General game information
Game name: The Surge
Release date: May 16, 2017
Price: US$ 49.99
Available on: Steam
Genre: Action RPG
Developer: Deck 13 Interactive
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
The Surge is Deck 13 Interactive‘s second stab at the hardcore action RPG genre, following the studio’s 2014 hit Lords of the Fallen. This time around, the prolific German developers are not just trying to reproduce the magic of the Souls series as it was the case with their previous release, but instead, they are only using From Software‘s excellent saga as an inspiration, adding a great deal of new gameplay elements to the mix, as well as changing the setting to a sci-fi representation of our own world.
Setting, characters and story
As the game starts, we quickly learn that the future of the world in The Surge isn’t exactly bright, as humanity has depleted the planet’s resources and most jobs are now carried out by robots, making human workers almost redundant. We play as a man named Warren, ecstatic at the chance of working for the Creo Corporation, since his new position entitles him to an exo-rig which lets him walk again after spending part of his life confined to a wheelchair. Warren’s happiness is short lived, however, as it’s soon obvious that something’s gone horribly wrong. The machine that should graft our hero’s exo-rig to his body does so without using any sort of anesthesia, and the pain knocks him out for some time. After awakening at the factory where he was supposed to work, Warren finds himself under attack by both the robotic part of the workforce and the few humans on site, and he must advance through the Creo facility, fighting massive machines, meeting all sorts of characters, and trying to piece together what happened. The story won’t win any originality contests, but it’s well told and it kept me hooked right until the very end.
The playable character can’t be customized (for story related reasons) but we can find and equip a ton of different armor sets, which change the way he looks (and may end up completely hiding his face and most of his body). Thanks to the equipment variety and the different implants that we may discover along the way, what the game lacks in cosmetic customization, it more than make ups for with the amount of options available to the player.
As we advance through the game’s multi-layered levels, we’ll find a number of friendly characters who may need our help with some errands, and will reward our generosity with supplies and interesting tidbits of information. Most of these characters will make their way to our base of operations, staying there and offering some extra lines of dialogue if we choose to interact with them again, and some of them may give us have extra quests, fleshing out their character with more detail or letting us get a glimpse at the sinister things that were going on at Creo before we arrived.
Players familiar with From Software‘s Souls series will feel immediately at home with The Surge‘s control system and main gameplay elements, but Deck 13 has a few tricks up their sleeve that change the experience in a number of very important ways. The first of these additions to the already classic formula is the limb targeting system, which, once we’ve locked on an enemy, will let us target a specific limb that may be cut off after it sustains enough damage and we perform a finishing animation using energy gained from our relentless assault. This system can also be used to target unarmored limbs, making short work of dangerous foes in high stakes situations. Successful hits will grant us energy that can be used to unleash the gory finishing move we mentioned above, heal ourselves if we have the correct implants, or use our flying drone as an effective fighting companion.
Cutting off weapons we don’t already own will let us equip them immediately, but armor pieces only drop as crafting blueprints which must be constructed at a workbench. We may still target limbs that carry equipment we already own in order to obtain materials useful for upgrading our existing arsenal or crafting new armor (full sets provide useful bonuses such as increased health, hazard protection, and more). Dead enemies will always reward us with Tech Scrap, a form of currency that can be used to craft or upgrade equipment and level up our exo rig’s Core Power, unlocking new implant slots, letting us equip advanced armor pieces/implants and granting access to certain areas that require a specific core level. Should we get killed, we’ll drop all the Tech Scrap we were carrying, and a timer will start counting down, forcing us to race back to the location where we died if we want to reacquire our lost currency. We may choose to bank the scrap at safe locations, but there’s a reward for not doing that, as the more enemies we kill without banking, a multiplier goes up, letting us earn more and more scrap (as long as we don’t die). Both the timer and multiplier mechanics were already implemented in Deck 13’s previous hardcore action RPG, Lords of the Fallen.
Aside from the energy meter, we should always keep our eyes on Warren’s stamina bar, which gets drained from actions such as attacking, running, dodging or blocking. The block system is particularly interesting, as it doesn’t work like a get out of jail free card, instead forcing players to watch their enemy’s movements and choose the right move if they don’t want to lose health. Holding the block button drains stamina, so the game rewards us for timely button presses, which stagger the enemy and let us unleash our wrath upon them without consequences. Depending on the enemy’s stance, we may also want to duck or jump out of their way, moves that can be accomplished with a simple flick of the left analog stick while we block (or the W or S keys in the default keyboard control scheme).
