The Surge (PS4) Review

You may have noticed that my game reviews draw heavily on comparisons to past examples of other games. This isn't meant as a condemnation of quality or a signalling of the lack of originality in these newer experiences. When I say that Yooka-Laylee is heavily reminiscent of Banjo-Kazooie or that Little Nightmares evokes Limbo, it's intended more to signpost that there is acknowledgement - and, in some cases, improvement - of previously published work in the game I'm reviewing.

This notion has its limits, though. For instance, when I talk about The Surge it is almost impossible to do so without drawing a parallel to Dark Souls (a parallel which, it's worth noting, the producers set out to make). That's not necessarily, in this case, a mark of quality.

Where Dark Souls was a tough-as-nails action-RPG set in an eldritch world bereft of cogent life and riddled with monsters the way Corrimal beach is riddled with bluebottle jellyfish, The Surge instead airlifts the first part of that equation and drops it into a futuristic vista infested with transhuman zombies and murderous machines. You play a hapless, paralysed future employee in the technological complex of the CREO organisation. While trying on a robotic exosuit that will allow you to walk again, the computer cracks a Hal-9000 and partially assimilates you into the exosuit. At the same time, the complex falls victim to the standard "robotic-technological apocalypse" scenario, causing a number of other exosuit-wearing victims - plus no shortage of robots and drones - to start roaming the ruins looking for people with squishy bits they can smack their heavy industrial weaponry into. You must traverse the complex and discover what caused all the sci-fi shenanigans to spiral out of control.

I will freely admit that I did not finish The Surge. I did sink a number of hours into it, and it played competently enough, but ultimately I was left with no impetus to fuel my journey deeper into the heart of the CREO complex. The game's homogeneity with Dark Souls and lack of verve to the story - a problem I've heard similarly plagues Deck13's Lords of the Fallen, another Souls clone - doesn't present a narrative worth unpacking or seeing through to the end. The dystopian wreck of CREO complex, detailed as it is, doesn't have the same triggers for exploration that the castles of Dark Souls III did, instead presenting as just another blandly-coloured, ruined technoscape along the lines of Gears of War or Mass Effect. The monsters - for lack of a better term - have a bit of visual memorability, especially in terms of the boss fights, but are mostly variations on a theme of some horrific transhuman nightmare attempting to cave your skull in with a chainsaw. Most of the game's mechanics are looted wholesale from the Souls games; Souls used for gaining levels are now Scrap, Estus Flasks are now an injection your exosuit delivers, bonfires are replaced by shelters, and so on.

However, fair credit where it's due to developers Deck13 Interactive for making some innovation. The combat system is fluid and intuitive, with your character levelling their skills up through Skyrim-esque constant use (using a one-handed chainsaw frequently will increase the potency of your One-Handed skill), and the actual fights can be a little faster and more engaging than the more methodical, tactical chess games of Dark Souls. This is aided by The Surge's unique form of combat, where you're able to target specific parts of the monster's body and hit weak areas for critical damage. Given the speed of the combat and the ability to target those areas, you're free to run in screaming with a chunk of rebar and smash the enemy's left leg into metal chunks, dodging out of the way fast enough to parry the blow of your enemy's buddy before it lands, evoking Bloodborne's swifter combat style. There's also quite a bit of detail in the armour, weapons and crafting systems, all of which follow a similar mold to Fallout 4 both in method and aesthetics. So in addition to being a Souls clone, The Surge does a decent job cherry-picking good elements from other genres as well.

But as I said, none of it gives the game much substance. The pieces are all there, and things gel together competently, but none of it feels fresh or gripping enough to entice me to place further. The experience I had with The Surge was ultimately hollow and superficially satisfying, a hollow Red Tulip easter egg compared to Dark Souls III's Darrel Lea rocky road. It more feels like an experience for streamers on Twitch and YouTube, something to be spectated rather than experienced in the more intimate fashion of the Souls games. Worth a look, but maybe only that.

- Chris

The Surge is available now for Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC.

Review copy kindly supplied to Geek of Oz by Five Star Games.


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