeletons. After an expositional intro, players take control of a wheelchair-bound man who is making his way through a CREO facility to gain the ability to walk with CREO technology and be assigned a job. In a disturbing sequence, the surgery to install the exoskeleton goes wrong when the robotic surgery machine believes the protagonist is sedated and starts drilling into him while he's still awake. After this, he is dragged into a desert by a drone to be killed — and so your journey begins.
Combat is the nitty-gritty of The Surge, and luckily it's a blast. Defeating enemies requires an equal amount of patience, timing, and skill. Like Dark Souls, a few hits from even lower level foes will end in untimely deaths, so success relies on the ability to observe patterns and react accordingly.
The Surge is more action-heavy than its counterparts, however, as quick, successive strikes fill your energy bar, at which point you can unleash a brutal execution move, severing limbs from your combatant's bodies. These executions not only look seriously cool, as they're often paired with Matrix-like slo-mo, but they are also necessary to level up the character. Here, leveling isn't done by simply pouring currency into the stats you want, as it is in similar titles, but instead, you are only as powerful as the equipment you wear. If you're looking for a new weapon, then simply chop off the weapon-holding arm of an enemy that has one.
Similarly, any armored part of an enemy can be severed, giving you access to arm, leg, body, and head armors, but, a good deal of risk and reward comes into play. Individual parts of an enemies body can be targeted individually, and attacking an unarmored area of the body means that the opponent will die faster, but you receive no reward, other than scrap, upon dismemberment. As such, attacking armored limbs may mean a tougher fight, but it’s often worth it to do so, as limbs only detach when you've weakened that specific area. These armors that you attain are usually in the form of blueprints, and can be crafted and upgraded using scrap and materials that can be found hidden around areas, or gained from fallen foes.
Heavier armor might boost your defense and attack, but it also consumes more stamina, or weighs you down more, than lighter armor would. In addition to armor and weapon upgrades, there's strategy in implants, which can provide benefits, ranging from the ability to see enemy health bars to increased health and attack. Unlocking new slots for implants requires spending scrap to upgrade your rig, which also increases the amount of power you have to work with. Everything you equip, from implants to armor uses up a limited supply of power, which means juggling items until you've upgraded the amount of power at your disposal.
A personal touch (or lack thereof)
Another nice feature in the gameplay is the weapon proficiency system. Weapons are divided into classes such as one handed, two handed, single rig, etc. Using a weapon often levels up the proficiency for its category making you more adept for that weapon class.
All of these combat mechanics I've talked about are not only different than Dark Souls, but are also a blast as well. However, I feel that The Surge lacks a personal touch; in Dark Souls, not only can you create a custom character from scratch, but you can also choose whether he or she specializes in bows, magic, sword and shield, or two handed swords — not so with The Surge, where more aggressive hack- and-slash gameplay is what's on tap.
The Surge is a fine example of how Souls-like gameplay and structure transfers well to other genres and settings. It's a great looking game — The Surge boasts not only smooth animation, but fine details, such as the way a tarp will flap realistically in the wind, go a long way towards making this title one to show off. Combined with satisfying and unique combat, hopefully, The Surge will experience a surge of players on release.