The Surge – An InCREOdable Review
Time to strap into our Exo-Suits, don our rigs and clock in! Wait. Don’t. Someth–AHHHH!! The Surge. Deck 13’s second foray into the hardcore action RPG genre, a sort-of-spiritual-successor to its first try, Lord of the Fallen, and hitting all the right notes. Read on for the review!
I hate to start with this comparison, but it is apt. The Surge is everything Dark Souls does well, and everything the Souls series doesn’t do at all. Visceral, stylish and tight combat, super crisp and clean graphics, a narrative that doesn’t require Holmsian deductive skills…The Surge is Deck 13’s best work and it truly shows.
We begin as protagonist Warren arrives at Creo for his first day of work. The first thing we notice about our stoic, elected-hero-by-default, is he is paraplegic. We do not know how, it isn’t relevant. We wheel Warren to the applicant entrance of the facility and we are then presented with a choice of station: field technician or heavy operator. Field techs utilize Creo’s Lynx exo-suit, gear that compromises attack damage for agility, while heavy operators boast the opposite with Rhino gear. Simply put, light versus heavy armor.
No matter your choice, both sets may be found on enemies within the first area (I will return to this later).
Once a choice has been made, it is now time for Warren to receive his rig. Surgically wired (aka screwed into each employee) braces that accommodate all gear Creo has to offer, from field tech to security. Unfortunately for Warren, the AI that installs the rig believes him to be sedated, when he truthfully isn’t. And then everything goes to the dogs. Or drones, in this case. Warren rightfully passes out and the next time we see him, he is being dragged by said drone. He bats it away and, to his surprise and the miracle of Creo’s exo-suit program, Warren escapes the drone on foot.
Now we take over, knowing nothing else except everything wants us dead. Obviously. As usual. So, no map, no actual job, crazy drones and ex-employee murderers, but at least we can walk, right?!
That said, The Surge doesn’t offer much in the way of deep narrative. It’s a mystery all the way up to the later levels and even then I still found myself questioning “what seriously happened?” This may sound like a negative, but Deck 13 found a way to keep it [the game] interesting with a minimalism à là Hemingway. Nevertheless, as I said, it isn’t the deepest of narrative. We won’t find ourselves marveling at revelations as we did in Horizon: Zero Dawn or wide-eyed at the turmoil found in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. We WILL, however, die. A lot.
Again, not so much a negative. This is where the Dark Souls comparisons come in. It will have you questioning your play style, how you approach enemies. If you die, you have a limited time to return to your corpse and reacquire your lost tech scrap (The Surge’s version of souls–they help in upgrading your rig and gear). And that is really where most of the comparisons end. Everything else is its own beast, especially apparent in combat and graphical style.
Combat is where The Surge truly shines. It’s fast-paced, stylish, visceral, and brutal. Severing limbs is its cornerstone, but unlike Dead Space, this action in The Surge warrants bountiful rewards. Deck 13 has taken enemy targeting to a new level by enabling players to target specific body parts. For example, an enemy has the last piece of gear you need to complete a set (each complete set offers a set-specific equip bonus as well, more on that later). Lock on, target the limb, get as many hits on said limb as you can without killing the enemy, then sever the limb. It will drop that piece as well as tech scrap for upgrades. This is done via execution and you can watch my videos of two of them here and here. It is worth noting each weapon and limb have separate execution animations of their own. For example, you can view the Claws of the Gestalt’s limb execution here.
This system makes every enemy encounter important, because you will also need recycled parts from the same gear to upgrade. For instance, if I want to upgrade my Gorgon leg armor (see below for the complete, upgraded set), I will need to have a certain amount of the correct version of pneumatic helix parts before I can upgrade.
It makes for a lot of grinding, and if you know me, I’m not much a fan of grinding. But the completionist in me NEEDS a complete set of every bit of armor in the game, even if I don’t equip it.
There are ten separate sets of armor and all offer their own buff. Needless to say, while I just started my second playthrough on NG+, I have not crafted all sets, much less donned all sets. That being said, I see a long future ahead of me with The Surge, and I can’t wait to continue.
As with any game, the setting must be ripe. The Surge’s Creo facility is absolutely perfect for an industrial mystery and the world building is so interconnected, it almost puts Dark Souls to shame. While each section of the facility is small by Souls comparisons, there is a lot of verticality to them and as such, more square footage. This means the amount of shortcuts to discover are also plentiful and let me tell you, I got lost more than once. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because once I learned the lay of the land, I knew exactly where I needed to go and which shortcut to take to get there. And even during my second playthrough, I’m finding places I hadn’t a clue existed during my first run. Very well done.
The graphics are also perfect for this setting. They are so crisp and clean, despite being locked at 30 frames–which is actually necessary for the player to process the fast animations–they are almost sterile. And being a company built on solving the climate change dilemma, this style fits it perfectly.
Sterile and industrial most certainly go hand-in-hand. And, compared to any of the Souls games, this wins in the graphics department by miles. Granted, one could argue it is a style thing, Souls offers the grainy, more horror type of graphics that similarly aide its setting, nevertheless, The Surge’s graphics are simply better. No frame rate issues whatsoever, though I did have a few glitches where enemies would remain still, even if I fought them, which–admittedly–helped immensely at a later level.
As I mentioned previously, narrative is the game’s only downfall. It’s linear and very surface-level. It is also not very long, once you know what you are doing. I am currently on my NG+ run and I’m already two-thirds through. But this is because I know what every encounter will entail.
That being said, Deck 13 has made a huge fan out of this game, and I hope to see a sequel. I give The Surge a