Attacks are separated into horizontal or vertical moves instead of heavy/light as it’s usually the case in this kind of action game, and certain enemy types will be protected against a particular attack direction, forcing us to adopt new strategies. Chaining hits lets us build up powerful combos that may vary depending on the kind of weapon we are using, but we should always be mindful of our stamina meter, since if it gets empty we’ll be open to devastating enemy counterattacks. Using the same type of weapon for a long time results in the player getting more proficient with it, increasing their damage output if the equipped weapon has a good proficiency scaling stat.
A stability system affects both the player and their foes, with heavy weapons being able to stun or stagger opponents, but in turn, using more stamina to power their attacks, and heavier armor sets offering far more resistance to enemy blows at the exchange of increased stamina usage when dodging. Thankfully, with the exception of the heaviest class of weapons, I didn’t feel like my character’s attacks were exceedingly sluggish, a common criticism in Lords of the Fallen.
The biggest departure from the Souls formula comes from the implants that can be equipped in order to change the player’s stats or add more options. As we said before, Tech Scrap obtained from dead enemies can be used to level up our exo rig’s Core Power, and when we reach specific thresholds, our rig will unlock more implant slots (the basic exo-rig can carry up to eight implants, but we’ll be able to equip more advanced rigs down the line). These implant slots can be filled with different power-ups, ranging from simple stat enhancements such as health or stamina boosts, to more advanced tools which add interesting gameplay options. This means that we are able to customize our playstyle at will, provided we’ve found an adequate number of implants. As the game progresses, we’ll find upgraded versions of our existing power-ups, which may require more Core Power to operate, but will further enhance our character in exchange. Some implants can be swapped out freely, letting us change our build in the middle of the action, but others require a visit to the The Surge‘s take on Souls bonfires, safe spaces known as Ops centers.
Every level contains one of these, places that will let us bank our Tech Scrap, level up our rig, craft equipment and interact with some of the NPCs we’ve met. Unlike Souls bonfires, Ops centers aren’t in abundance, so we’ll have to carve our way through the game’s labyrinthine maps, finding and unlocking shortcuts in order to be able to get back to Ops quickly or skip enemy encounters in the way to a boss fight, for example.
Speaking about bosses, The Surge once again introduces its own ideas to the mix, as we’ll have to defeat them in very specific ways if we want to acquire the best gear they drop. As expected from a hardcore action RPG, they all have their own movesets and weak spots, and every fight will take place in a closed off arena (which may or may not be invaded by other enemies as the battle rages on).
The flying drone I mentioned in the first paragraph of this section can be customized so it may shoot at enemies or ram them, for example, adding yet another strategic layer to the game’s combat. Later upgrades also let it function as a key card of sorts, as it may be used to open up areas that were previously out of reach.
Graphics, sound and performance
When Lords of the Fallen came out, the game was plagued by all sorts of bugs and performance issues. With that in mind, many players will probably be wondering if Deck 13‘s latest release suffers from the same problems (and if their in-house FLEDGE Engine has been upgraded to support more modern graphical effects). I’m happy to report that The Surge ran like a charm on both my old 3570k/16GB RAM/GTX 970 system, and a newer rig powered by a Ryzen 7 1700, 32GB RAM and a GTX 1070. The PC version of the game features a more than reasonable number of tweakable options, and it’s obvious that Deck 13’s technology has received a substantial upgrade since 2014.
Both the dark tunnels of the Creo factory’s underbelly and the outdoor areas shine with their own life, and the dynamic lighting system adds a special touch to decaying places where each spark illuminates its surroundings. Using finishing moves on human enemies will reward players with gory animations (which can be switched off at will) and the sound system does a marvelous job selling us on the violence of the combat. I also enjoyed the soundtrack (though the specific song used for the Ops centers gets old after a while).
The Surge is an excellent action RPG that will provide countless hours of entertainment for fans of the genre and newcomers alike. Deck 13‘s latest creation deserves recognition, as the developers were able to learn from their past mistakes and use the experience gained with Lords of the Fallen to release a title that can stand proudly among the classics.
9/10 – Great.