I talk about innovation a lot when it comes to games because it’s kind of a buzzword these days. You want to “innovate” to “change the game” or “disrupt” the existing order. That’s considered a good thing for some reason; we’re never really encouraged to question why that would be the case. Frankly, I think understanding why something worked and seeking to emulate that success can lead to refinements on an idea. We used to think of all first-person shooters as DOOM clones, after all, and now it’s a full-fledged genre with plenty of classics in its own right.
Anyway, here we’ve got The Surge, which would really like to be Dark Souls when it grows up. It’s not going to claim the throne, but it’s still an interesting experience in its own right.
The CREO corporation is a household name these days. They’ve worked to help the inner city, employ millions, improve the lives of the downtrodden and are even trying to fight global warming. Naturally, leading man Warren is eager to sign up; the job’s of particular interest since the RIG exosuits that CREO uses could provide some relief from his physical handicap. Warren’s orientation doesn’t exactly go as planned, though, and that all-important first day on the job becomes the first day in a desperate fight for survival against lobotomized coworkers and rampant AI. Looks like someone’s about to get a bad case of the Mondays.
You’ve played Dark Souls, right? Then you’ve played The Surge. Well, kind of. It’s actually more of a refinement on Lords of the Fallen, a fantasy-themed Dark Souls clone that was equal parts charming and broken. The Surge is a little less broken and a little more charming, since we haven’t seen a sci-fi variation on this theme yet. Warren relies on his exosuit to get around, of course, and as a result both your weapons and armor are connected to the waldo gear you’re wearing. Heavier gear provides greater defense, while lighter gear is better for your stamina; as a result, heavier gear is generally a better pair for lighter weaponry and vice-versa.
Naturally, this is a Souls clone, so combat is a high-risk, high-reward affair where only a few hits separates you from death at any given moment. The nature of your gear, furthermore, means that your attacks tend to be hefty strikes with significant windup and cooldown; even the faster weapons in The Surge still feel a little ponderous compared to similar toys in the Souls games. That’s not an irredeemable fault, but it definitely gives this game its own feel. Planning ahead and accounting for your more cumbersome strikes are vital to staying alive.
The new ideas that The Surge introduces to the formula are largely twists on long-standing Souls ideas. Rather than relying on a single form of healing – instant healing based on charges, slow regeneration, or “magic” based on an energy bar – The Surge allows you to use any of the above, or even all three at once if you’d like. Gaining levels increases the amount of equipment load you can use, which is spread amongst your armor and accessory-like implants, which pushes you to be creative with your builds if you don’t want to have to grind. New gear is obtained by forcibly removing it from enemies via targeted dismemberment, but if you’re not interested in gear or crafting materials, you can aim for enemies’ less lucrative weak points instead.
This is, simply put, a much more cohesive experience than you might expect from a game whose claim to fame is that it’s Future Dark Souls. It certainly nails the difficulty level; The Surge is absolutely not messing around, and you’re going to die a whole bunch as you learn how to work with the game’s foibles. The gritty and brutal industrial aesthetic serves as a nice new take on this style of game; it looks great and runs nicely…on PC, at least, which was the platform I played on. As for sound and voice acting, it’s par for the course, though the voice acting can really be a toss-up and runs the gamut from awful to decent.
Sure, The Surge is a game that exists largely to ride on the success of what came before, but that’s not necessarily a strike against it. It’s polished and fun, which is really all I ask for when it comes to this kind of thing, and I think it’s worth checking out based on that alone. It might not disrupt anything or change any games…but if you can manage to put together something that works, I’m not sure you necessarily need to do that.