Review: The Surge
Who doesn’t like a bit of technophobia in the workplace? Anyone who’s seen Office Space will know the unique satisfaction to be gleaned from smashing up a recalcitrant photocopier. The Surge is a cautionary tale about technology gone wrong, but on a slightly larger scale than a mere jammed printer.
We start with the standard ‘whoops apocalypse’ storyline in which we take the role of the paraplegic character Warren, a man trading a life of service to the eerily utopian CREO company in exchange for the chance to walk again.
After an economical bit of storytelling we get the choice to pick either the Field Technician or Heavy Operator role, the in-game voiceover and visuals sketching a fair idea of the what each job class entails without giving away specifics and spoiling the joy of discovery. One horrific surgery cut-scene later and we’re walking again! However, the facility we’re in seems to be more hostile work environment than we’d bargained for…
As you fend off the many robotic and cyborg enemies one thing you’ll note about the combat is that it is very deliberate and relies on timing and combos. Learning when to go for an opening and adapting to your enemies attack patterns are both crucial to success, as is memorising your own attack types and knowing how and when to deploy them. The combat gives The Surge a unique vibe, making you feel as if you really are in charge of a hulking exoskeleton. The style isn’t monotonous either – each weapon you use alters the pace and style of your attacks, so you are always learning on the fly. Combat is tied to upgrading your character and not just in terms of XP, you can target specific enemy body parts with a view to cutting them off and using them to upgrade your suit. This is an excellent way of tying combat to suit management and comes with some pleasingly gory finishers.
Once you’ve ventured out as far into the level as you feel comfortable, it’s time to head back to base and upgrade your suit. Everything in this game cots XP (scrap) and every new implant requires power from your core. So it’s up to the player to decide whether they want to spend scrap on boosting their core power, adding a new implant (health, perception, power, etc) or upgrading a body part. As with other games in this style, the further you venture out into the level, the harder it is to retrieve your lost scrap within the time limit after you die. So the player must constantly weigh up the risk/reward of pushing further into the level vs. the risk of loosing all their scrap. A slightly new take on this mechanic in that one can find and open shortcut doors back to base, providing one has the required power core level. This makes life more manageable in some of the bigger open levels and it also adds incentive for keeping that power core levelled.
The Surge’s visuals seem to have been influenced by mid-’90s cyberpunk, which is pretty darn cool in my book. The game isn’t particularly astonishing to look at but it has a distinctive and useful style, feeling very much like a futuristic factory floor come to life. It does its world building subtly, with a touch of rebellious graffiti here and a recovered audio log there.
To sum up
It’s always fascinating watching a developer put their own twist on a new gameplay innovation. The Surge is a case in point – it borrows liberally from Dark Souls yet it does so in the best way, tweaking what came before while adding interesting new elements into the mix. Whilst the story and character would fail to hold the interest on their own, the game throws fresh challenges at the player in a well-paced and competent manner. Recommended, especially for fans of the genre.
The Surge is out now on PS4, Xbox One and PC.