Back in 2014, Deck 13 Interactive developed a title that tried to emulate the success of FromSoftware’s action-RPG titles. That game was Lords of the Fallen, a game that didn’t live it to the hype generated for it. Sadly, it just was too much of a carbon copy to stand up against the original. Fast forward 3 years later, Deck 13 Interactive is back with another title, The Surge. Is this more of the same, or does it stand out enough to make an impact?
Game Name: The Surge
Platform(s): PC (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Publisher(s): Focus Home Interactive
Developer(s): Deck 13 Interactive
Release Date: May 16, 2017
Before we dive into this review, there will be numerous comparisons of various games to either Dark Souls or Bloodborne. Sadly, this will continue as companies attempt t0 emulate the formula that FromSoftware has perfected over the years. If that upsets you or you just want to know if you should get the game or not, jump to the ending paragraph. Everyone else who wants to know exactly how The Surge stands out on its own continues to read on.
Upon starting the game and a brief introduction of the company, you’ll be working for, CREO, you arrive at a facility and are guided to choose your rig. The presentation of this is nicely done and reminded me of going to a dealership to purchase a car. You’re given a choice between an agile or a heavy suit. It’s worth mentioning that whatever you choose doesn’t impact your gameplay past the first area since you’re able to upgrade with parts throughout the game.
The Surge actually contains a mildly interesting yet non-cryptic story that unravels via progression. However, it’s nothing earth-shattering; however, I did find it worthwhile – especially when it started to get dark and twisted. Supplementing the game’s stories are several audio logs from now dead or missing employees of CREO, emails, videos that play throughout the levels, and the messages written in blood on the walls. Some pretty horrific things are left for you to find. I wish I could tell you about some of the stuff I’ve seen and experienced, but that would be spoiling some of the best parts of the game.
There’s a number of NPC’s that you’ll encounter during your adventure. Some of which you’ll save or others that you’ll happen to cross paths with. You don’t actually need to help them if you choose not to. They’re like bonuses scattered throughout the level. Helping them, however, has its benefits, and they’ll reward you greatly. Though I really didn’t have any attachment to them, they were just there. Nothing too interesting, yet I encounter several that just got on my nerves. Lastly, keep in mind that you can kill the NPCs. Accidentally or not, once they’re dead, they don’t respawn – keep that in mind.
Littered within each level is also a number of items or secrets locked away behind closed doors. Some of those doors require a certain security clearance, a specific power core level, or an ability you won’t find until later in the game. This also applies to certain NPC’s that ask for an item, but they don’t tell you what they’ll do for you until you do it. During my time with the game, I eventually took on a number of those quests and completed a few. For my efforts, I was rewarded with an implant, among other things, that doubled the number of consumable health items. So it’s definitely worthwhile to take the time and backtrack through the earlier levels. Especially if you found a door that you couldn’t get through before, I feel it’s that added an added challenge that helps make this game feel fresh, though they aren’t required to finish the game.
There is no multiplayer/co-op portion of the game due to a limitation of the game engine. There is also no character creation system. However, unlike games in the same genre, there is a pause button. So no worries about having to go take out the trash or something like that.
While most action-RPG titles deal with progression by having you level up your charge, The Surge takes a different path. Instead, you level up your rig’s power core. The higher you level it up, the power you get access to, which changes what weapons and parts you can equip. Your stats are handled by items called implants, which provide changes to your health, attack power, energy, stamina, and more. You can make a lightning-fast character who deals in hit-and-run attacks or a tank-like spec that soaks up damage. This is particularly handy when a boss encounter isn’t going the way you like it, and you need some more health or perhaps a bit more oomph to dodge a little more.
You’ll also have access to a crafting system that lets you create gear pieces when you find a schematic. These include headpieces, arms, chests, legs, and even weapons. Schematics can be found as items, either in crates or hidden in plain sight, off enemies as rewards. Opposite of the crafting system is the upgrade system that will let you upgrade every piece of gear, assuming you have the materials to do it.
Weapon usage is also handled differently as you’re given several classes; one-handed, single-rigged, or twin-rigged. Using one class constantly will let you level up that class, providing more damage output. This is both a blessing and a curse if you aren’t careful. Using that massive weapon you got off a boss can tear through anything, yet it is useless against faster characters. But if that’s the only weapon you used and you decide to switch it up to a faster weapon, it will be useless until you level it a bit. This does introduce a grinding experience, and I wasn’t particularly fond of it, yet I see where the developer is coming from – forcing you to use everything at your disposal. The combat is snappy, responsive yet can be clunky at times. You have access to two attacks; horizontal and vertical, a block that doubles as a timed parry and a dodge/sidestep. A simple tap will toss out an attack and use some stamina. If you hold down the attack, you’ll do a stronger version with a different animation. You can even chain those attacks at the cost of more stamina usage.
