Game name: The Surge 2
Release date: September 23, 2019
Available on: Steam
Genre: Action RPG
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Back in 2014 a development team mostly known for their (quite good) adventure games tried their hand at something completely different: a Souls-like. The result was Lords of the Fallen, a very competent action RPG that quickly garnered a sizable fanbase, people who could see the potential in it despite of its many flaws. Fast forward a few years and this plucky underdog (Deck13) surprised the world again with The Surge, an excellent action RPG that sought to leave its own mark on the gaming world, adding new elements to the Souls formula and sending players to a decaying industrial sci-fi world that was out to get them at every turn. After two years of development time, the sequel to that beloved title is finally among us, so join me as I try to express what I thought about it.
Just like its predecessor, The Surge 2 is an action RPG that borrows heavily from the Souls well, while at the same time introducing its own spin on the formula that has taken the gaming world by storm. We play as a customizable character, who is seemingly the sole survivor of a plane crash that just happened to drop us off on Jericho City, a place taken over by all sorts of crazies. Of course this means that we’ll be hacking and slashing just minutes after starting the game, and soon we’ll be the proud owners of a powered exoskeleton that can be upgraded with parts taken off previous owners (or found lying around in the wild).
Hacking and slashing? Isn’t that all you do in these games unless there’s a magic/ranged option? I hear you, but my choice of words was very careful. If you played The Surge, you might remember that if you wanted to get new equipment without relying on stuff hidden around the game world, your best bet was to target your opponents’ limbs and cut them off with a flashy finishing move, which would not only kill your target but also grant you their weaponry or blueprints so you could craft their armor back at the med bays that act as safe areas. The Surge 2 doubles down on this feature, so players will indeed hack their enemies to pieces while building their arsenal. Oh, and the flashy finishing moves are flashier than ever, so you’ll get to see heads and limbs flying off in the goriest ways possible every time you pull these off (this can be customized in the options menu if you are not a fan of that stuff, of course).
Speaking of returning features, the handy drone that acted as both an extra offensive option and a keycard of sorts is back, and it now packs a punch, letting players snipe enemies, chip away at heavily armored pieces, or shock foes into submission for quick risk-free combos, among other niceties. This is one of the areas where I thought that the sequel was a clear improvement over the first game, as something that was already a quite interesting tool in our arsenal has become a practically indispensable companion in our journey through Jericho City.
The progression systems will also be familiar to series veterans, with enemies dropping “tech scrap” that can be used to craft new weapons/armor, or level up our exo-rig so we can have more core power available to slot different implants that can change the way we play the game. Just like in the prequel, death will make us drop all the tech scrap we were carrying, and we’ll get a timer that counts down to zero so we know that if we wish to get that sweet material back we should hurry back to our place of death (which is helpfully marked in the minimap, and will heal us as we get close, helping us if we died in a particularly tough place).
But enough with the stuff that’s similar to the first game, you didn’t come here for a re-review of The Surge after all. This sequel is not just “more of the same but in a new location” as you could have expected from a nascent franchise trying to find its footing in today’s harsh gaming landscape. Instead, The Surge 2 has a number of additions or changes that, in my opinion, elevate it over its predecessor in many areas.
The first of these changes that I’d like to discuss would be the addition of side quests that can have different outcomes depending on our choices as we tackle them. This plays heavily into the “role playing” part of RPG (something that the first game was a bit light on) and can offer a decent amount of replayability to an already highly replayable kind of game, as now we won’t just be going through the same stuff again but with different weapons/armor/abilities. And when I talk about side quests, I’m not talking about fetch quest type deals, but fully voiced mini adventures that will offer new insight into this dilapidated futuristic city. Of course there aren’t as many of these as in a game of the size of The Witcher 3, but I counted at least a dozen non-story critical side adventures as I fought my way through the campaign.
