We've been hacking and slashing our way through Deck13's sci-fi Souls-like.
The Souls-like genre is one that is booming as of present giving fans plenty to sink their teeth into the outside of the output of pioneer From Software. Nioh, Salt and Sanctuary, and Ashen are just a few staples that we have been treated to over the last few years with each adding a new spin on the brutally difficult style of combat that we've all come to love. One of the more overlooked titles paying homage to From Software's opus is The Surge, which offered a dreary sci-fi take on the genre and introduced VATs like targeting system where you can strategically hack off the limbs of your foes. We were quite fond of this one when playing it back in 2017 and although it was unexpected, we were pleased upon learning that it would be receiving a sequel.
Absent of a recap of the first entry, The Surge 2 begins as a plane that we are on is sent hurtling out of the sky and collides into the sprawling metropolis of Jericho City. The impact sends us into a coma and it's not until two months later that we regain consciousness, finding ourselves in a hospital bed located in a rundown old prison. Dressed in just a hospital gown with two defibrillators strapped to our wrists we emerge from our bed and make our way through the decaying prison and learn of an illness known as the 'Defrag Virus' that has consumed most of humanity and caused them to go on a homicidal rampage.
Warren, who some may remember from the previous entry, (or not, he was pretty forgettable) isn't leading the show this time and instead, we are able to create our own custom character. Here you have the freedom to tweak your character from a pretty robust suite of options that include your gender, age, facial features, and outfit. The only problem with this is that it feels almost completely pointless once you start equipping armour sets as pretty much anything distinguishable about your character will be covered. None of these custom characters come with voice acting either which lent itself to conversations feeling a little unnatural as we would only hear one side of the dialogue and have to imagine the rest.
This is an ad:
The Surge was somewhat of a niche title so we should perhaps start by explaining the fundamentals of its combat for those who are unacquainted, as the sequel is essentially more of the same. A quirk of the series is that you can target individual limbs of enemies and hack them off to grab yourself new armour parts and weapons. Things handle a lot like Dark Souls with you having to manage your stamina, but there's a risk-reward element as targeting unarmoured parts makes for a swifter kill but provides no dropped loot. Regenerating your health presents similar stakes too as you'll need to strike rapidly to charge your suit but this prevents you from being more methodical with your blows.
Before attaching the freshly harvested limbs to your exosuit you need to ensure you have the right amount of power cores free (you get more as you level up). Each component takes up its own set number of cores meaning that you'll likely have to spend some time grinding or making a few tricky compromises. The grind - as it is with many Souls-likes - is very much a reality in The Surge 2 otherwise you'll find yourself broken by the first crushing swipe of a boss encounter, however, its smart level design prevents this from being too tedious. Each area has been constructed with multiple linking pathways back to your med bay so you won't have to trudge all the way back to bank the tech scraps that you have amassed.
The fundamentals haven't changed too drastically but The Surge 2 has still made a few sizable changes with one being that your drone companion is now infinitely more useful.
This is an ad:
You can now use your airborne buddy to pull enemies close with a magnet, for example, and it can be used to fire laser beams and sling grenades and Molotov cocktails. The drone is now also capable of locking onto different limbs instead of just firing in one direction allowing for it to be used in more of a strategic fashion. Another change that we appreciated was that your tech scraps now emit a healing aura and this was a huge help during tough spots.
The world of Jericho City feels much more vibrant and alive than the rundown CREO facility from the original as there are more characters who can be conversed with and who run their own stores and have side quests that can be completed in exchange for rewards. One of these short distractions saw us gather seeds for a rusted robot janitor and another saw us grabbing audio logs from across the world for a gossip-hungry vending machine. On top of this, there are also new social functions where players can leave clues through graffiti (in a similar fashion to Bloodborne) and can place down banners that show their own custom character.
We praised the initial entry as it was able to showcase a breadth of different locales but these all felt linked thematically to the industrialised setting of the CREO facility. The Surge 2 has heightened scope with regards to the areas you'll visit and we found many of these regions to feel much more sprawling and open-ended. The graffiti soaked streets of Jericho City gave us a glimpse into a setting we'd all find familiar following the outbreak of the virus and this differed heavily to Gideon's Rock which was an area of grassy woodlands. On top of this, there are also new non-combat zones, such as an old mall and a night club, that you can visit to find vendors and take on side quests.
Things do feel more refined on the whole but there are still a few problem areas carried over from the original that we think should have been addressed here. Kill animations when severing limbs often stutter and don't run smoothly at all and the camera proved to be a persistent pest and would forever get snagged on the environment when timing dodges. Loading screens can also feel unbearably long and it wasn't convenient either that we didn't have a map of the zones to freely access when planning where to head to next. These weren't game-breaking flaws for us but we do think these are things that should have been further up Deck 13's to-do list when planning the sequel.
We found The Surge to be one of the most overlooked and underappreciated Souls-likes and this sequel is no different as it manages to deliver much of the same magic whilst dishing out some sizable improvements. Its environments feel more open and varied, side quests provide variety and ease the chore of grinding, and there have been some subtle but appreciated tweaks to combat particularly with your accompanying drone. The camera can still be a pain, however, and having a mute protagonist this time around had us feeling even less invested in the story. Still, we are pleased that this unexpected sequel came to fruition and we can't wait to see what follows next.
8 / 10
Environments are varied, the world feels more alive with more NPCs and side quests, attention has been given to improving combat.
Unreliable camera, loading screens area lengthy, bland story.