The phrase “No Vital Signs Found” is not one I come across often, since I don't work in emergency medicine. However in Deck 13’s The Surge, it’s something you’ll see on a regular basis. This is because the phrase is the equivalent of “You Died” in the Dark Souls series, and as any Souls fan knows, the series is notorious for its difficulty.
Think of The Surge as a sci-fi take on Dark Souls, as the game borrows gameplay elements from the gothic horror series and executes them effectively. Additionally, the developers made some tweaks to add nuance to the role-playing elements and made it surprisingly deep. All in all, The Surge pays homage to From Software's trilogy well, yet allows the game to forge its own identity and unique feel.
The developer's previous Souls-like game, Lords of the Fallen, was somewhat brushed off for trying to emulate the Souls series. With The Surge, the setting has moved to a futuristic, sci-fi world. You play as a new employee named Warren, who is starting his first day of work at CREO, a research and development corporation. Pretty soon you find out that something isn't right, and you set out to investigate the cause.
Sounds pretty vague, right? That's because The Surge’s story is very elementary, and it won't appeal to players who find stories to be the main driving force of games.
What The Surge lacks in story, it more than makes up for in gameplay. You start off in a mech-suit, fighting infected fellow workers, or drones and robots. You can also find blueprints around the world in order to upgrade each part of the suit.
This is where a new wrinkle comes in, and one that I found to be the best aspect of The Surge: In order to get said parts, you have to dismember enemies. The aiming system is akin to V.A.T.S in Fallout: you can attack each limb, the head, or the body.
Now combat becomes a choice. Do you attack their armoured parts, therefore removing the desired item, or attack their weakness, allowing them to fall quicker but without much reward? Each encounter becomes a conundrum, especially if there are lost scraps to recoup within the timer, or if you’re in dire need of the armour part that's standing in front of you. While the variety of executions are limited, each of them are satisfying in their cinematic presentation, but they also give you a moment of reprieve.
And any moment of reprieve is cherished, because like the Souls series, you die a lot. With each death, however, you learn something. Every failure was my fault; whether I was too careless, or I forgot the extra enemy hidden around the corner, My deaths were never BS.
With the scraps collected, you upgrade your core power. This lets you use the various power-ups available in the world, and wear better armour. Once again, the meta-game of juggling what to equip comes into play: do you equip power-ups to be stronger in combat, at the risk of weaker armour, or vice versa? Couple that with an upgrade system, where weapons can be fabricated and upgraded, and The Surge becomes a deep RPG filled endless tweaking.
The futuristic setting of the CREO complex is dilapidated, unruly, and – at times – scary as hell. During the outdoor area, broken down fuselage and equipment litter the desolate sand dunes, creating a Mad Max feel. Venturing into the claustrophobic indoor and basement areas, the game takes on a Aliens-like vibe, and I felt massively anxious steering myself down the hallways. The occasional bolt of blue electricity shooting out of an enemy’s weapon in the dark are cardiac-arrest inducing moments. The Surge mixes sci-fi and horror beautifully.
The bosses you encounter are worthy foes, each of them behemoths crammed into small sized arenas, not giving you much room to free yourself from their onslaught. Once you figure out the patterns, however, each boss has weaknesses and methods to be defeated.
Although not long by Dark Souls’ standards, The Surge’s sci-fi setting is a refreshing change from its contemporaries, and the developers have made their mark on the genre. The combat system is unique, and very rewarding. It might fly below most people's radar due to the slew of quality games in 2017, but don't overlook The Surge. It will surprise a lot of people.
Tony received a digital copy of The Surge from Focus Home for review.