The main quest itself has also received a lot more attention this time around (compared to the first game’s campaign), and it has some interesting ideas that managed to keep me hooked for the thirty odd hours that I required to beat it. For anyone weary of spoilers, I’m not that kind of guy so you can proceed further along this review without fear. I’ll only say that dropping the previous protagonist, while seemingly a weird choice, was actually a great decision on Deck13‘s part, and that overall, we’ll meet a lot more interesting characters than I had expected, going from the original game’s more self-contained storyline. Speaking about the first game, if you are the sort of person who enjoys an interesting sci-fi world (but has not yet played The Surge 1) and want to get the full experience from The Surge 2, go back and get through the prequel first, as there are many references and bits of world building that will be lost on you otherwise.
Moving on to gameplay, the drone isn’t the only thing that feels more powerful this time around, as our character is also seemingly more agile, even while wearing the biggest armor sets (this is not to say you’ll be a ballerina with a power hammer though, heavy weaponry/armor will always confine you to a slower approach, but even that feels a bit better than in the first game). There have been changes to the way combo attacks work, in order to create a more seamless-feeling combat system, and while it’s not nearly on the same level as something like Sekiro, it’s still a noticeable improvement over The Surge 1. This is probably related to the way energy management works in this game. Veterans of the original might remember that there were two main “resources” used during combat, stamina and energy. Stamina powers attacks, dodges or blocks, while energy could be used to perform finishing moves or heal us, if we had the right implants, and it’s gained from landing hits on the enemy. All of that remains mostly unchanged, but now we’ll have to be even more aggressive when fighting, since all of our healing must come from energy-based implants or life leech. This creates a cycle of combat that’s somewhat more akin to Bloodborne‘s, where the faster you hit back at an enemy, the faster you might regenerate any lost hit-points.
The other big gameplay change that further separates this sequel from the first game is the playable area, which is no longer a mostly confined industrial area, but a city, full of things out to get us and interesting loot tucked away in remote corners. As usual with Souls-like games, there are a lot of shortcuts to be unlocked, which will be very useful as we fight our way from area to area, always finding new ways of getting back to the safety of the med bay so we can upgrade our power core or craft a new piece of armor that will finally complete our set and give us a much needed boost when facing a particularly tough boss. When I first heard about The Surge 2 going with a more open world approach than its prequel I feared that this might cause issues, since the first game’s labyrinthine maps were a real treat to navigate, but I must say that my doubts were unfounded, as Jericho City is probably even better than the Creo facilities we explored in the original game when it comes to map design.
If you are looking for an online component (something that wasn’t present in the first game), then I’ve go mixed news for you, as The Surge 2 has something up its sleeve regarding that front, but no online co-op/PvP invasions of any kind. Instead, we now get the ability to leave graffiti warning other players of sudden dangers they are about to face, or indicating shortcuts, for instance (we can also leave fake messages, but why would anyone do that, you monster!). There’s also the option to leave a sort of statuette of our character behind, which once found will grant resources to the player who picks it up, and a revenge kill mechanic that seems quite similar to the one featured in Shadow of Mordor/Shadow of War (kill the enemy that killed your friend, get some tech scrap and the warm fuzzy feeling of having avenged their death).
Now that I’ve talked at length about the game’s best parts, it’s time to give some time to its rougher aspects. I’d say that the most obvious of these would be the uneven performance, even on hardware that surpasses the recommended specifications. Way too many times I’ve experienced slight freezes that can lead to death when fighting bosses or powerful enemies, and even though the developers have been tirelessly working on updates to fix the performance, that particular issue has never been completely eradicated. Aside from sudden stuttering, the game can also look quite rough in certain areas, something that was probably caused by the switch from more contained maps to a full city. On a not tech-related note, an issue that was already present in the first game (camera annoyances related to the biggest bosses we’ll face) makes an unpleasant return here, and on two specific fights I probably spent equal time fighting with the camera than I spend fighting the actual bosses.
Still, even with those rough spots, the overall package is fantastic, and The Surge 2 stands tall as the kind of sequel that not only iterates on its predecessor, but also improves on nearly every aspect of it, while also adding welcome new features. I can’t wait to experience the next Deck13 adventure, and hopefully the annoying tech issues that currently affect The Surge 2 will be dealt with over the coming weeks.
9/10 – Great.