Enemies will drop tech scrap, which can be used to level up your character. Upon death, you’ll drop this and will need to retrieve it without dying. Of course, if you die before you reach it, it’s gone. And while that’s very similar to several other games, Deck 13 Interactive put a spin on these – timed drops. If you drop your tech scrap, when you respawn, a timer will appear. You’ll need to find the dropped tech scrap before the time expires, or you lose it. Thankfully, the timer stops if you’re in an elevator, lift, respawn area when the game is paused. Outside of that, the timer will keep counting down.
You’ll also accumulate energy during attacks, which allows you to do various things, from charging up a drone companion for attacks or ripping off parts of your enemies via dismemberment. To accomplish this during combat and assuming you have enough energy, you’ll see an option to press a button to pull this off. Successful activation will cause your character to do several visceral attacks, ending with the person or thing being eviscerated. While the dismembering animations are enjoyable, they are quite gory and can lead to some issues. Performing them too close to a ledge can cause you to fall. The animation can be lengthy at times and will put you at a disadvantage if you’re encountering several enemies at once – it leaves you wide open for an attack.
Sadly, the combat in The Surge is melee-only. There is no option to play as a ranged character, which is a bit disappointing as you’ll be pitted against several enemies that can fire at you from a distance. During combat, you’ll notice that you can target specific parts of the enemy, mainly the arms, head, body, and legs. These will show up as colored in either a blue or yellow hue, blue meaning that the part is weak to attack (unarmored), and yellow means it is covered up. Attacking the blue parts will make the fight a bit easier. However, not every enemy has exposed parts. You’ll also gain control over a drone which provides you with a ranged attack and can be provided newer abilities throughout the game. It will work off the energy you gain during combat, so it isn’t constantly available.
Graphically, the game is a mixed bag. The starting area can give off the impression that the entire game is bland-looking. Thankfully, once you get past the first area, things start to look vastly different, and you’ll appreciate the design and look of the later locations. The designs of the armor sets and weapons have a unique look, some more so than others. There’s also a nice amount of lighting, fog and particle effects, soft shadows, and reflections. There’s even a nice heat haze effect where the heat is directed out of the exhaust port on your suit. The stages are massive, with each of them having its own look and feel, though only some of them really stand out. On the other hand, the music is full of both ambient tones, suspenseful yet aggressive, and eerie background music that feels like it was ripped from a horror film.
However, I was puzzled with the inclusion of country music being played constantly in the ops center – it drove me crazy. All dialogue in the game is spoken as well, though some of the delivery of some are lacking. The sound effects are equally good, except for a few muddled sounds that I noticed.
Including in the game is a huge assortment of options, including V-sync, downsampling, graphical level settings, shadows, UI scaling, and more. They’ve even implemented support for the DualShock 4 and Steam controllers. This also slightly changes the controller layout, and if you don’t like that, you can also customize the button layout. If also able to change the keyboard/mouse bindings as well. Performance-wise, my test PC never dropped under 60FPS at both 1080p and 1440p with maxed settings and downsampling set to 160%. Load times will hardly an issue as well, as starting up a level was under 12-13 seconds while respawning was around 5-6 seconds. Optimization is easily apparently here, and as I understand it, the PC version was not a console port. As a PC gamer, I appreciate that more than the developer will ever know.
All in all, I can safely say that if you’re either burnt from playing the FromSoftware games or are saddened because they’re all gone, don’t be. The Surge has more than enough to keep you engaged from the opening act to the very end. And when that’s over, there’s a New Game+ mode that goes on indefinitely and stuff that you couldn’t access during the first few playthroughs.
* This copy of The Surge was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please visit our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.
After putting in over 40+ hours into The Surge, I’m happy to admit that this game was a pleasant surprise. I fully expected this to be a failed attempt to capitalize on the Soulsborne series, like so many others. Instead, I played a game with an interesting story, tons of hidden content, a vast crafting system and more than enough combat to keep me swinging away. Deck 13 Interactive should be applauded for what they’ve managed to pull off and more importantly, it will help to remove the blemish that is Lords of the Fallen.
With a vast number of boss encounters, off the path objectives, hidden encounters, and multiple endings, The Surge has more than enough to plow through. That’s not counting the New Game+ mode that introduces harder enemies, multiple tiers of gear and the ability to access areas that you couldn’t during your first playthrough.
Let’s just hope that we’ll see more of The Surge in the feature.
- Interesting take on the combat system
- Massive areas to explore
- Crafting and upgrade system is a nice touch
- Frantic and engage boss fight
- That country music
- The story may not appeal to everyone
- Not a fan of grinding for materials or weapon leveling
- So good, I didn't want to put it down.