The Surge is a Dark Souls clone and that’s both a blessing and a curse: a blessing because people who have been clamoring for a game like Dark Souls set in a science-fiction setting time will feel like The Surge fills that awfully specific void in their lives and a curse because the game does barely anything different to distinguish itself from From Software’s masterpiece. Ultimately, this game is for those who can’t wait for From Software’s next entry in the Souls series and for those who have finished Bloodborne, Nioh and other similar titles and want to sate the need for an unforgiving RPG.
Set in a dystopian future where humanity has exhausted our planet’s resources, The Surge puts you in the shoes of a man in a wheelchair who goes to a megacorporation’s offices to apply for a job. When he gets there, he’s sedated and operated in a gruesome manner. When he comes to, the man finds himself in an exoeskeleton that not only gives him the ability to walk, but superhuman strength which comes in handy, since CREO’s installations have been invaded by deadly zombies in exosuits.
Like Dark Souls, the combat is methodical, though you have different options when it comes to weapons and some of them adjust to both slow and fast-attacking players. The main innovation comes in the form of targeting different parts of the body of enemies to locate weak points and end the encounter in an animation that dismembers the enemy and splatters blood all over the place. As you’d expect, there are different classes of enemies and facing each of them require different strategies.
Apart from getting rid of enemies, combat is also useful to gather scrap, a currency that replaces both money and experience points and you use this to upgrade equipment, craft items or improve your character’s statistics. All of these activities are a must if you want to survive the post-apocalypse and there’s a large world to explore full of open spaces, dark hangars, claustrophobic corridors and more.
But as soon as the novelty of playing a sci-fi Dark Souls wears off, frustration sets in. Combat quickly becomes repetitive and while there are new enemies to face, the strategies barely vary: you wait until they attack, position yourself behind them, hit once or twice and repeat the pattern until they are dead. Although targeting different parts of the body is useful to defeat them more effectively or to gather specific items to craft gear, that’s the only part that’s different to Dark Souls.
Sadly, that’s not all. Dying over and over is frustrating and backtracking to gather your lost scrap and face hordes of enemies you’ve already killed (enemies regenerate after death) is a hassle more than a compelling design decision. When you can’t find the next station to save the game or level up, you’ll move forward in sheer desperation until you run into one and this usually leads to death and having to restart which is maddening. I like that the Surge wears its inspirations on its sleeve, but I was hoping that it would create something unique rather than a derivative experience that’s frustrating.
With The Surge, Deck 13 delivered a title that some people have been demanding for years: a science fiction Dark Souls. But with so many similar games on the market at the moment (Nioh, Bloodborne, Dragon’s Dogma and even Deck 13’s previous game, Lords of the Fallen,) you have plenty of options to choose from. In other words, fans of the formula will be satisfied with The Surge, but everyone else will probably quit in frustration after a few hours of backtracking or dying repeatedly.