The Surge

EDGE - - CONTENTS - Developer Deck13 In­ter­ac­tive Pub­lisher Fo­cus Home In­ter­ac­tive For­mat PC, PS4 (tested), Xbox One Re­lease Out now

PC, PS4, Xbox One

Just as they did with Deck13’s pre­vi­ous game, Lords

Of The Fallen, some peo­ple will sneer at The Surge for dar­ing to poke around in the same cor­ners as the hal­lowed Dark Souls se­ries. But the stu­dio clearly reveres FromSoft­ware’s work, and once you’ve ac­cepted its mo­tives – that these games are more ex­er­cises in wor­ship than they are du­plic­i­tous clones – you can try to ap­pre­ci­ate The Surge on its own merit. What you can­not do, though, is play it without draw­ing com­par­isons to the games that in­spired it, be­cause there is no es­cap­ing the fa­mil­iar­ity in its struc­ture and sys­tems. Some­times it’s a fa­mil­iar­ity that feels com­fort­ing, but it can also be a nag­ging sen­sa­tion that makes you stop and sim­ply pon­der what a sci-fi Dark

Souls would be like with Hide­taka Miyazaki at the helm. The fu­tur­is­tic set dress­ing works hard to make The

Surge feel like its own game, and in full flight, shafts of light rolling across your ar­mour as you hus­tle through cramped ser­vice cor­ri­dors stuffed with ca­bling and stud­ded with min­i­mal­is­tic sign­post­ing, it forges an at­mos­phere that keeps you want­ing to see more. In root­ing the game in hard, func­tional an­gles across its as­sorted in­dus­trial zones, how­ever, Deck13 runs into nav­i­ga­tion is­sues, and in a small number of sec­tions it’s all too easy to feel lost, cir­cling back on your­self as you grasp hope­lessly for stand­out en­vi­ron­men­tal as­pects to guide your way. An in­ten­tional choice by de­sign­ers look­ing to make the game more chal­leng­ing, or sim­ply an over­sight? Even if it’s the former, it prob­a­bly wasn’t meant to feel quite this in­fu­ri­at­ing in play. Or per­haps we were sim­ply go­ing at it too hard.

The Surge’s rhythms – run the gaunt­let of a bunch of en­e­mies as you ex­plore an en­vi­ron­ment, col­lect­ing good­ies and heal­ing your way to the safe point, inch­ing your progress along with each new ex­cur­sion – are so fa­mil­iar now that they in­vite over­con­fi­dence. On too many oc­ca­sions we bun­dled our way into enemy en­coun­ters as­sured that we had the mea­sure of things, only to im­me­di­ately have our head stoved in, strand­ing our scrap quota – The Surge’s equiv­a­lent of souls – for re­cov­ery on the sub­se­quent run. The game is smaller than its stylings lead you to ex­pect, so it makes sense that the ob­sta­cles in your way put up a fight.

It ex­plains the game’s Metroid­va­nia lean­ings, too. Gear-gated door­ways ap­pear from the open­ing sec­tion on­wards, dan­gling the prospect of hid­den de­lights that at some point, if you work re­ally hard, you may be able to get your hands on. In some in­stances it is worth back­track­ing to col­lect a valu­able health powerup, but we’re not sure we’ll ever for­give the de­signer who opted to tease us with a level-55 door­way in the open­ing stage that, many hours later, coughs up a point­less au­dio log.

In mo­ment-to-mo­ment terms, a more im­por­tant de­par­ture from the Souls tem­plate is the game’s tar­get­ing sys­tem, which al­lows you to aim at­tacks at an enemy’s head, body or in­di­vid­ual limb. An un­pro­tected nog­gin is a good tar­get if you want to take an enemy down quickly, but at other times you’ll want to pin­point an arm or leg in or­der to pro­cure a weapon, or some ar­mour, that can then be up­graded with other ma­te­ri­als har­vestable in the same man­ner. It adds a layer of strat­egy that feels gim­micky at first be­fore even­tu­ally emerg­ing as a me­chanic that holds up to sus­tained play, pit­ting risk against re­ward smoothly and grat­i­fy­ingly. The Surge’s ap­proach to bosses is less sat­is­fy­ing. Its open­ing ex­am­ple is pre­dictable enough, but with its sec­ond it starts cook­ing. It can clonk you with a down­ward slap from one of its six arms. It can roast you with mul­ti­ple flamethrow­ers up close, or lob a blob of blue flame at you from dis­tance. It can whip you with its arms by ro­tat­ing like a churn­ing spin­ning top, first hor­i­zon­tally and then at an in­cline. It can launch it­self into the air and land its cir­cu­lar bulk on your head, or per­form a body slam to crush you if you try to scut­ter un­der its belly. It is, in other words, a handful – at least un­til you learn its moveset – and it stokes the fires as you con­tem­plate the kind of mon­strosi­ties that lie in wait far­ther into the ad­ven­ture. That the next boss fails to de­liver the goods is a dis­ap­point­ment, but it’s not as crush­ing as the sub­se­quent set-piece, which opens an enor­mous door only to wheel out a re­skinned ver­sion of the game’s first boss – and then, while you’re still com­ing to terms with such a dirty move, re­peats the trick once more, just to rub it in. There’s just one more boss to tick off the list be­fore the game is done, mak­ing a to­tal of five cli­mac­tic en­coun­ters in an ad­ven­ture whose sta­ble­mates man­age to crank out that quota by lunchtime. The can­vas of a fan­tasy-themed game may al­low de­sign­ers more free­dom to ex­press them­selves, but we’ve seen enough in­cred­i­ble mech­a­nised foes down the years to know that The Surge is a missed op­por­tu­nity. The game leans into a biome­chan­i­cal theme as it en­ters its clos­ing phase, and it only em­pha­sises the lack of imag­i­na­tion in ear­lier sec­tions.

Since it’s framed by a pre­dictable sto­ry­line and me­diocre script­ing, The Surge falls back on its sights, sounds and me­chan­ics to get by. Its light­ing and au­dio ef­fects serve the theme well, but it’s scruffier tech­ni­cally: some en­e­mies ig­nored us com­pletely, while oth­ers had a weird habit of sim­ply run­ning off in the op­po­site di­rec­tion. (A day-one patch may yet fix some of these is­sues.) There are some odd de­sign choices, too: the game re­tains the re­gen­er­at­ing en­e­mies of the Souls se­ries, but it doesn’t in­clude fast travel or a way of pur­chas­ing up­grade ma­te­ri­als, which pro­longs the ad­ven­ture in a not par­tic­u­larly re­ward­ing way.

FromSoft­ware’s sec­ond stab at this stuff pro­duced Dark Souls. Deck13 still has a way to go be­fore it re­ally de­liv­ers on the con­cept it holds so dear.

While you’re still com­ing to terms with such a dirty move, it re­peats the trick once more, just to rub it in

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